How do you research naturalization paper neighbors?

After my initial attempt at researching names I discovered on a court docket for naturalization proceedings, I wondered how one should go about researching these names. You only have a name and a place of origin on the records from the 1850s. Without any relative or age details, how could you piece together someone’s history?

Rob Boudreau, a willing participant in crowding sourcing genealogy, offered his recommendations that I thought were worth sharing.

You would have to either research at the Franklin County archives, or try to find a book on Columbus history for that period. Often local histories mention prominent or noteworthy people. While online genealogy is a boon, there’s still much more that isn’t available online than is. 

Two other things are worth pondering. One is that it was too common in that period for census takers to not bother coming back to a residence if no one was there when they first visited, and hence the family would not be recorded. It’s also not uncommon for parts of the census to simply get lost between the time it was taken and when it reached the bean counters in Washington. And lastly, online sources of census records are notorious for transcription errors. It’s why I used wildcards for the few hits I got. Playing around with more wildcards in different positions may still turn Adam up, if there was an Adam. 

The other thing is, remember that shortly after Joseph was naturalized, the Civil War broke out. It wasn’t too uncommon for emigrants who enlisted to have their difficult surnames changed to make it easier for military clerks. The clerk might ask them “Does that mean something?” and if it had an easier English translation, say “Well, that’s going to be your name from now on.” If there was an Adam Noctlick, he might have had his name changed to something like ‘Nightly’ or even “Knight”. My guess is the name originated from the German nächtlich, meaning “nightly” or “nocturnal”. 

I know it’s not much help. Was it clerical error, was it a name change… ?

When hitting brick walls we often have to think of alternatives.

These are some really great tips to consider. I am truly grateful for a genealogy community that wants to help others on their own quests. So, these were Rob’s suggestions.

Another anonymous genealogy genie recommended searching in the following record sets:

  1. Local Histories: Often, local histories mention community leaders who be the very names on this naturalization document.
  2. German History or Newspaper from the area: Perhaps these names will appear in the German newspaper with an article about who was naturalized during this period and more about their witnesses.
  3. Search name variations: Search for the meaning of the names listed on the record. Perhaps these individuals changed their name to meaning, rather than the German equivalent.

These ideas highlight how much of an amateur genealogist I am. I simply put a name and a place of origin with a residence location into various census record searches. Flipping through a county the size of Franklin would be prohibitive to find a needle in a haystack. Maybe when the kids are grown I could justify flipping through the entire county looking for name similarities. For now, I rely on online research. But perhaps, I could apply some new strategies for the records I look for online.

Do you know of additional strategies for taking names from a naturalization court record and learning more about the paper neighbors? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comment section below.

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