from Michael John NeillÂ
Do you know what came out of your ancestorâ€™s mouth when he was asked his name? I donâ€™t mean that word eventually written down on the census page or the marriage license, but the sounds he made when asked his name. The pronunciation is key to finding your ancestor in many records.
When I began my own research, I had difficulty finding my Behrens ancestors. I always â€œsaid the name in my headâ€ in a way that pretty much rhymes with the word â€œerrands.â€ However, thatâ€™s not how ancestor Ulfert Behrens said it. In his low-German dialect, his uttering probably sounded closer to the modern pronunciation of â€œbarns.â€ And that explains several variants I located. Now I look for Barnes and other variants in addition to Behrens and similar spellings. The sound makes a difference.
The last name Talliaferro is similar. This name is not usually pronounced â€œtuh-lee-uh-fair-ohh.â€ Rather it is often said in a way that rhymes with â€œOliverâ€ sounding like â€œtoliver.â€ This opens up another set of variant surname spellings for this last name, including Toliver and Tolliver.
I learned of the Behrens pronunciation from my great-grandmother, her grandmother was a Behrens, and great-grandma grew up speaking the same low-German dialect as her parents. For other surnames, consider posting the question to the appropriate ethnic, regional, or surname mailing list; however, I would not recommend finding people with the desired last name in the phone book and asking them on the phone!
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