Surnames: Peter Herrick or Petrus Heurich?

Lotte Lehmann by “Caveman Chuck” Coker, on Flickr. CC Image, Some rights reserved
Lotte Lehmann's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of several that misspell their subjects' name.
Lotte Lehmann by “Caveman Chuck” Coker, on Flickr. CC Image, Some rights reserved
Lotte Lehmann's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is one of several that misspell their subjects' name.

For some time, while doing research to create my family tree, I had a very hard time figuring out what my ancestors’ last names were originally. In a couple specific cases, I was wondering what their German last names were before they came to the country. I was told our family’s last name had changed a few times since my first ancestor came from Germany. I wanted to know all these possible names, but it didn’t appear there were any immediately online resources that helped me to figure out their original names.

During one online search, I found a text file (.txt) online while looking into my paternal line’s names. This GEDCOM file was created by my grandfather’s older sister and had details about a few of my family members.

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This is how I learned that Peter Herrick and Eva Josephine Heil Herrick were my ancestors.

I must admit I was surprised to see them listed with my same last name. If the stories were true, Peter and Eva must have had a different last name before moving to the US; so it’s very likely that when my great aunt made this GEDCOM file she simply used Herrick to make it easier for us to find Peter and Eva in our genealogical search. Now that I knew first names, birth/death dates, and locations, I had more information to help my search in figuring out the old German last names.

In one of my Google searches, I stumbled upon an entry where the last name Heurich was in parenthesis. Using this name in place of Herrick allowed me to circumstantially confirm that this was the name Peter and Eva came to America with. While I couldn’t find any original documents with this name, I was able to find that this was the name he went by and that others knew him by this name.

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With more research, I found a webpage that listed his son’s name as George:

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While researching Peter’s children further, I found another possible spelling for Peter’s last name – Herrich.

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In other documents, there was yet another spelling of the Herrick name – Hirrick. Using this spelling, I was able to find all sorts of documents regarding the sons and daughters of Peter and Eva.

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On the death certificate and in a book recording the death of George, one of Peter’s sons, the last name for both men (and one of Peter’s daughters) is recorded as Hirrick.

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I believe that knowing and recording all the last names that have been used in your family is important. This is especially important for people with ancestors from a different part of the world. Knowing an alternative spelling will allow you to search as many documents as possible and go back further in your genealogical search. If I had used only the last name Herrick, my ancestral search would have ended long ago.

It is important to list any and all possible spellings of your last name for your own and your family members’ research purposes. Even if a name seems wrong and you think there is no possible way that that last name is linked to your family, even if it seems like a long shot, there is a chance that the name belongs on your tree. Like in my case, where I was able to find two other ancestors despite what I viewed as a misspelling, had I not recorded that seemingly misspelled last name I would not have the ancestral links that I do today. The hard work you put in can go a long way in helping others and perhaps even linking you to more people than you thought. Being aware of the spelling changes throughout the years and between countries is extremely significant.

The family tree feature on this website gives you additional name boxes for this exact reason. Inputting all the possible names, with the most likely name listed first, will allow you to keep track of all of the variations and could potentially help others in their own research.

Chuck Herrick

Charles Herrick is the Founder and CEO of Full Family Tree, LLC. Since founding the company two years ago, Chuck has drawn on his twenty plus years experience in ecommerce and information systems in order to shape his dream of a free social genealogy platform into FullFamilyTree.com.

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