How a Surname Had Me Spiraling Down a Rabbit Hole

For the most part, we research our family trees from ourselves back one generation at a time, moving on and continuing back to the oldest known ancestor as the line is proven. To write about my children’s 5th great-grandparents, Johann MEDER (ca. 1720-1784) and Susanna LAMBERT (1729-1803) of Ettelbruck, I had to research the changes in their surnames in order to locate their baptismal records. This took me back another 100 years to the 1600s and sent me spiraling down a rabbit hole.

goingbackintimeWhen Did Mederhansen become Meder?

The surname MEDER evolved from MEDERHANSEN in the 1700s. During the 1600s, when the earliest church records were kept, the name was almost exclusively found as MEDERHANSEN. During the 1700s both versions of the name were found.

In the church records for Ettelbruck at FamilySearch.org, I found a register with extracted data from the baptismal records for the years 1640-1710, pages of families tree diagrams of the first families of Ettelbruck, and lists of marriages with numbers cross-referencing to the family trees. A treasure of information but a rabbit hole which had me looking up each baptismal record for children with surnames MEDERHANSEN.

lapsus calami
a slip of the pen

Extracted information of baptismal records from the 1600s was printed in 1896 or earlier and included in the register likely put together by the priest who was serving Ettelbruck before 1900. The person who transcribed the names for the printed version had difficulty with the handwriting in some documents and was not consistent with the second part of the name which resulted in MEDERHANSEN also being seen as MEDERHAUSEN.

hay

*Mader, Meder – a person who mows grain or hay.
(see comment below)

I consulted Luxemburger Familiennamenbuch by Cristian Kollmann, Peter Gilles and Claire Muller (2016), a book on family names in Luxembourg. MEDER is a surname derived from an occupation.* The author(s) also believed Mederhausen to be a copyist’s error as the name was not a toponym (place name) or a family name which is still in use. In 1611 the name MEDERT was found in the Feuerstattenverzeichnisse, a census of fireplaces or households in Luxembourg. In genealogical databases (church records) MEDERHANSEN evolved into MEDER around 1670. In the 1880 Luxembourg census there were 67 households in the country with the name MEDER, a whopping 0.35%. In 2009 only 24  (0.15%) listings were found in the Luxembourg telephone book for MEDER.

2016-08-27 10.44.48 EttelbruckFollowing the end of the Thirty-Years’ War in 1648, the population of Ettelbruck, Ettelbréck as it is known in Luxembourgish, was 281 per the table below. When Johannes MEDER and Susanna LAMBERT married in 1752 the population had likely surpassed the 763 seen in 1750.

BevölkerungstablleEttelbrück
“Luxembourg registres paroissiaux, 1601-1948,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-32461-2361-92?cc=2037955 : 9 January 2015), Ettelbruck > Baptêmes 1640-1710, tables généalogiques des premières familles > image 2 of 70; paroisses, Luxembourg (parishes, Luxembourg).

The wrong first name in the printed list for the father of Adam MEDERHANSEN (Johannes’ father) had me wondering if the others may contain errors as well. Adam’s father’s name was listed as Nic., short for Nicolas, in the printed list.

1696printedindex
“Luxembourg registres paroissiaux, 1601-1948,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-32461-2196-7?cc=2037955 : 9 January 2015), Ettelbruck > Baptêmes 1640-1710, tables généalogiques des premières familles > image 59 of 70; paroisses, Luxembourg (parishes, Luxembourg).

The baptismal record showed a son of Jacobus MEDERHANSEN and his wife Susanna was baptized on 24 August 1696 with godparents Adam MEDERHANSEN of Ettelbruck and Eva JACOBS of Warken. The name of the son was omitted but as it was tradition to name the child after the godparent of the same gender the omitted name had to be Adam.

1696AdamMederhansenBaptism
1696 Baptismal Record of the son of Jacobus MEDERHANSEN and his wife Susanna

After making a list of all MEDERHANSEN children born in Ettelbruck between 1645 and 1710 I gathered the baptismal records which included the names of the father, mother, and godparents. Once the list was complete an examination showed there were two families having children at the same time.

  • Henricus MEDERHANSEN and his wife Elisabeth
  • Nicolas MEDERHANSEN and his wife Margaretha

Both of the men and their wives had children from about 1645-1646 into the 1660s which leads me to believe they were about the same age and possibly brothers.

A large problem in analyzing the family connections this far back is the lack of death and marriage records for the period 1640 to 1725. Both MEDERHANSEN families had a son named Jacob. Nicolas’ son was born in 1646 and Henri’s son was born in 1655. To further complicate matters I found three women having children with men named Jacob.

  • Jacob and Maria had children in 1671, 1672, and 1674 (Nicolas)
  • Jacob and Eva had children in 1688 and 1690 (Nicolas or Henri)
  • Jacob and Susanna had children in 1696, 1698, and 1703 (my husband’s line)

Are all three Jacobs the same person, two persons, or even three – the last perhaps a grandson and not a son of one of the two first MEDERHANSEN families in Ettelbruck?

MRIN39230 MEDER Family Tree from 1600s to 1800s tiny
“Luxembourg registres paroissiaux, 1601-1948,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-32461-2471-13?cc=2037955 : 9 January 2015), Ettelbruck > Baptêmes 1640-1710, tables généalogiques des premières familles > image 12 of 70; paroisses, Luxembourg (parishes, Luxembourg).

Also found in the register were these diagrams of MEDER family trees including the MEDERHANSEN version of the name. Heinrich MEDER seen at the top of the diagram above was one of the two MEDERHANSEN men whose families were in Ettelbruck in the 1600s. Nicolas MEDERHANSEN in the diagram below was a son of Heinrich seen above.

MRIN39230 Nicolas MEDER Family Tree from 1600s to 1800s cropped
“Luxembourg registres paroissiaux, 1601-1948,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-32461-2316-29?cc=2037955 : 9 January 2015), Ettelbruck > Baptêmes 1640-1710, tables généalogiques des premières familles > image 13 of 70; paroisses, Luxembourg (parishes, Luxembourg).

The person who did these diagrams (mind-mapping on paper) would have greatly profited from today’s technology. Following all of the diagrams he included a list of marriages he used to create them. Many of the earliest marriages are “guesstimates” as a question mark was included before the year. How reliable are the early connection he made in the above diagrams? Further research may any this question.

As the births, marriages, and deaths for Ettelbruck appear to be complete from 1725 until 1815 in the church records, my next step will be to slowly go through all records beginning in 1725. It may be a while before I climb out of this rabbit hole or dig deeper into it.

Either way, I’m hopeful I will get additional help from my genealogy association in Luxembourg. Luxracines will soon be opening a library to the members and public. As treasurer and a member of the board, I’ve been helping set up the library and will be sharing some of the “behind the scenes” moments in next week’s post.

bestwishescathy1

© 2016, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

As a military brat I've lived in Georgia, France, Idaho, West Virginia, Spain, South Carolina, Texas, and Luxembourg. Married 39 years with two grown children. When I’m not doing genealogy, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful countryside in Luxembourg and surrounding countries.

8 thoughts on “How a Surname Had Me Spiraling Down a Rabbit Hole”

  1. My guess would be that the second and third Jacob are the same man with two different wives (not at the same time, I hope) based on the birth years of the children. It’s fascinating that there are such detailed family trees in these church records. Of course, like modern trees on places like Ancestry, they can have errors, but at least they are a great starting point!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Amy. I was leaning the same way with the Jacobs. This was the first time I’ve seen diagrams like this. Last year I found a register with family groups in written form. So interesting. Makes me wonder if there may be more things like this in the Luxembourg archives.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you and with Amy; I’m also leaning toward the 2nd and 3rd Jacobs being the same man with two wives. Hopefully those death records will help prove or disprove that theory.

    The absence of an index might be a blessing in disguise. I find I “see” more when I have to look at every record rather than skipping through to just one surname.

    OMG – I absolutely LOVE the diagrams! I’ve never seen anything like them in all the records I’ve explored. So cool.

    I’m excited for you and the library opening. Can’t wait for your behind-the-scenes post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Laura. Definitely will be checking out the death records in hopes of getting these figured out. The diagrams are fantastic – a bit hard to follow at first glance. I just got back from spending all day working at the library with a few others.

      Like

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