Understanding colonial-era German names in genealogy



About Video:

If you have any ethnic German ancestors from the 1600s to the early 1800s, you may wonder why so many of them are named Johann or Johanna. Or perhaps you have a pair of records that you’re convinced are for the same person, except that one is for Johann Peter Wagner, the other Hanes Peter Wagner.

Ethnic Germans from the 1600s to the early 1800s had different cultural conventions for naming than the naming traditions we mostly follow in the U.S. today. In this video, I’ll highlight some of the common ethnic German naming conventions from that time period that can be confusing today.

  • People were typically known by their middle name, not their first name.
  • The names Johann and Johanna had multiple forms used interchangeably in documents.
  • The letters “in” might be added to the end of women’s surnames.
  • If a child died, parents might give a newborn the same name.