Searching the Old Country for Baby Names
Genealogists say that the search for family history begins with the individual doing the digging. Start with your own records and information from family members close to you and expand your search from there.
Digging around in your own culture or any others that have a special appeal to you can yield some unusual and beautiful names, but don't overlook the fact that it can help you blend traditions from several cultures, should you need to do so.
A leading source of genealogical information is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormons have long gathered such records for use by church members for religious purposes; access is also given to the general public.
In many respects, names with an ethnic link comprise a name fashion that is long overdue. The current cultural style—in the U.S., anyway—is to know more rather than less about who you are and where you came from, and to honor that heritage for all that it's worth.
Finding the names with specific genealogical links used to be very difficult, especially for families that weren't much on keeping records. Fortunately, the available resources have increased substantially, thanks to the burgeoning interest in tracing our roots. Greater efforts are also being made to preserve records that may not have seemed very important before.
If you're looking for a name directly linked to your specific heritage, these are the most probable places for it to appear:
- Family documents, such as wills, deeds, birth and death records, marriage licenses, letters, etc. Scour such things as attics, old trunks, closets, scrapbooks, even the backs of pictures for such items.
- Genealogical collections at libraries. Your family's name may be mentioned in an old biographical dictionary or county history. Also check the birth and death announcements in old newspapers.
- Local and state historical societies and museums. These facilities are often repositories for birth and death records, baptismal records from local churches, deed and ownership records, even elementary school and high school yearbooks. If your family is from a small town and there's been a history written about it, these places are also your best bet for tracking down such publications, which can also contain valuable information about your family.
- City and county records offices. Court records are maintained by these offices, as well as recorded wills, land deeds and leases, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, etc. Coroners' files, voter registration lists, and tax rolls also can yield important information.
- The Internet. Do a search on your own name or on your family name, and you'll have dozens (if not hundreds) of sites returned to you. One, or more, might relate directly to your family.
If you are less interested in tracing your family lineage than just finding a fresh and unique-sounding name for your child, try one of these suggestions:
- Large libraries have collections of foreign-language newspapers. Not only will you see names that are in strong use in other countries, you may get the chance to review birth announcements from those countries as well.
- The Internet has a number of sites that list names in use in other countries.
- Dig into a comprehensive history of the country you're interested in, and you'll find the names of the many people who contributed to that country's history and heritage. Biographies and autobiographies of famous people who hail from foreign countries are another rich source of names important to specific cultures.
More on: Choosing a Name
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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