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Foreign countries

When searching ancestors in foreign countries the challenge of deciphering the names can take on a crazy journey. It could be the names of people or/and the names of towns.

For example, borders are moved and therefore the town is then listed under another country and so it’s in the language of the country it now belongs to.

This is particularly prevalent in Eastern European countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Balkans and some of the Baltic countries.

For example, an ancestor may have been born in a town that was East Prussia or Germany but in the 1870’s when Prussia was dissolved, the border was changed so that town could be now in Poland or even Lithuania.

Based on this, the searching can be a bit of a nightmare even with the technology and the internet.

Personal experience

In regards to deciphering people’s names and using my personal experience as an example, my Grandfather was born in the Brisbane region in Queensland in 1888. According to his birth certificate, his father was Prussian and his Mother was German.

Looking at their scenario logically. Being a farmer, the area of Zillman Waterholes/Zillmere, where they lived, was approximately a whole day trip to the hub of German Station (renamed Nundah). And in those times a trip would’ve only been done once or twice a month.

Based on this, the chances are there wasn’t a doctor or midwife attending the birth.

It was more than likely to be a wife/friend from a nearby farm.

If there was a mid-wife/friend present, they were probably German as well and if there was a Doctor, he could have been either. I’m guessing that as this was the 12th child, no Doctor was present. 


Can you imagine the difficulty in interpreting what was said for the details of the birth certificate?

By this time, my Great Grand-parents had been in Australia for approximately 15 – 20 years so most probably the language and accents would have still been strong and difficult to understand.

I’m not sure if the great grandparents could write in English but as a farmer, I am summizing he could not, so his broken English is what has been entered onto the registration details.

I can only assume that the birth certificate would have been completed the next time they travelled to Nundah. From there the post office would have then sent it to Brisbane for official registering and filing.

Birth certificate

There are 3 towns listed on the birth certificate.

My Great Grandfather’s place of birth which has been understood to be Somrou, Prussia, Germany.

My Great Grandmother’s place of birth which was understood to be Hillenowa, Germany.

And their place of marriage was Derschow, Germany.

Getting the spelling of the town names correct would have been the challenge. I have searched for what is written on the birth certificate but unfortunately, with no success.

To try and decipher these in the 21st century has its challenges as there some considerations needed.

  1. A Prussian/German person speaking broken English to an English person, the towns would have been written/spelt phonetically.
  2. A Prussian/German person writing with their own ‘assumption’ of the correct English spelling of these towns.
  3. A person from Prussia/Germany loosely knowing how to write in English where the lettering is not structured correctly so can be confused with another letter of the alphabet.
  4. Once the handwritten document reached someone who was responsible to type up the official document, another possibility of error is mis-understanding the spelling or simply misspelling when typing a name.
  5. The next hurdle was that due to the ‘Iron Curtain’ these towns were inaccessible and as the borders moved and Prussia was dissolved, the names of towns changed.
  6. Also, the language or spelling of towns had changed.

Researching the family

Because of this, researching the family has been slow and difficult. And of course, if it’s too hard, I’ll go to another ancestor in the Family Tree and come back later when I’m feeling positive again.

To put it in some sort of chronological order, they were married in Derschow (now spelt Dersau or is it Dirschow).

A bonus then came my way via a distant cousin through another Family Tree in Ancestry while doing what I larv (researching).

I came across information about an earlier child, my grandfather’s older brother was Christened in a town still named Tczew Prussia (now Poland) so that has assisted in creating the family’s journey which led them to Australia.

According to documents found, the young family had travelled from the town Feigendorf (near Bamberg) to Tczew in 1874. They were on their way to board a ship in Danzig (now Gdansk) which was headed to London.

Here in 1875 they boarded another ship called the Gauntlet for the long sea journey.

Also, this voyage is significant as my Great Grandmother gave birth to another son while sailing. The child was given the middle name of ‘Gauntlet’.

Yet to interpret

I’m still yet to interpret my Great Grandfather’s place of birth, the town on the birth certificate spelt as Somrou, Prussia.

If anyone has any clues, thoughts or suggestions I’d larv to hear from you.

Quite a while ago I’ve discovered websites where you can list the original spelling and you’ll be given suggestions of the names of the towns as they are now.

What a brilliant piece of technology!! Bravo! But it still hs it’s limitations if the wording is mis-spelt.

All I have to do now is work out the original name and correct spelling of the towns.


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