Was There Really a Johann to Take?

A recent posting about Johann Michael Trautvetter, 18th century resident of Wildprechtrode, Thuringen, Germany, referred to him as Johann in the title.

Not Johann Michael, not Michael, but Johann. I used “Johann” in the title of the post without really giving it much thought, I was trying to make the title short and really was not aware of how many people read titles and not the entire blog posts.

While keeping the title short was not a bad thing, referring to Johann Michael Trautvetter as Johann wasn’t technically correct. Aside from making the title shorter, there were two reasons why I used Johann. Reasons that were assumptions. Like all assumptions, I didn’t spend time thinking through them when I wrote the blog title. I just wrote the title with the unstated assumptions buried in the back of my mind. It was not until I was asked about the blog title by James Beidler that I got to thinking about my assumptions:

  1. I have a more recent ancestor also named Johann Michael Trautvetter. This 1839 native of Thuringen, Germany, was an 1853 immigrant to the United States and used the names Johann, John, Michael, John Michael, and Mike interchangeably throughout his life (five names–one for each day of the week). Because he was Johann Michael and followed that practice of using both names, I concluded the earlier one did as well. Of course, the immigrant Johann Michael lived most of his life in the United States, not Germany.
  2. The bulk of my German research has been concentrated in the Ostfriesland area where all my maternal ancestors immigrated from in the mid-19th century. In those families “first names” were actually used outside of church and were actual names that people were called. Second names there (when they had them) were often patronyms. So when my Ostfriesian ancestor was named Johann Hinrichs Ufkes, the name he actually went by to his neighbors was Johann (or in the US, John), not Hinrichs.

But the 18th century Johann Michael Trautvetter was not an immigrant to the United States and he was not an Ostfriesian. And that’s what makes the difference. Assumptions get researchers in trouble at the worst and cause us to make incorrect conclusions at the very least.

In looking through the church entries for various members of the Trautvetter family in Bad Salzungen, Germany, during the 1770-1800 time period many of them were named Johann, but not just Johann. They were:

  • Johann Michael
  • Johann George
  • Johann Adam
  • etc.

And families would have sons named Johann Michael, Johann George, and Johann Adam–all of whom survived. They were not reusing the names of previously deceased children in this case. The Johann was a baptismal name and one that could easily be reused. The second name was their “call name,” what they were actually known by or “called.”

So the 18th century Johann Michael Trautvetter was probably always Johann Michael Trautvetter in the church books and Michael Trautvetter to his family, friends, neighbors, and probably non-church records in which he appears. I do not know what his wife called him when she became irritated with him, but I’m pretty certain that term would not appear in the church records. However in looking at the actual church records it does appear that pastor occasionally slipped and referred to Johann Michael Trautvetter as Michael Trautvetter.

Whether that was to confuse later researchers or to keep St. Peter on his toes I’m not certain.

Assumptions can get us in trouble. When one’s research moves into a new ethnic area it’s important to note that some practices can change. It was important to me when my research moved into Thuringen to remember that it was not Ostfriesland.  And it was important for me to remember that how things were handled in the 1700s is not how they might have been handled in the late 1800s.

Beidler discusses the call name practice in his book. I know I read that section, but now it’s been marked red pencil with the page dog-eared so I know where to find it.





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