On Spellings and Origins

I have already lost the sense of name permanence as I learned to dig in old family history. I have enough personal experience now with old church and immigration records to know that there was a certain amount of creative spelling and name evolution. Specifically, as I looked early-on for places named Hasselbach from which Hasselbachers might spring, I did not know what to make about the significance s, ss, or ß in my name. (I still do not fully understand, but I no longer worry about it.) There is a however, a certain amount of non-randomness in the geographic variation of the spelling. The old scientist in me wants to find meaning in non-random events so I continue to investigate.

For example, if one enters place names into Goggle’s Map function for Germany, there are 9 Haselbach locations and 8 Hasselbach locations. However, if one enters the same names for sites in Austria, there are 10 Haselbach locations and no Hasselbach ones! I did not have to dig out my old statistics book to tell that this was not a random variation.

The differences in places was matched by a difference in names of people. I used the website of Christoph Stoepel, that draws upon names in the telephone directories of Germany and Austria. In Germany, there were 51 Haselbachers and 99 Hasselbachers. The majority of Hasselbachers were in my Franconian ancestral homeland. In Austria however, there were 146 Haselbachers and again no Hasselbachers. The Austrians were distributed in the eastern part of the country, not near Gresten.

What are we to make of this? Is this just some uniform spelling convention of the Austrian telephone company? That would not explain the absence of Hasselbach villages in Austria. Is there some linguistic difference between German language spoken by Germans and Austrians, either in the past or modern times? Do Austrians not like to use a double ‘s’? I hope someone will be able to address that for us and comment.

When did out ancestors first begin to write their own names instead of having to have a clergyman or civil scribe write it for them? What would they have written? We have some suggestion from the transcriptions of a 20th century historian who visited Gresten, Austria and was able to see some church or civil records kept in the its castle. He interpreted what he saw several ways in different records: Haselbacher, Hasenbacher, Hasselbacher, Haselpacher, and even Haßelbaur. The most common usage, 5 to 1 each of the others, was Haselbacher. The brook on which the family lived is called today the “Haselbach.”

You now have as much information as I do and know that I can only speculate. Just for fun, here is one scenerio. When the name of my earliest ancestors in Gresten was first written down in the early 1600s, it was usually spelled Haselbacher, perhaps a “farm name” taken from the place they lived. There likely was some variation in spelling, just as there was in the next century in Germany. When the sons of Steffan Haselbacher emigrated to Franconia, it appears to me that the names were initially spelled Haselbacher, but that a usage of Haßelbacher crept in over the latter part of the 1600’s and 1700’s that became Hasselbacher. I speculate that there may be a difference in the language of Germany that permitted such a shift which did not occur in Austria. I have several dozen examples of script from the church records that may be helpful in defining the Franconian evolution. This will not be a simple task for me as different writers made their “s’ and “ß” in very different ways: I will have to better learn the “hand” of the Pfarrers. It will however be a fun project and I will post some examples soon.

Peter Hasselbacher
Nov 16, 2007


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