Last names can be difficult to decipher, as you cannot look them up in a dictionary to see if your transcription guess is correct. Fortunately for us, however, there are some great websites that can help us to verify these tricky handwritten words in our genealogy documents. Simply make use of these sites below, and you will be feeling confident you are on the right track in no time!
1. Geogen: http://geogen.stoepel.net/
Geogen is one of my favorite websites, and is invaluable when deciphering last names. If you are unsure of a last name, type it into the search field (name>). If your last name exists, a number of blue columns will appear on the German map to the left, showing you where the most instances of that last name appear in Germany. Check to see if these columns are in the region where your record comes from. If so, your transcription guess is likely correct!
However, if your record comes from Schleswig-Holstein, and the last name columns only appears in a small southwestern part of the country, this is most likely a sign that your name is incorrect. If this is the case, or if you see error: nothing found, this likely means that one or more of the letters in your transcription is incorrect. Geogen often suggests similarly-spelled options of the name, but I’ve found that these are usually pretty far off. In this case, it’s better to go back to your handwritten word and see if you maybe missed a letter here or there.
Once you do find a correct transcription, click on the smaller map of Germany on the left of the screen. This will take you to a new page. Click on Show Cities Overlay on the right, and major German cities will appear. This allows you to better place the occurrences of your last name.
2. Google Transcription Guess + Nachname
While Geogen is great, there are instances where last names do exist, but the map does not find them. If you receive an error: nothing found on Geogen, be sure to google the last name first before giving up. To narrow down your Google results, type in the transcription guess of the last name, plus the German word for last name: Nachname. If no results appear, you’ll know that you really must have transcribed the word wrong. However, if you see instances of the last name, click on the links and see if they apply to the region where you record comes from.
3. FamilySearch: https://www.familysearch.org/
FamilySearch is a wonderful database of names, and you can use it to check your work. Go to the Records section, and type in your transcription guess of the name, plus the state or province where your record comes from. If names appear for your specific region, your transcription guess could very well be correct.
4. Namenskarte: https://interaktiv.tagesanzeiger.ch/newsnetz/namenkarte/
Are your ancestors from Switzerland? If so, you can type in your last name in the Name search box, and it will show you the distribution of that name in Switzerland based on the telephone book. If your last name doesn’t exist, it will say Keine Übereinstimmungen gefunden (No matches found). Look back at your handwritten word, and try again!
5. NamensKarte: https://namenskarten.lima-city.at/
Are your ancestors from Austria? If so, type in your last name where it says Name hier eingeben, and see how many instances of that last name exist. If your transcription guess is incorrect and the last name does not exist, it will say, Es konnte keine Karte erstellt werden, da für diesen Namen keine Daten vorliegen (A map cannot be generated as there is no data for this name).
Additional Last Name Lists:
- https://tng.adler-wien.eu/surnames-oneletter.php?firstchar=L (Vienna)