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How Knutson Became Newton

Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on September 1, 2010 in Stories, Webinars

Sometimes I get a story from an Ancestry.com member that’s just so wonderful I have to share it. The following, from Kathy Kennard, fits that description perfectly: 

“My great-grandfather, Hans Knutson, came from Norway and, according to family history, had a bit of a lisp. When he told the officials his name, they understood him to say Newton, rather than Knutson. That was the name that was written down. He liked it, according to a relative, so he decided to keep it, although it was never changed legally.

Most of my great-grandfather’s sisters kept the Knutson name; only one used the name ‘Newton’ like Hans. I, however, didn’t know this for many years, which made tracing this family a bit difficult.

One day, my mom made the remark that Hans had some relatives named Moe. She wasn’t sure how they were related but just had some recollection of that fact. So I did a little research and found the Moe family. It felt like a small and somewhat odd lead but I was willing to go anywhere it took me.

I found a Kari Moe who came from Norway at about the same time Hans had so I contacted someone from her family. The man that I spoke to was adamant that his grandmother, Kari, was not related. Her maiden name was Knutson, not Newton and he knew the Newton clan, as they were all neighbors, and they were just not related. ‘Surely someone would have mentioned it before now,’ was his response.

Several months later, this same man called me. His aunt had just passed away and it was his responsibility to clean out her house. In her Bible, he found some obituaries: one was the obituary of his grandmother. It listed each of his grandmother’s sisters and her brother, Hans Newton. He called me in excitement and to apologize. He also wanted to let me know that on the wall was a picture of Hans Newton with each of his sisters, and he was happy to make a copy for me.

I now have a picture of my great-grandfather and the history of the Moe family, which I would have never had if I hadn’t followed that one lead through Ancestry.com.”

Thanks Kathy. And if anyone else has a story to share, send it to stories@ancestry.com.

By the way, if you want to learn tricks, tips and how-tos for success with immigration records, do what I did: take all the hands-on advice you can get from Ancestry Weekly Discovery editor, Juliana Szucs Smith. Attend her FREE online class, Coming to America: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestors, tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern. You can register for the live class or watch it at a later date in our archive (live classes hit the archive about a day after broadcast) at http://learn.ancestry.com/LearnMore/Webinars.aspx.

About Jeanie Croasmun
Jeanie Croasmun has been working at Ancestry.com while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...

3 comments

Comments
1 Beth HansenSeptember 1, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Love reading stories like this, keep up the good work of passing them along to us.

2 Gord HinesSeptember 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

A really wonderful story. It just goes to show that often a hunch, well pursued, can yield great rewards. And kudos too, to that wonderful man who months later thought to call you back!!

3 Marianne GranoffSeptember 5, 2010 at 2:25 pm

There was recently a discussion of immigrant name changes on the genealogy-dna forum. Several people pointed out that this kind of name change did not happen AT immigration, but well after by the individual had arrived and settled.

It generally was the individual’s CHOICE to change his/her name, sometimes to sound more “American”. Even in the 1800s. people arriving at immigration centers had to have a fair amount of paper documentation which included their legal name from their own country, before being allowed to enter this country. Immigration centers had many employees that spoke and read various languages, to process individuals from almost every country.

The idea that immigrants names were changed because “officials” couldn’t say or understand their name is a myth that many of us have heard over and over, but which historians keep trying to correct..

Yes – immigrant’s names did get changed, but usually at the individual’s choice, as this article suggests.

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