Thursday, June 20, 2013

Patronymic Puzzle

Were you one of the eagle-eyed readers who questioned my sanity last week? How could I not know the surname of Claes Jonas, son of Jonas Flink?

Honestly, I'm not losing my mind. You too may encounter patronymic puzzles in your research. Many European countries used the first name of the father as a base for the last name of his children. Some non-European cultures also have used this sort of naming pattern.

If you see Larsdotter (Lars' daughter) or Ericsson (Eric's son) in a tree, you are looking at a patronymic name from Scandinavia. In Wales, ap is son and verch is daughter. O'Neill is a patronymic from Ireland while McFarlane is from Scotland. Anglo-Norman names may use Fitz as a prefix, meaning son. If you see, in your tree, the surnames changing in each generation, take some time to study the naming patterns of the country or region.

Today I'm rambling about Swedish patronymics.

The family of Jonas Flink, from Södermanland is a mini-study in Swedish patronymics, which were outlawed in 1901. The move away from the patronymic system began earlier, however. The military, clergy and skilled tradesmen were some of the first to take other surnames.

Imagine you are a military leader and you want to tell Eric Larsson that his uniform is a mess. You shout for Larsson and ten men respond. You can see why the military assigned new names to the soldiers and sailors. Each member of a unit was required to have a unique, brief, surname.

If you have Swedish ancestry, be sure to research surnames that don't end in son or dotter. In this case, Flink means fast or fleet of foot. If he was an older man, I would have to research his past to determine if he had served in the military. However, he was a soldier until the time of his death at the age of about 32, so there was no need to question the source of his name.

Jonas Flink lived in a place with many soldiers. I'm not sure exactly what it was or how the housing worked, but he was identified as living at the home of soldier (soldat) 22. After his death about 1807, his widow and children moved to the location of soldier 6, possibly as servants.

His children here were recorded as son (S) and daughter (D), but without a surname. Brita retained her surname of Pehrsdotter (Pehrsdr). From this church record of 1803-1807, I don't know the original surname that Jonas carried, nor do I know the surname used by his children. They might have used Flink, but that was very unlikely. The missing surnames can only be found by moving backward in time for Jonas and forward in time for each child.

Brita had a fourth child out of wedlock in 1813. This record from 1813-1818, reveals some of the information I need.

It tells us that it is the family of the widow of soldier Flink. Daughter Ulrica is oäkta, or illegitimate, without a recorded surname. Miss Brita Casja also has no surname recorded. The sons have taken the surname of Jonsson. But did the sons keep the name Jonsson throughout their lives?

As the patronymic system was falling out of favor, they may have changed their name, with the priest's approval. The choice often was taken from nature or the name of the farm where they lived. My ancestor, Pehr Eric Jonsson, changed his name to Vidberg (Widberg) between 1834 and 1840. The new name means "by the mountain".

Pehr's siblings may have taken the name Vidberg, the name Flink, some other name or may have kept the patronymic. If Claes entered the military, he might even have become a Flink.

However, Ulrica presents yet another problem. Her father did not claim her legally at the time of her birth and did not marry her mother. She still might have taken her father's name as a patronymic. She probably took Brita's name, Pehrsdotter. It is possible that she became Ulrica Britasdotter, although that is not as likely. Only further research will reveal the names that these siblings took to their graves.

The Ekstrom Question

I received a question via text message from a dear friend. She asked how a gentleman by the name of Walter Ekstrom from my home state of Arizona fits into my tree.

The name Ekstrom is not a common name in the United States. In 1920, there were no more than 600 families by that name living in the US. By comparison, there were over 60,000 families with the surname Johnson (source

A list of common names in Sweden, interestingly, always includes Ekstrom in the top 100. Ekstrom is a combination of the words oak and stream. It's a name derived from nature, as are many of the post-patronymic names such as Vidberg.

The answer to my friend's question is that Walt is not a known relative. It is possible that he is related, but it is more probable that his ancestors lived near a stand of oak trees and a stream, just as mine must have.

My earliest Ekstrom ancestor was the farmer Eric Andersson, who took the name Ekstrom by 1796. It's hard to imagine a farmer abandoning the patronymic that early, but he must have had lofty goals for his sons. Eric's sons and grandsons become skilled tailors, with the later generation bringing their trade with them to America.

Eric was my very first patronymic puzzle, as I followed my own surname back in time. However, he won't be the last, as I have many Swedish twigs and branches to follow through history.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Completion -- Part Two

What next? Where do I look? Sometimes when researching I get to what I think is a dead end. Or I finish up the immediate research and need a new direction. A tool that I don't use nearly enough is sitting in my genealogy toolkit. If Roots Magic is a tape measure, this tool is a stud finder.


The GenSmarts program uses artificial intelligence to analyze a genealogy database and give the user a list of things to clean up and ideas of where to find missing or more data. There are reviews online, so I'm just going to give you a quick tour.

Ideas to Clean it Up

What next? Maybe it's time to do a little tidying up. It tells me about date problems and location problems.


What's Where

When I visit ACPL this summer, here's a long list of things I can look for.


What Else Exists

I need an idea to fill in missing facts. What does GenSmarts know about looking for that missing data. This list can be filtered by person or family so it's not so overwhelming. 

Why and Where

GenSmarts tells me what to search, why, and even lists the repositories and call numbers for the record set at each repository.

GenSmarts isn't perfect. It doesn't know every repository. But it's definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Completion -- Part One

No, my genealogy projects aren't complete! In fact quite the opposite is true. Comparing trees with other researchers, I see gaps in both my trees and theirs. When working with large trees (mine is over 5000 names), how do we even begin to find where there are gaps?

In this series, I'll show you a couple of tools that are useful in finding and filling the gaps. These tools are not free, but I believe they are fairly priced.

If your tree is strictly online at Ancestry, you would need to export a GEDCOM to your computer to use these sorts of tools. Unfortunately, Ancestry does not provide online reporting and analysis tools.

What's Missing?

I need a list of all the people who are missing birth, marriage or death information. That's a terrifying thought. So I need to break it down into chunks. I'm focusing right now on a part of my tree that I'll be researching on a field trip to Indiana later this summer. Here's a peek at a wonderful fill-in-the-blank report.

Field Trip!

Speaking of going to Indiana, I need a list of things that happened there, to guide my research. The places report is just the thing.

Roots Magic

I use a great program called Roots Magic to do reports and GEDCOM manipulation. I am not affiliated with the company in any way, but have long been an advocate. I am demonstrating with version 5, as I have not yet upgraded to the new version 6. Here are a few features and then a quick tour.

Free Version 

There is a free version called Roots Magic Essentials that you can test drive. The best reports are not part of this version, however.

Easy Reporting

I don't use Roots Magic on a day-to-day basis. I export a GEDCOM from my primary program, import it into Roots Magic, then run reports. I mostly use these reports when traveling to do research or when cleaning up my tree. I also like the family group sheet and book reports.

Website Creation

The prequel to Roots Magic was Family Origins, which is what I still use to create my genealogy pages on my website (sample). Roots Magic does nice websites, too, but is a bit different from what I like.


Roots Magic To-Go can be put on a thumb drive and then used on any computer without installing the program. It's a little complicated to set up, but a fabulous idea.

Roots Magic for iPad and iPhone

Roots Magic also has a free app for your iOS device, linking to your Roots Magic database through iTunes on your PC or copying it through Dropbox. I have not tried this, but I'm sure it's as wonderful as the other tools from the company.

GEDCOM Creation

GEDCOM files (.ged) are the way that genealogy programs exchange information. As far as I know, all genealogy programs can import a GEDCOM file and most programs can export one. I'm going to show you how I can create a focused report for a selected part of your tree. The GEDCOM creation works in exactly the same way to create a GEDCOM for just part of a tree. That's handy for sharing with relatives. And, of course, the website creator also uses the same selection strategy.

A Look at Roots Magic

Viewing a Tree

Like most genealogy programs, there is a pedigree view and a family view. Screen colors are customizable. I chose a light blue.

 Report Formats

Save reports in the format that works best for you.

Create a Report

Some reports, such as the place list, report on everything in your tree. But many of the reports can be controlled with family selection. Here's how easy it is to report on just selected people.

Choose the report, in this case Missing Information List.

Choose the rules for the report. I want to see missing birth, death and marriage. But I want to use a list to select certain people, rather than report on everyone.

Pick the main person, then choose mark group to choose ancestors and/or descendants. The mark group button can be clicked several times until everyone is selected. For this report, I chose only 3 generations of descendants and spouses.

If I pick wrong, just do it again with different rules until the resulting report is what I want. Then save or print the report.


Another handy report is the timeline, which can be created for one person, everyone, or a selected group.


The surname statistics is a fun little report. Who knew I had five males with no last name! I sure didn't. Time for another missing information report.

This report is a little trickier. I choose the Individual List, and Selected People. After clicking Mark Group, I have to choose people by data fields.

I choose surname is blank and sex is male.

And here are the men I need to work on.

And Much More

Roots Magic has a lot more tools to help manage and report on our family trees. If this looks interesting to you, be sure to check out their website for more screen shots and feature lists.

I'll be upgrading when I attend the FGS Conference in August in Indiana. They will no doubt have a special conference price and I do love to save a buck or two.

But in the meantime, I have a lot of work to do to find and fill all those gaps in my tree.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Genealogical Serendipity

SERENDIPITY: the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

I believe in genealogical serendipity -- it's happened to me more than once. Today I'd like to take you on a trip back to the technologically different days of the year 2000 when serendipity came to me in a big way.

In 2000, there were no smart phones and no tablets. Most people used desktop computers, as laptops were expensive. PDAs like my Palm Pilot were more common and I had a pager. Remember pagers? If you did have a laptop, internet and e-mail access from a hotel meant using a slow dial-up connection. From our perspective in 2013, that seems like the technology middle-ages!

That year, I spent a week in a hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in mid-December. Ice and snow turned driving into a nightmare. Waking to six inches of snow one gloomy morning, I opted to take a vacation day. The company computers were behaving nicely, and I had my work laptop and pager and cell phone if the boss needed me to dial in for a crisis.

How would I spend the next 16 hours? The vast wasteland of daytime TV was not attractive, especially with the hotel's limited channels. So I decided to trudge through personal e-mail folders and do some clean up.

You know all those e-mails you plan to read someday? The newsletters on crafting, genealogy, technology, business, or home design. Everyone wants to send us newsletters and they just pile up. I use filters on my e-mail -- behind the scenes Yahoo looks at the subject or the sender and drops new email into folders for me. I don't even see many newsletters unless I look at the folder.

That day I decided to just start at the newest genealogy newsletter and go back in time. I opened one, skimmed it, checked any interesting links, then deleted it. Rinse and repeat. After just a few, I saw an item that stopped me.

A gentleman named Jeff had created a website that was an electronic copy of an old family book on the Pefley family. Hmmm. I had seen that name before. I looked at the family tree that I carried in my Palm Pilot and there it was. A family member (a collateral line) had married a Pefley. I did want to find the death and burial information for the parents of Mary Hannah Bosseck Pefley.

These books on a particular surname are very hit and miss, but I had time. That slow dial-up made the website unusable. I e-mailed Jeff and he kindly sent me a copy in Word format right away.


I searched for the name Bosseck inside the book and was puzzled at the first find.

  • [person] 663 -- Elizabeth Rettinger (dau. of No. 7) married ... Christian Peter Bosseck (see No. 1424). Issue ... Mary Hannah Bosseck ... (Perhaps others).

Wait a minute. Why is Elizabeth Rettinger in here as a daughter of someone and where are all the other Bosseck children? I'm just looking for information on Mary and her husband. I remember my utter bafflement. I searched for the next match on Bosseck.

  • [person] 1424 -- George Mangus Pefley (son of No. 1324) married ... Mary Hannah Bosseck ... (see No. 663) ...

My head was spinning. I went back and forth between the two, the only references to Bosseck in the book. Finally I took out a piece of paper and started to draw a bit of a tree, following the son of ... and daughter of ... links to parents and beyond.

The Tree Grows

When I reached the top, I was amazed. I had five new generations to add to my tree. I, myself, was a descendant of Nicholas Pefley, person number one in the book. Mary had married her second cousin once removed!

I had not been looking for anything other than where Mary had died so that I could find her grave and maybe an obituary. I was looking simply for the graves of her parents, my 4th great-grandparents.

Not only did the book provide a place of death for Mary and five new generations, it also yielded a Revolutionary war veteran (DAR-worthy) and an understanding of the ethnic and religious roots of this Swiss-German branch of my family, along with their migration patterns.

I visited Mary's grave in eastern Kansas the following year. The graves of her parents, my ancestors, are two markers away from hers.

Pefley photo courtesy of Julie Wollard Trout. Recollections digital kit by Joanne Brisebois Designs for Digital Scrapper (formerly Scrapper's Guide)  

The Cycle Continues

I added Mary's husband's ancestors to my database, as well as my own ancestors. That recently paid off. I was able to suggest this book to another person to further their research on one of George Pefley's ancestors named Graybill.

Thanks to a miserable snow day and a genealogy newsletter, serendipity brought me a book I would likely have never looked at otherwise. And serendipity allowed me to pass it on when I saw the name Graybill and the location Ladoga, Indiana, in the tree of another researcher.

Watch for those gifts -- I know the universe has some for each of us.