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22 March 2013

Was There an Unknown First Name?

My German born ancestor was George Trautvetter--born in the 1790s. He had brothers Adam, Michael. and Henry. I was years into researching the family before I learned that at least two of them really had the first name of John or Johann--using that first name combined with the middle name made finding them easier. They dropped the "first name" after a while in the United States, but used it on passenger lists and records early in their settlement.

Is your ancestor hiding under an "unknown" first name?


  1. I've come to believe that an immigrant ancestor in Indiana known generally as Eugene de BUISSERET on civil records but more specifically to the family as Camille Eugene Oswald Englebert de BUISSERET was his name-in-hiding. Interestingly enough the family remembers him mostly by the name Camille. He was indeed hiding his real name which may be Camille ENGLEBERT, in general, and more specifically, Camille Auguste Oswald ENGLEBERT. I believe he was hiding from a court decision in a civil court in Belgium which did (after he left the country) determine a notorial act he created defrauded a company (which itself was in receivership or in bankruptcy?).

    But there were 5 different RECKER half great grand-uncles of mine who came to Indiana, as well as my great grandfather, their half-brother (they shared a mother, that's another story about northern German farm families). They all had a first and second given name. Two shared the name Gerhard, two shared Heinrich, and two shared Franz. Then there was the first-born who stayed home and inherited the farm, he was named Heinrich Gerhard. Luckily, among the immigrants were two who had first names unlike any of the others, a Ferdinand and a Johann. That was key to figuring them all out.

  2. Germans gave their children a "saint" name, then a "called" name, such as George, and then the family name. "Saint" names were usually Johann, Anna, Maria, later, Christian. The person was know by their called name in Germany but entering the US they gave their full name and so became "John" something, instead of George.

  3. A good share of my ancestors spent considerable time in Canada's maritime provinces, at least two generations, but often more. My father's family came from NFLD, Labrador and Nova Scotia where the general rule seemed to be - use the first name for all documents and important records, but for all else, use the middle name. My mother's family were mostly from New Brunswick. They seemed to follow this tradition as well, but not to the degree I found in the other provinces. Once I figured out I had to look for both names, my hair grew back!! LOL