Danube Swabian

Villages Helping Hands

"Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors" ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors!


Uncle Willy was Hieronymus
Or, Creating a Name Authority File for Family History Research

By Dolores Jungheim Barber, 2009
Published at dvhh.org, 12 Jan 2011 by Jody McKim Pharr.

In searching for our Banat ancestors, we sometimes find that an ancestor is listed under one name in one record and under another name in another record. This may be because the name is spelled differently (e.g., Diebold vs. Tiebold) or because it includes or does not include a middle name or initial. Or the person may have been known also by a professional name or a nickname. It could also be because the person changed his name at some point. The most common case of this is when a woman changes her surname upon marriage. We also often find different language forms for the same name. An 1822 birth record in the town of Gross Betschkerek, for example, was recorded in Latin. Sixty years later, a birth record in the same place was recorded in Hungarian. By 1905, a transcript of a birth record in the same place was written in Serbian. All of the records were for ethnic Germans.

Examples of different language forms for the same given name:

Hieronymus = Jeromos = Jerome
Lajos = Ludwig = Louis
Nicolaus = Miklos = Nickolaus = Nicholas
Mihály = Michael
Katalin = Catherine = Katarina

On the other hand, a not uncommon occurrence in any family is that we have more than one ancestor with exactly the same name.

And of course, we know that a single Banat village may have been known by many different names -- German, Hungarian, Romanian, or Serbian.

If we have different names for the same person and the same name for different people, not to mention variant place names, how can we keep them all straight? There is already an excellent system in place for doing this. This system has been fine-tuned over the course of a century by the international library cataloging community, led by the U.S. Library of Congress. I have adapted this system, called a name authority file, for use in family history research. It can be realized as either a database or a card file, with one record or card for each name. Creating it really entails only three steps:

1) Accurately and completely record each form of name you find for a person or place, just as you find it in the source record. Include a complete citation for the source.

2) Choose a unique form of name for each person or place (the standard form)

3) Make cross-references in the file leading you from the non-standard forms to the standard form. Note these references on the record for the name.

Record Each Name Form and Its Source

The first step in creating the name record is to cite the source in which the name was found. Then follow that with an exact transcription of the name and other distinguishing data, such as a birth date, just as you found it in that source. Remember, it is absolutely essential to transcribe each name (and other data) exactly as it appears in the source when first recording it in your notes or research log. For example:

Source: Petition for naturalization, 1913 June 6 (Jeromos Mihaly Wilhelm)

If, as you continue your research, you find different name forms for the same person, create a name authority record and note each one along with its source citation:

Source: Petition for naturalization, 1913 June 6 (Jeromos Mihaly Wilhelm)
Source: U.S. Census 1910 (Jeromas M. Wilhelm)
Source: Declaration of intent to become a citizen, 1911 Feb. 17 (Jaromos Wilhelm)
Source: Chicago city directories, 1911-1915, 1923 (Wilhelm, Jerome)
Source: Application for Social Security Number. SS no. 324-09-7886. Dec. 2, 1936. 
           (printed: Jerome Michal Wilhelm, signed Jerome Wilhelm; date of birth: Feb. 10, 1888)
Source: Death certificate, Cook Co., IL, 1957 Dec. 11 (Jerome Michael Wilhelm)

Choose a Standard Form of Each Name

For the example above, I chose the name as it appears on the death certificate: "Jerome Michael Wilhelm." I chose it mostly because it is the most complete and most recent form he used. But don’t worry too much about deciding which name to choose. Use your own judgment. The cross references you will make will ensure that you can make the connections later.

The standard form of the name will be in the form: surname, comma, family name, comma, birth and/or death dates (if known). If you don't know the exact dates, use "circa" and make an approximation of the birth or death date or both. The addition of dates to the name itself is what makes this system work. It is often the only way to ensure that you have a unique standard form for each individual. In this example, the standard form of the name becomes "Wilhelm, Jerome Michael, 1888-1957."

Make Cross References from the Non-Standard Form

Finally, decide which forms will need cross-references, add these to the record, and make the cross references searchable, too.

Example: Name authority record for a personal name

Wilhelm, Jerome Michael, 1881-1957

Refer from: Wilhelm, Hieronymus, 1881-1957
Refer from: Wilhelm, Jaromos, 1881-1957
Refer from: Willy (Uncle Willy), 1881-1957

Source: U.S. Census 1910 (Jeromas M. Wilhelm)
Source: Declaration of intent, 1911 Feb. 17 (Jaromos Wilhelm)
Source: Chicago city directories, 1911-1915, 1923 (Wilhelm, Jerome)
Source: Petition for naturalization, 1913 June 6 (Jeromos Mihaly Wilhelm)
Source: Application for SSN 1936 Dec. 2 (printed: Jerome Michal Wilhelm, signed Jerome Wilhelm)
Source: Death certificate, Cook Co., IL, 1957 Dec. 11 (Jerome Michael Wilhelm)
Source: Personal recollection of djb 2001 May 11 (his sister Emma, my Grandmother,
           referred to him as Der Hieronymus; my brothers and I called him Uncle Willy)

If you are using a card file, you will file a card under each of the cross-references. For example:

Example: Cross reference card

Wilhelm, Hieronymus, 1881-1957
Wilhelm, Jerome Michael, 1881-1957

Place Names

Records for place names can be set up in the same way.

Example: Name authority record for a place name:


Refer from: Betschkerek, Torontal, Hungary
Refer from: Groß-Betschkerek, Torontal, Hungary
Refer from: Petrovgrad an der Bega, Yugoslavia
Refer from Veliki Becskerek, Torontal, Hungary
Refer from: Zrenjanin, Serbia, Yugoslavia

Source: Regényi, Isabella, and Scherer, Anton. Donauschwäbisches Ortsnamenbuch. -- 2. verb. Aufl. -- Schriesheim, Germany, Arbeitskreis donauschwäbischer Familienforscher (AKdFF), 1987 (Zrenjanin; Groß-Betschkerek; Betschkerek; (Nagy-) Becskerek, (Veliki) Beckereck, Petrovgrad, an der Bega)


An alphabetical index for a family history text containing the two names in the preceding examples would look like this:

Betschkerek,Torontal, Ungarn see Nagybecskerek
Groß-Betschkerek,Torontal, Ungarn see Nagybecskerek
Nagybecskerek, [page nos.]
Petrovgrad an der Bega, Banat, Yugoslavia see Nagybecskerek
Veliki Becskerek,Torontal, Ungarn see Nagybecskerek
Wilhelm, Hieronymus, 1881-1957 see Wilhelm, Jerome, 1881-1957
Wilhelm, Jaromos, 1881-1957 see Wilhelm, Jerome, 1881-1957
Wilhelm, Jerome Michael, 1881-1957, [page nos.]
Willy (Uncle Willy), 1881-1957 see Wilhelm, Jerome, 1881-1957
Zrenjanin, Serbia, Yugoslavia see Nagybecskerek

One final word of advice: KIS. "Kis" means "small" in Hungarian. In English, it means "Keep It Simple (period)." Do not set up an elaborate and ambitious system that will fail as it falls into disuse. Just keep a simple file of those names you most need to keep control over and let the others take care of themselves. And keep your technology simple too. A stack of index cards may be superior to an elaborate database. Just pick a system you can live with over the long term, and keep it simple.

©2009 Dolores Jungheim Barber
Thanks to my fellow BANAT-L e-mail list members for providing the motivation to put a first draft of this essay on the web in 2003. Criticisms, comments, corrections, and suggestions on this revision are more than welcome, and may be sent to me at Dolores Jungheim Barber.


Last Updated: 19 Feb 2020

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