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The Daily Genealogist: Ancestors Who Spoke Languages Other Than English

(A Note from the Editor) Permanent link
Betlock Lynn

Lynn Betlock

Last week our survey question asked whether you or your more recent ancestors spoke a first language other than English. Two of the emails we received in response to the survey are excerpted below:

Diane Brook of Wales, UK: My great-grandmother spoke Irish, although born in Scotland of Irish parents. I now live in Wales in the UK, so I am very aware of the non-English languages of the British Isles. I published an article called "Mother Tongues" (Family Tree [UK], November 2011) on the ten languages in Britain and Ireland that were current before 1066 and survived into the period 1500 and later. The article includes sources for researching an ancestor's native language. Also referenced are emigrant communities that preserved some of these languages. [Many thanks to Helen Tovey at Family Tree who kindly posted this article on their blog and provided a link to -- Editor]

Debbie Semonich of Shelton, Connecticut: When I answered the survey, I first thought of my immigrant great-grandparents and then I wondered if my grandmother, who was born here, spoke Slovak or English as her first language. This question made me think about the fact that one doesn't have to be an immigrant to have a first language other than English. My mother-in-law was born in Connecticut and her first language was French, which I believe she spoke exclusively till she attended elementary school. More amazing to me is her father, who lived his whole life in Connecticut. Not only was his first language French, but his only language was French! Many of the French-Canadian families in his town had been there for at least three generations and spoke only French. I believe it wasn't until my in-laws' generation that English became more important. I think it is rather sad that my husband and his siblings were never taught French. They could never really converse with their grandparents and other family members who spoke only French--such a loss of part of their identity and culture.

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