Sunday, January 3, 2010

Oh Just Pick A Name Already!

If you have an opinion on this, I would greatly appreciate hearing what it is!!!

I have this one family line, the "Domelle" line, and they emigrated to the US from what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.

Where they came from is now within the borders of modern-day Romanian.

But the Domelle's are actually German.

Apparently there was a big movement of Germans into Hungary during the 18th century. Much of the land was uninhabited and the Habsburg rulers wanted it more populated to help keep the Turks at bay. So they invited a bunch of Germans to move in, and they did. (See the Habsburg Rule section of this.)

An interesting consequence that resulted from these pockets of german-speaking people in Hungary was that towns and counties and such ended up being referred to by two names, the Hungarian and German versions of each name.

Of course, once all the towns became part of Romania later on in the 20th century, then there was a Romanian name for the towns.

So which name am I supposed to use?

The one my ancestor used on whatever document I'm looking at? What if they switched back and forth depending on their mood? Do I use the modern day name?

For instance, my great-aunt Anna Magdalena Domelle who emigrated to the US in 1919 lists (on her Social Security Application form) that her birthplace was:

Gatga, Tenesmege, Hungaria.

Actually, someone else typed it for her, she just signed it. Which is why that is a horrible mis-spelling.

The town is actually "Gattaja". In German.

In Hungarian, it's "Gátalja".

In Romanian, it's "Gătaia".

(Oh, and thank you german version of Wikipedia for being much more clear on Gattaja than the english version! Now I have to remember to check other languages of Wikipedia to help me along as well!)

I do know that the entire family (according to my grandfather and all the census records) spoke German.

But sometimes, they gave the Hungarian name for things, as in when my great-grandfather William Domelle said he was born in Nagyosz, which is actually Treibswetter in German, and Tomnatic in Romanian.

What do I do??? Naturally in my notes I capture all this information, but in my family tree software, in the main display for each person, which version do I use?

Right now I am using whatever they used the most in their documents. But I would prefer to have a consistent way of capturing it.

Any thoughts from anyone?


  1. I've seen this quite a bit. On both the French and Polish borders of Germany, the land changed ownership frequently and the new owners would go in and change the names of EVERYTHING, towns, rivers, whatever and even try to destroy the old references. Then there'd be another war... you get the point. My references usually list the current name first and the other names in parenthesis. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. ;->

  2. The genealogical standard is to use the name that was official at the time of the event.

    In my family tree software (RootsMagic), I use both the official name at the time of the event as well as the current name for clarification, like so:

    Town of Clarence, Niagara (now Erie) Co., New York


    Spokane Falls, Stevens Co., Washington Territory (now Spokane, Spokane Co., Washington)


    Strasbourg, Alsace (now Alsace-Lorraine), France

    If you don't have room in your family tree software for both, list the name that was official at the time of the event, and then in your notes for the event or for the place name (depending on if your software allows it), list the current name for clarification.

    Good luck! This isn't easy, and it especially gets complicated with Central and European place names.

  3. P.S. I have ROCKWELL lineage, too! :-)

  4. It's confusing! But I tend to use the place name as it was at the time of the event. So when someone was born, if that area "belonged" to Hungary on the map, I'd use the Hungarian name...even if the place name switched to another name or another country at the time of the person's death. You sort of have to explain it all in your references or notes anyway.

  5. If it wasn't confusing enough already, it may get moreso. Legacy recently had its users tidying up their data entry in anticipation of being able to have interaction between your own database and FamilySearch. One emphasis was on place names. There's a page where you can find out the standardized way to enter place names:

    Although I really like Miriam's way of doing it with the additional info in parentheses, I don't think it'll fly with the standardized place names. And having said probably too much already, I'll add that I'm not sure the FamilySearch standardized place names database is complete, and it also doesn't tell you the date range that a place name is accurate for, which would be a huge improvement.

    This was a good question, Leah, and I hope more genealogists will share their thoughts!