My mother’s great, grandmother was called “Little Tiny Grandma.” She was Antonia Fischer and was born 20 Feb 1851 in Dlouha Trebova, in the Kingdom of Bohemia. Maybe you’ve never heard of such a place? It doesn’t exist on a map anymore, so I wouldn’t blame you for being puzzled. The town is now Dlouha Trebova, East Bohemia, Czech Republic. She’s lived to be 94 years old and died in my mom’s hometown in 1946. We know her hometown because there was a large group of immigrants from Dlouha Trebova that immigrated all together and their records are numerous and consistent. We’ve even tracked their baptisms (in German) in the very small town that the families are from.
Antonia is a great example of why it’s so hard to identify a female immigrant’s hometown. First because of her age, and second because she lived 90 of those years in the same county in Minnesota. Third, because Minnesota took state censuses in between federal ones. So, she has a lot of records! Let’s take a look.
The family immigrated in 1854 and they first shows up in the 1857 Minnesota State Census. The family consists of Benjamin, Anna, Josephine, Antonia, Joseph and Charley. The four oldest are listed as being from Germany.
The 1860 US Federal Census listed the oldest 3 as being from Bohemia.
It’s the same in the 1870, 1880 and 1900 US Federal Censuses and the 1875, 1885 and 1895 Minnesota State Census: Bohemia.
But, Antonia’s birthplace changes in the 1910 US Federal Census where she is the widow of Frank Belina. The transcription of the record states that she is from “Austria.” When looking at the original it states, “Austria-Bohemia.”
In 1920, she’s also from Austria.
Finally, in 1940, Antonia is from Czechoslovakia.
So, where would you begin looking for this family in Europe? Germany, Austria, Bohemia or Czechia?
Why all of the differences? Census takers used the world map at the time the census was taken to enumerate the birthplaces of U.S. residents. The map of Europe changed drastically from 1851 to 1946 in the course of Antonia’s lifetime. Germany, Bohemia, Austria and Czechoslovakia, but all the same place and the same town.
So, what’s a genealogist to do?
If you have European immigrants with similar birthplaces, maps are your friends.
- Print out a current world map (or just of Europe to narrow it down.)
- Then, Google search: “map of XXX in 18Xx,” and see what might come up.
- Or try researching at the David Rumsey map collection online.
- Enter the locations and the census years corresponding to your ancestor.
- Track where the countries of origins are on your own map.
- You may find that as time goes on, that the area where your ancestor lives is narrow down considerably.
- Try using the earliest location that’s used. It’s usually the most accurate.
- Later census records have ethnic data or information about what language someone speaks. For example, someone may be from Russia and speak Yiddish. Those are big clues to locations and history.
- Research others in the county that may have immigrated at the same time. Where are they from?
- Consider other sources outside of census records: local histories, naturalization papers, obituaries, and land records are great sources to explore.
What are your tips for finding an immigrant’s hometown?
Good luck researchers!