Thursday, November 14, 2013

'A Self Made Man May Prefer a Self Made Name'

Friday, November 6, 2009

'A self made Man may prefer a self made name.' Learned Hand (1872-1961)

'What's in a name.' wrote William Shakespeare in 1595 in his play Romeo and Juliet. Clearly he had encountered as much difficulty in tracing his elusive ancestors as I have during the past 11 years. 'A Rose by any other name' may smell as sweet but let me assure you will not be as easy to find!

In 1998 I embarked on my first search for my roots. After sending away for the marriage certificate of my great grandmother Barbara Lena Heberling to John Nargar in Maryborough, I thought that my search would be simple. Both surnames were unusual and so, I assumed, would be easy to trace. Nothing could have prepared me for the surprises that lay in wait for me, or for the amount of 'detecting' that was to be required of me.

I knew that the Heberling family had come from Switzerland and I knew roughly the year in which the family could have arrived, from a five generation photograph taken in 1955, in which my great grandmother was turning 88. I estimated her birth to be in approximately 1867 as the newspaper clipping said she was 8 years old when she arrived, ( I was new to family history and as yet unaware of the importance of checking the facts) so I guessed the arrival to be in the year 1875.

After months of fruitless searches on the internet, I decided to start again and rethink a new strategy. I began to suspect that the name Heberling may have been for some reason, changed on arrival in Australia. I had heard from a friend that his grandparents had shortened a long Hungarian surname to anglicise it. Then there was the tale of a non english speaking immigrant, who, when told by the the clerk on arrival in Australia, to 'make his mark', misunderstood and literally adopted the surname Mark! Suddenly, I remembered from the German language I had learned at school, that the letter 'a' with two dots above it (an umlaut) was pronounced as 'e' would be in English. Thus Haberling with a umlaut above the 'a' would be pronounced Heberling.

Another search of the passenger lists from Hamburg through me with the Haberling family who arrived in Maryborough Queensland in 1871 aboard the ship 'The Reichstag'. I found my great grandmother Barbara Lena aged 4 years (not 8) with her sisters Rosetta, Amalie, Bertha and Herminnie. Her father Jacob was a boot maker and he, his wife Anna Barbara and daughters had come from Zurich. These records had been provided by the Maryborough District Family History Society (MDFHS).

My search for the Haberlings spread its wings with the help of the Archives in Zurich (I had to seriously brush up on my German as the Archive replies were in written in that language) and also through the MDFHS. I now have a Haberling family tree that goes back to 1520 and sideways to Germany and the USA.

' Now,' I thought, ' this is easy'. And I set off in search of the Nargar family. Alas, there seemed to be no Nargars anywhere in the world! The birth certificate of my great grandfather showed that his father Gottlieb Nargar was born in Prussia and his mother Christiana Siegler, in Weuttemberg, Germany. The German lessons now being pursuing with a passion were to prove very useful.

I had never known that I had a German background. Perhaps around a decade after the end of WW 2, it was still a sensitive subject to this side of my family and so never spoken of. My mother had 'persuaded' my sister and I to study the German language at school despite our protests that French was much prettier!. "You won't regret this,' our unrelenting mother replied."German is the language of the future!". If my mother had known then how useful this language would prove to me in the future I am certain she would have been thrilled but I do believe it was the only thing that she could think of to say, at the time, without admitting to having a German heritage. My mother's prediction proved not quite true. But for me, my knowledge of German became literally the language that, in 'the future', enabled me to travel back into the past.

I worked on the principle that if the letter 'e' had been the key to finding my Haberling family then I would start with the same letter and work from there. I found a similar German name of Nerger and I reasoned that my great great grandfather, probably named Gottlieb Nerger, a German immigrant arriving on the 'Caeser Goddfrey" in 1853,would gave pronounced the letter 'e' as 'ay'. The clerk would have thought 'ay' was the letter 'a' thus Nerger became Nargar. The name Nerger has appeared as Nurjur on one child's birth certificate and as Narjar on another because of the language barrier between the german speaking immigrant and the clerks who recorded the passenger's name, births and mariages. I was correct in assuming the name was Nerger however the change had nothing to do with mispelling by a clerk. I was to discover much later that it had been changed for yet unknown reasons by my great grandfather, John. My great grandmother's surname Siegler was recorded on a number of documents differently as well, as Segler and Seglen and even her christian name was recorded as Christina, Christine, Anna and Christiana. I discovered that she was born Christiana Siegler, arrived in Brisbane on the 'La Rochelle' in 1863 as Seglier but that her parents were married under the name of Segler. I began to realise the significance of names and name changes when searching into the past.

Little did I realise that even my own maiden surname of MacDade had been altered, but for quite an different reason again. I was told as a child, NEVER to leave out the 'a' to distinguuish the protestant Scottish surname MacDade from the Irish catholic surname of McDade. (to my grandmother who hailed from Northern protestant Ireland I am certain that this was an important detail). I had often admonished my father for being lazy and using McDade. When I began to search for the MacDades in Scotland I found that there weren't any MacDades! In fact, it seemed there were no MacDades anywhere at all! They were all McDade. 'Perhaps my great grandparents were the last MacDades,' I proudly thought. When I found a catholic marriage of a John McDade and an Elizabeth Gibson, the names of my great grandparents, I put it away regarding it as the 'wrong' one. On a trip to Scotland, years later, armed with my research, my 'MacDade' aunt visited the General record Office in Edinburgh. She was so excited that she phoned me from Scotland to tell me that I had in fact found the right marriage all those years ago, and that we were, in fact, MCDADEs and in her words, ' We are catholics after all!'

My grandmother, born in Co Tyrone, Ireland, who had maried Colin Hamilton McDade (pictured above)from Glasgow, Scotland, had 'popped' the 'a ' into the surname to make it look less catholic. How I laughed. I myself had married a catholic man as had one of my two sisters. In fact more than half of my grandmother's grandchildren were attending catholic schools. From this discovery it was a short hop, step back to the late 1700's when my catholic Irish ancestor, James McDade moved to Scotland from Ireland. In Scotland in the 1800's, I added to my family tree, MacDairmids also spelled McDermid, McCleary that has appeared as Mc Clury and McClure, Moore with and without the 'e' and Andrew Smith formerly Antonios Ustila! "What's in a name?' Shakespeare asked. Where do I start!

Today the use of Mc and Mac can be a source of considerable confusion to the family historian. In the case of my husband David's MacDonalds from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, they have dispersed all over the world becoming McDonalds, McDonnels and MacDonalds just to name a few. The MacDonald ancestry is well documented however, going back to John, Lord of the Isles and the Scottish Kings and before them to the ancient Irish Kings.

On my Hoyes side of the family,( the 'Welsh side' of the family who we discovered were from Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire), ( always remain somewhat dubious of the 'we have a Welsh Castle in our background or the' your grandfather was in the Royal Welsh Fencibles' family boasts until you have verified them) there have been quite a number of interesting name changes, for a number of different reasons (some yet to be discovered!) ...Great uncle Rex Morley Hoyes, for example, left New Zealand and went to England where he added a hyphen (Morley-Hoyes) and then an extra Morley (Morley-Morley) not to mention a title that is quite a puzzle. At least Rex's grandmother, my great great grandmother Elizabeth Morley would be pleased to see her own maiden surname being carried on! My mother was born a Reece-Hoyes, the 'Reece' having been added to the Hoyes name to change it yet again. I spent many years trying to find my grandfather, who was Rex's half brother. That was quite a challenge as had changed his name from Reece- Hoyes to O'Dare. We are still trying to work that one out!

In search of my Weston family (no name changes there at least) I found the name Frame/ Frain/ Frane which finally turned out to be Frayne! Spelling mistakes made somehow in the context of my colonial Irish /Australian history perhaps? Or was it that he, as a convict, attempted to remake himself a number of times?

Sometimes a look at the history behind a surname will help to determine its 'correct' spelling. 'Correct' may not be the correct way to view the spelling of names given that many ancestors who were illiterate quite probably did not know how to spell their own name. In the case of immigrants who were unable to write, a clerk given the task, often had to guess the spelling. Once a name was mispelled on a passenger list, for example, some people just chose to keep the new name. A new name, a new country and a new start in life! My Frayne family (before their fall from grace as 'Dublin burglars' -and yes there were more than one - burglar that is!) descended from the surname Freyne or de Freyne, The Baron de Freyne from France, so I am told. It's a great story and it might be true but before I go passing the name Freyne on to any grandchildren I will need to verify that tale!

'What's in a name, 'Shakespeare asked? A good number of self made men , new beginnings, hidden pasts and well kept secrets, and some simple spelling mistakes, I suspect! That and some very interesting tales still waiting to be told. To be continued....... Sharn


  1. What a mammoth post with some great puzzles solved. Reminds me of my Grandmother's maiden name Pusell/Pusill/Pusil/Pussil/Pussel/Pussell/Puzle/Puzel/Pussill These names xan lead one on a merry dance.

  2. I agree with Jill, a mammoth task and a mammoth post, but you have kept my interest all the way. Having also come across so many variations in my own batches of names, I have nothing but admiration for your tenacity.