A fascinating hobby–Genealogy !

The basics of all genealogical work are names. Names made by people; but every name contains two sciences: Onomastic and Ethnicity and that is what makes Genealogy to a kind of science and sometimes difficult. But lets go back and discover the basics of this fascinating hobby.

Here it occurs to me to use to use this word hobby and apply to it the two above mentioned sciences: The English word “Hobby” corresponds to German “Liebhaberei”. So the ethnic quality of Hobby is English and of “Liebhaberei” is German. That’s easy. 

The Onomastic question is a bit more difficult and the easy part is the German form, it means: to love something; it is used as a verb, as to read, to bred horses, to watch birds, etc.  and converts to a noun to describe these activities when they are not being part of the normal daily activities.

falconryThe English form is more difficult, the word, according to my studies,  stems from Middle English “hoby”,  and is explained as follows: a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged especially for relaxation. If you dig more into it you will find that “hoby” is also a small falcon. And here I conclude a hypothetical proposition and explain that falconry was a pursuit outside  regular occupation of the middle age aristocrats, engaged especially for relaxation. And this “Liebhaberei” created its English counterpart Hobby. But Wikipedia has a completely different version:

In the 13th century, the term “hobyn” had the meaning of “small horse or pony”. _Tristram_Shandy, uncle Toby and his hobby-horseThe term hobbyhorse was documented in a 1557 payment confirmation for a “Hobbyhorse” from Reading, England. The item, originally called a “Tourney Horse”, was made of a wooden or basketwork frame with an artificial tail and head. Designed to mimic a real horse, the hobbyhorse was used for religious activities and civic occasions. By 1816 the the derivative, “hobby”, was introduced into the vocabulary of an unknown number of English people. Over the course of subsequent centuries, the term came to mean “recreational” or “leisurely pursuit”.

Here we have a typical situation, which occurs very often in genealogical research, two explanations offered, free to choose. Of course you have to decide  for “Tristram Shandy and uncle Toby”. If you like “falconry”, you have to dig and proof without any doubt that your choice is valid.

This hobby, as all of them, is not easy, especially in the American case. Continuous immigration of, at the beginning, 75%  immigrants unable to read and write ( result of an exercise of 10 immigrants ships from Germany, Rau 30 000 immigrants); records taken from people which wrote what they heard – let to an spelling tohuwabohu. Here an example from the muster roll of Maryland during the French Indian war:

Pickapah Beckenbok Pecabough

So the question how is the original name spelled? It is Beckenbach!

Further there is a problem with ethnicity. Is this name French, English, Dutch or German? The American Government financed in 1930-ties a study, “Surnames in the United States Census of 1790”, which reports for example, that the the ethnicity of Maryland contains 208 649 persons and 11.7% are of German ethnicity (page 307).

I tried to proof it with an very simple example: the muster roll of the French Indian War of 1757. It contains 1483 soldier names of Maryland. Without any doubt are  291names German and another 211 names most possibly German. That does mean that more than one third of this representative sample are of German origin. This is a difference of 22.o% to the official publication. Check this file with this link to Maryland Historical Magazine, muster roll 1757.

As we see, sometimes it is very difficult to discover the explanation of a name and often it is even more difficult to  detect and identify the ethnic roots of a name. 

And a final word to internet offers of Genealogy, all these web sites which offer family research assistance are more interested in subscription than in quality. And if somebody takes his time and checks these sites,he will discover that for one name set ( first and family names) completely different filiations are published.



1. a : the science or study of the origins and forms of words especially as used in a specialized field

    b : the science or study of the origin and forms of proper names of persons or places

2     : the system underlying the formation and use of words especially for proper names or of words  used in a specialized field