Benedict or Frederick…What’s in a name?

I’m certain many genealogists have encountered it. The sought for record remains elusive. No matches turn up. Finally you decide to check some of the matches you know are wrong, and there it is: the record you were searching for was right in front of you the whole entire time.

This is what happened with me and my third great grandpa, Benedict Fritz. Or should I say…Frederick?

According to the passenger list, my third great grandfather arrived from Austria (through France) to New York in 1853 under the name “Benedict Fritz”.

In 1857, he married under the name “Benedict Fritz”.

His naturalization in 1859 also had the name “Benedict Fritz”.

By 1860, Benedict and his wife, Anna, had two children, a daughter and a son.

The 1870 US Federal Census listed their daughter as Louisa Fritz. By 1880, she was married and listed on the census as Louesa Abernathy. Their son was listed as William Fritz on the 1870 census, and Willie Fritz in 1880. There were other children, but their ages on these censuses show the third-born child was born around 1862, and I was in search of the 1860 US Federal Census.

I had previously searched for Benedict in 1860 before I knew much about his kids. Perhaps I’d have better luck searching knowing about those children.

Because Benedict lived in Blakesburg, Wapello County, Iowa in 1870 and 1880, that seemed like a good place to start. I began with a simple filter for the 1860 census on

  • Name: “Fritz”
  • Lived In (Residence):”Wapello County, Iowa, USA”

The result:

I may have managed to overlook the name Frederick Fritz in the past, but when seeing it narrowed down this way, I can see this is Benedict, his wife, and their kids.

My first thought is that this is a transcription error. I was ready to go correct it on Ancestry until I saw the image:

This makes me wonder, who gave this information to the census taker? Was it either Benedict or Anna? They were both Austrian immigrants, and may have had thick accents, making them hard to understand.

Or was Anna the informant, and simply didn’t know her husband’s name properly yet after three years of marriage? (I hope I’m kidding on this one!) Clearly Louisa and William weren’t talking enough to get their father’s name wrong.

Is it likely for a neighbor to have provided the names of the wife and kids accurately, but mistake the husband’s name? Benedict was a farmer, so the nearest farm could have been a distance away. Maybe Anna had a friend who was a wife on another farm, and she spent enough time with Anna and the kids to know their names, but had Benedict’s name wrong when speaking as informant for the census?

Some mysteries will never be resolved.

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