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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Finding an ancestor with an unusual surname

Norma's Question:
I have researched my family pretty well here in USA. My Maiden name is
Ernenputsch, and. as you can see it is unusual and there are about 175 or so with that name. I have the entrance of my gggrandfather and family into the states, however when I check the German files I cannot locate him or his family in Germany. How or where do I search to find information on him or
his parents? His name is Carl/Charles Ernenputsch and is found to be a widower on the passenger list. He and his 3 children immigrated November 6,
1885. I lost track of him until his death in Michigan 1918. My grandfather's name was Hugo and I pretty much have his information. His
brother Charles was murdered in Lincoln Twn., Newaygo, Michigan. His murder was never solved. They had a sister by the name of Rosetta (aka Setta.) I have traced her to Chicago by her married name of Whitfield, and she had 3 daughters. I would appreciate very much to be able to make contact with her descendants but without knowing their married name I am at a loss. How do I find out what the married names are?

Olive Tree Answer:
Dear Norma, You have many questions, I will try to briefly answer each of them.

You are blessed and cursed with an unusual surname. The good part is that you may be able to find other Ernenputsch's who have more complete details which can provide you with clues to where families with that name originated. Some may have complete Home Town information on their passenger lists, or on their applications for naturalization. Some people have detailled obituaries which mention their birthplaces. As far as Carl is concerned, have you obtained his death certificate? The Library of Michigan, in partnership with Michigan State Archives, has placed death certificates 1897 - 1920 online.

Did he have an obituary? Did he apply for naturalization? Or did Carl and Hugo naturalize? has Naturalization Recordsicon from NARA. also has Naturalization records as part of their World Archives Project

And be sure to look for burials: oftentimes immigrants have both their hometowns and US towns proudly carved on those headstones.

Did you derive the emigration information from an index, or from the actual Hamburg passenger list? The Hamburg list has a residence included.

As you have Hugo's complete information (including birthdate) it will be easier to identify the correct person when you get to those German church records. Don't forget the German naming conventions, do a search on vornamen and ruhnamen for further explanations.

As for Rosetta Whitfield, I did a quick check at the Illinois State Archives; Rosetta died 07 July 1937 in Chicago: her obituary will probably give the daughter's married names. And check the 1910 census: I believe there is another daughter. You can find obituaries in many online newspaper sites such as, or


  1. How can I get in touch with Barbara Brown? Thank you for all that you do.

  2. Typo: Rufnamen, not ruhnamen.
    German surname mapping site Geogen
    indicates that Ernenputsch, while rare (42 households in current German phonebooks), is concentrated around Cologne (Köln) in western North Rhine-Westphalia. That region was Rhineland (Rheinprovinz) in Prussia in the timeframe of the ancestor's emigration. However, more research would be needed to show that the surname was native to that area and not a more recent transplant.
    This information may help in interpreting American records which often badly misspell or misinterpret foreign placenames.

  3. Julie Cahill Tarr very kindly looked for the obit of Rosetta Whitfield and sent it on to me for forwarding to Norma. Thank you Julie!!

    The highlights from the obit were the names of Rosetta's daughters - Myrna Seviss, Louise Daley and Florence Whitfield.

    Julie can be found at Julie's Blog