Bob Vornlocker recently published an article in the German Genealogy Group newsletter that describes problems and a potential solution when searching for surnames in the various online databases. Bob kindly gave me permission to re-publish the article here.
The following is written by and copyright by Bob Vornlocker. Please do not republish elsewhere without the author's permission:
Until two years ago, I spent many years searching for my Vornlocker roots. My paternal family tree ended with my father's grandfather, Johann Vornlocker, who emigrated to the USA in the 1880's. As for his his wife, a Pfister(er) who emigrated to the USA from from Herbolzheim, I successfully traced her back to the early 1600's with not much variation in surname - Pfister, Pfisterer and Pfisters, not including female names ending in "in". My father's maternal grandfather, a Skidmore, I traced back to the 1500's, with the surname variation of Skidmore, Scidmore and Scudamore and his wife, a Ryder/ Rider whose ancestors I traced to the 1600's in the Netherlands.
I've been successful with his wife, a Traenkle/Trenkle/Trankle immigrant from Grafenhausen in the 1870's, whom I've traced back to the 1600's in Schweighausen. On her mother's side, the Dohrmanns (1865 baptism record in NYC) and Jahns (1820 baptism record in Meuselwitz) are just starting to yield answers.
Along the way to these ancestors, I've discovered about a 100 other surnames from whom I've descended, many of which are listed in the German Genealogy Group Surname section. The variations I've discovered in the past two years with my surname, Vornlocker are quite interesting. I can still remember an old German priest tell me that the name meant "front lock", referring to a band of German bad guys, who wore their hair with a lock of it hanging down over their foreheads, kind of like Bill Haley of "Rock Around the Clock" fame. What a great story! And completely untrue - too bad. After finding my great grandfather's marriage in the German Genealogy Group database for St. Leonard's of Port Maurice R.C. Church, and deducing that the birthplace was Burgebrach from the record's "Burg Eberach, Bavaria", I started researching.
First I found a document referring to a Vornlocker Cross in Burgebrach. Then I contacted a wonderful family named Fischer who was responsible for the article, who introduced me to realatives still living there and to other relatives with different names, Vornlocher (Bamberg) and Farnlacher (Munich). This latter gentleman was a bonafide genealogist, a member of the Bavarian Genealogy Society, who had been tracing the family for over 20 years. He had traced it to its origin with a shepherd named Fachenlueger in St. Johann im Pongau, Austria in the early 1600's. With the help of the archives of the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Bavaria, I was fortunate to get the records that connected me to this Vachenlueger, who got his name from a farm in this town. The name of the farm, Vachenlueg, means "where the wild pigs hide". Besides Vornlocker, Vornlocher, Farnlacher and Fachenlueger, here are just a few of the documented versions of my surname - Fahrenluger, Fahrnluger, Fahrenlochner, Fahrenlockin, Fahrenlucher, Fahrnlocher. And, of course, V and F are interchangeable. Whenever I search databases, I use V or F*nl*r or n. Thanks to the improved wildcard search at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, these have yielded man new records both in the USA and Germany.
So, if I want to find relatives researching my surname, it's almost pointless to enter Vornlocker. But, to have a second field where I could enter variants would bring a lot more success! And, I'm guessing the same would hold true for many or most researchers. An umlaut always plays havoc as a German name is Americanized - Traenkle, Trenkle, Trankle all started as Tränkle. Even my simplest ancestral surname, Jahn could also be Jahn and John and misspelled on a census record as Yahn. And, as the number of letters increase, so does the variation. Unless your name comes from a city, like Bamberger.
Well, there's my pitch. I am hoping that the readers of this will agree and ask for the second field everywhere on the Internet that has a surname database, as I have begun to do. Most recently, I wrote to Geni and WeRelate. I see this as a major stumbling block to joining trees across the world as you've written about.
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