Foreign Names in Genealogy

I was just using a website for my own research when I realized I had to share it with other genealogists.

I often have foreign names pop up in my research. Fortunately or not, most of these names are anglicized after the ancestors have been living in the United States for a while.

The website Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names solves many of my “What is this name in English?” Or, “What’s this English name in Spanish?” issues.

For example, I needed to know what “Felix” was in Italian. Turns out “Felix” is “Felice” in Italian. VERY helpful! This information helped me locate a record I wouldn’t have found otherwise. The website also tells you the meaning and etymology of the name.

There are numerous countries represented on this website; not just Italian and Spanish.

I suggest you give this website a try next time you deal with foreign names in your research. It is informative and useful at the same time.

Happy Hunting!

-Jennifer

Map Your Surname

Have you ever wondered where other people live who share your last name?

I did.

My last name is Bovitz, originally spelled “Bavec” back when my great-grandfather still lived in Slovenia.  Once he settled in the United States, our surname was eventually anglicized to be spelled as it sounded.

As a curious genealogist, one of my favorite web sites is the World Names Public Profiler.  It was developed by the University College London based on telephone directories and electoral registers from the years 2000-2005.  The data cover over 300 million people in 26 countries.

What can a genealogist do with this web site?

First, one can get a visual representation of a particular surname of interest on a global level.  The data provide a curious researcher with how many people live in different areas around the world with the surname of choice.

For example, let’s look at my current maiden name: Bovitz (Please click on images to get to full size):

The "Bovitz" surname distribution worldwide.

Right away, you can see my last name is only somewhat popular in the United States.  The distribution in the US is 0.69 FPM (frequency per million).  This number is pretty low when you compare it to common last names like Jones:

The "Jones" surname distribution worldwide. Jones is my mothers maiden name.

In the US alone, the distribution of the Jones surname is nearly 5,000 FMP.  That’s quite a huge increase from my father’s surname FPM of just 0.69!

Second, this web site will also shed some light on the roots of your surname.  See the Jones example above?  It tells me that Jones most likely is of Celtic/Welsh origin.  My Jones ancestor did indeed immigrate from Wales.

Third, there are top countries, regions, cities, and even first names given with each surname.  Again, the “Top Places” and “Top Names” are the results of statistical analyses of millions of pieces of data.  It’s another great tool for a genealogist to use to further his or her ancestral research.

Interestingly, here is what the Global Surname Profiler had to say about my “true” surname, before it was anglicized:

World distribution of "Bavec" surname

And, focusing in on the country of highest “Bavec” density, Slovenia:

Slovenia: the county with the highest density of the "Bavec" surname

This map really helped my genealogical research in the beginning. I focused my research on the dark blue area: the municipality of Loska dolina, Slovenia.  And, over the years, I have found, that almost 100% of the Bovitzes, Bavecs, and even Bavetzes (and other variations of “Bavec”) who immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century all came from this small part of Slovenia.

I encourage all curious and eager genealogist and family historians to check out this wonderful web site.  All you have to do is enter your surname of interest and an email. They promise never to give your email to a third party.  Their database is immense, and the University is willing to share it with us researchers.

It’s too good too not check it out.

Enjoy!

The Magic Number 16

Many genealogists talk about “their 16.”

When I started in the field, I was amazed how often this number appeared.  And, although I was pretty good at math in school, it took a while for me to “put 2 and 2 together,” so to speak.

Let me review the basics.  Please, I have no intention of insulting your intelligence, dear reader, because, unlike myself, you’ll probably grasp this concept right off the bat!  I am a visual learner, however.  I needed to see what everyone seemed to intuitively know about the “magic 16.”  So, I broke it down. Now, I get it.

I was born of two parents.

Each parent had two parents.  Therefore, I have four grandparents.

My paternal grandfather, Stanley Bovitz (sitting) on his wedding day. He died about 11 years before I was born.

As an aside, perhaps part of the problem for me arose because I never had the opportunity to meet either of my grandfathers.  My paternal grandfather (my father’s father), was tragically killed in a farming accident about 11 years before I was born.  My maternal grandfather (my mother’s father) was never a part of my life.  He and my grandmother divorced in the 1940s, after WWII.  To be honest, I didn’t even know my grandfathers’ full names when I started my genealogy quest, so this may account for my disconnect.

Back to the growing tree…

Each of my four grandparents had two parents, right?  Thus, I have eight great-grandparents.

Wow!  See how quickly our family trees expand?

Now, of course, you see the pattern.  Each of my eight great-grandparents had two parents, as well.

So, every person, myself included, has sixteen great-great-grandparents.

For many genealogists, this is the magic number.  That would be four generations into your ancestry:

You –>

2 Parents –>

4 Grandparents –>

8 Great-Grandparents –>

16 Great-Great-Grandparents

People say every generation is about 25 years, but this number varies greatly in my experience.  For an excellent article on “generations and genealogy” check out this link.

When working on your tree, you may want to find your “16” as a milestone.  It’s a good goal to aim for, but, it will take time and determination.  Yet, the treasures you’ll find along the way will be worth every brick wall you must endure.

Finding my 16 was difficult for me as my paternal side of my tree (my father’s side) immigrated from Slovenia around 1900.  I was very fortunate, however, to discover a distant cousin via Facebook.  Yes, you read it correctly.  I have such a rare surname that I emailed most everyone on Facebook with the surname “Bavec.”  Turns out I found a woman who was related to me.  There’s a lot more to the story, but that’s for a different day…  Let’s just say, she was one of the precious treasures I found along the way while trying to uncover my own “magic 16.”

99 Old Disease Names

  1. Ablepsy – Blindness
  2. Ague – Malarial Fever
  3. American plague – Yellow fever
  4. Anasarca – Generalized massive edema
  5. Aphonia – Laryngitis
  6. Aphtha – The infant disease “thrush”
  7. Apoplexy – Paralysis due to stroke
  8. Asphycsia/Asphicsia – Cyanotic and lack of oxygen
  9. Atrophy – Wasting away or diminishing in size.
  10. Bad Blood – Syphilis
  11. Bilious fever – Typhoid, malaria, hepatitis, or elevated temperature and bile emesis (emesis = the act or process of vomiting)
  12. Biliousness – Jaundice associated with liver disease
  13. Black plague or death – Bubonic plague
  14. Black fever – Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate
  15. Black pox – Black Small pox
  16. Black vomit – Vomiting old black blood due to ulcers or yellow fever
  17. Blackwater fever – Dark urine associated with high temperature
  18. Bladder in throat – Diphtheria (Seen on death certificates)
  19. Blood poisoning – Bacterial infection; septicemia
  20. Bloody flux – Bloody stools
  21. Bloody sweat – Sweating sickness
  22. Bone shave – Sciatica
  23. Brain fever – Meningitis
  24. Breakbone – Dengue fever
  25. Bright’s disease – Chronic inflammatory disease of kidneys
  26. Bronze John – Yellow fever
  27. Bule – Boil, tumor, or swelling
  28. Cachexy – Malnutrition
  29. Cacogastric – Upset stomach
  30. Cacospysy – Irregular pulse
  31. Caduceus – Subject to falling sickness or epilepsy
  32. Camp fever – Typhus; aka Camp diarrhea
  33. Canine madness – Rabies, hydrophobia
  34. Canker – Ulceration of mouth or lips or herpes simplex
  35. Catalepsy – Seizures / trances
  36. Catarrhal – Nose and throat discharge from cold or allergy
  37. Cerebritis – Inflammation of cerebrum or lead poisoning
  38. Chilblain – Swelling of extremities caused by exposure to cold
  39. Child bed fever – Infection following birth of a child
  40. Chin cough – Whooping cough
  41. Chlorosis – Iron deficiency anemia
  42. Cholera – Acute severe contagious diarrhea with intestinal lining sloughing
  43. Cholera morbus – Characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, elevated temperature, etc. Could be appendicitis
  44. Cholecystitus – Inflammation of the gall bladder
  45. Cholelithiasis – Gall stones
  46. Chorea – Disease characterized by convulsions, contortions, and dancing
  47. Cold plague – Characterized by chills
  48. Colic – An abdominal pain and cramping
  49. Congestive chills – Malaria
  50. Consumption – Tuberculosis
  51. Congestion – Any collection of fluid in an organ, like the lungs
  52. Congestive chills – Malaria with diarrhea
  53. Congestive fever – Malaria
  54. Corruption – Infection
  55. Coryza – A cold
  56. Costiveness – Constipation
  57. Cramp colic – Appendicitis
  58. Crop sickness – Overextended stomach
  59. Croup – Laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat
  60. Cyanosis – Dark skin color from lack of oxygen in blood
  61. Cynanche – Diseases of throat
  62. Cystitis – Inflammation of the bladder
  63. Day fever – Fever lasting one day; sweating sickness
  64. Debility – Lack of movement or staying in bed
  65. Decrepitude – Feebleness due to old age
  66. Delirium tremens – Hallucinations due to alcoholism
  67. Dengue – Infectious fever endemic to East Africa
  68. Dentition – Cutting of teeth
  69. Deplumation – Tumor of the eyelids which causes hair loss
  70. Diary fever – A fever that lasts one day
  71. Diptheria – Contagious disease of the throat
  72. Distemper – Usually animal disease with malaise, discharge from nose and throat, anorexia
  73. Dock fever – Yellow fever
  74. Dropsy – Edema (swelling), often caused by kidney or heart disease
  75. Dropsy of the Brain – Encephalitis
  76. Dry Bellyache – Lead poisoning
  77. Dyscrasy – An abnormal body condition
  78. Dysentery – Inflammation of colon with frequent passage of mucous and blood
  79. Dysorexy – Reduced appetite
  80. Dyspepsia – Indigestion and heartburn. Heart attack symptoms
  81. Dysury – Difficulty in urination
  82. Eclampsy – Symptoms of epilepsy, convulsions during labor
  83. Ecstasy – A form of catalepsy characterized by loss of reason
  84. Edema – Nephrosis; swelling of tissues
  85. Edema of lungs – Congestive heart failure, a form of dropsy
  86. Eel thing – Erysipelas (an acute streptococcus bacterial infection of the dermis)
  87. Elephantiasis – A form of leprosy
  88. Encephalitis – Swelling of brain; aka sleeping sickness
  89. Enteric fever – Typhoid fever
  90. Enterocolitis – Inflammation of the intestines
  91. Enteritis – Inflations of the bowels
  92. Epitaxis – Nose bleed
  93. Erysipelas – Contagious skin disease, due to Streptococci with vesicular and bulbous lesions
  94. Extravasted blood – Rupture of a blood vessel
  95. Falling sickness – Epilepsy
  96. Fatty Liver – Cirrhosis of liver
  97. Fits – Sudden attack or seizure of muscle activity
  98. Flux – An excessive flow or discharge of fluid like hemorrhage or diarrhea
  99. Flux of humour – Circulation

This web page is a great resource for genealogists.  Many death certificates I encountered (and most when I first started my genealogy research) has a cause of death that is usually foreign to me.  It doesn’t help matters that, in many instances, the causes of death were spelled phonetically either!

One trick I learned soon after seriously diving into genealogy is that having a page bookmarked with “old-time diseases” was very helpful.  Nine times out of ten, you will receive a death certificate with an unfamiliar disease listed as the cause of death.

However, I have come across one death certificate where no additional resource was necessary.

Notice the contributory cause of death of Mr. M.G. Jones who passed away in Highland, Erath, Texas, on 8 September 1911:

Death Certificate for Mason Grigsby Jones (click on image to enlarge).

The immediate cause of death is organic heart lesion.  This is not too far-fetched.  He most likely died of heart issues, maybe what we know commonly as a heart attack.

But look at the line just below, the contributory cause of death:  over work!

It’s amazing that a coroner would actually record “over work” as a contributory cause of death.

Yet, I seriously wonder how many of our ancestors would qualify for the same contributory cause of death.  Life certainly wasn’t easy one hundred years ago.

Mr. Jones’s “over work” cause of death is something to consider as genealogists. I believe we need to remember the ancestors we research were people, too.

Yes, they died from diseases we have to learn and most of which are preventable today.

And, yes, we are thrilled when we actually can find a cause of death. Nevertheless, I suggest — as we are story-tellers, too — we must try to keep in mind our ancestors were also husbands, brothers, sons, mothers, and daughters.

Of course, when I find a death certificate, I am super excited.  But, when I receive that death certificate, I do take time to honor the ancestor for a moment as well. It doesn’t take long, just a minute or two.  Just enough time to acknowledge his or her life.  I kind of just sit with it for a couple of deep breaths.

On that note, I wish everyone a Happy (and healthy) New Year.