It Is All in the Name or Is It?

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

As genealogists we deal with all types of names (given names, surnames, maiden names, place names, etc.) on a daily basis. We know that spelling wasn’t standardized until the 20th Century. We know to look for spelling variants of our names. Do we know how they really sounded?

I have written before how I discovered the birthplace of the children of Michael Meisberger (1812 – 1878) using a record from his son’s Civil War pension file (see 52 Ancestors 2015 Edition: #21 Michael Meisberger, Jr. (1839 – 1914) – Amazing Find in Military Records). Now I would like to demonstrate a lesson I learned about names in my quest to find this birthplace.

I started my search into this family with Theobald C. Meisberger (1837 – 1900), my 2nd great-grandfather. I first discovered him in the 1900 US census as he and his family was living two families away from the household of my grandmother’s parents. This census gave Theobald’s birth as Dec. 1837, that he and his parents were born in Germany and that he immigrated to the US in 1855.

Theobald lived in Coal Township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania his entire US residence. Searching the 1860 US census, I found another Meisberger family living in Coal Township. This is a very unusual name. The 1860 US census is the first census in which Theobald and Michael appear. Looking at the ages of Michael, his wife and children, I felt it was highly probable that Michael was Theobald’s father. To add to the evidence, Theobald and his wife are listed as having been married for less than a year.

Michael’s 1860 enumeration was a surprise. It listed his birthplace as Brice, Germany. I checked quite a few pages before and after his entry. There were sixteen (16) residents of Coal Township, whose birthplaces were listed as Brice, Germany.

1860 US Census MMeisberger sm text trans

I was so excited. I had a CLUE!!! That was about seventeen (17) years ago. Since, then I spent innumerable hours trying to find a town that was called Brice or sounded like Brice that existed in Prussia or Germany between 1812 and 1855. I searched in maps, atlases, endless websites, message boards and forums. I collected names like Briese, of which there were three, all now in today’s Poland, but originally in Prussia.

My searches were futile. Finally, in 2012, I found the letter in Michael, Jr.’s pension file that revealed the real town. When I wrote to a German researcher to obtain any records I could get, I mentioned this Brice, Germany. He laughed. Here is the exact quote:

Haha, that is funny. I assume that is poor German slang and means “Prussia”. Reason is: In German Prussia = Preussen => pronounce: Broysn. Bavarians in their slang would make it “Bricen”. 

Roland Geiger (fellow APG member and great genealogist)

I spent all those years chasing a location I already had–Prussia. My lesson learned: it is not only how the name is spelled but also how it is pronounced, especially with regional accents. At least this story had a successful conclusion.


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2 Responses to It Is All in the Name or Is It?

  1. Jo Henn says:

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing it! I wanted to tell you that I’ve included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week:

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