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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

Place Names

One of Jen's recent videos was about the Meyers Gazetteer, an essential tool in the search for any German locations. A gazetteer is like a dictionary, but of geographic place names. Whatever country you're searching for your ancestors, a quick internet search for the country name along with word 'gazetteer" may reveal a similar useful resource.

A recent client project had us searching for an immigrant ancestor from Bohemia, in the present-day Czech Republic. Only one record from the US included this person's place of birth. That birthplace was recorded as "Odras." An internet search revealed there was no such place.

It's a common problem in that place names from the old country may have been difficult to spell. It might also have been that an immigrant did not know how to spell the name of the town or area they came from, or the person recording the name in a US record spelled it phonetically, as it sounded to them.

Another useful resource for place names is the website. I've used it for Eastern European locations, but the site boasts that it "contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia." Their gazetteer search function allows the user to input the name of a town; the country or region where the town was located; and a search method. The last option offers the most usefulness. It allows the user to select whether the place name they've entered is an exact spelling, a phonetic spelling, or somewhere in between.

In the case of "Odras," there are no results for an exact search, which we already knew. There is one result from a search with "fuzzy" spelling: Odrau. But that location is far to the east, in Moravia, a location inconsistent with other clues. Finally, there is one result from a search for a "phonetically like" name: Údraž.

We wouldn't have immediately thought of or considered a name starting with U instead of O. But once that clue was suggested, Údraž seemed like the best place to search next. It turns out it was exactly the correct place of origin for the family we were looking for.

This is such a useful tool. It isn't the only feature of the site, however. You will need to register for an account in order to use the features, but it was quick and easy.


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