One Census Page, Four Families, Four Spellings

Names can easily be spelled more than one way–even on the same document. When viewing other names on that census page for possible relatives, consider that names that are “kinda close” may be relatives with the same last name. The last name of Behrens in this 1860 census enumeration from Adams County, Illinois, was spelled four ways on the same census page. None of them were Behrens. The variants were due to handwriting irregularities and how the census taker likely heard the last name.



5 thoughts on “One Census Page, Four Families, Four Spellings

  1. Patty

    That sure makes sense to me. Ur information helps so much. R all 4 of these different spellings from the same family? I found some family members 4got how to spell their own name.

  2. Harriott Lomax

    This is so true, it all depends on two things what the census taker hears and how the informant enunciates the name. Also we need to pay very close attention to the hand writing.

  3. Caitrenne

    Thanks for this post. Our family has a similar story of the spelling/pronunciation of Behrens in Menard County, IL, three counties to the east of Adams County. Early immigrants followed the rivers from New Orleans also. I’ve listed some of the variant spellings below and a possible explanation for some of the versions.
    Many of the immigrants to the area from the1840s on were from the Ostfrisia area of Northern Germany. The language there was Platte Deutsch (Low German). I learned this when my school Hoch German didn’t make sense to my grandmother and great-grandmother.
    The Menard County pronunciation of Behrens was “Burns” as I heard it and was used well into the 70s as far as I know. My father gave up on insisting on “Burns” in college in the late 1930s. There are others who must have heard it as Barns. And then there are the spelling difficulties as possibilities too.
    Marriage: Henry Brans to Mary Heldebrant 29 Sep 1853
    Tax records: Barnes & Hilderbran 11 Jan 1859, H Barns & A. Heildisbrand 1862
    Census reports: Henry Burns 1855, Henry Burnes 1865, Henry Barnes 1870
    Naturalization papers and will: Behrens

    1. michaeljohnneill Post author

      You are welcome.

      The various Behrenses listed are all relatives of mine–two of the couples are sets of ancestors and the rest are uncles and their families. My Behrends family is from the general Ludwigsdorf and Weene area.

      My great-grandmother, who grew up speaking low-German, also said Behrens in such a way that it sounded like Burns or Barnes.

      All of my maternal families are Ostfriesian. I grew up hearing most of the names pronounced the old way by my grandparents. It’s actually helped me find people in a few cases.

      1. Caitrenne

        We haven’t found a location in Germany for our Behrens and Hildebrand families. Ships records from New Orleans have turned up some Heinrich Behrens’ but I’ve followed them to other lives and other places. I wonder if I’ve tried all of the various mis-spellings. I’ll go back. Do you have other suggestions?


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