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Ask a Genealogist: In search of a German ancestor.

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Is it common for German women in the early to mid-nineteenth century to adopt the surname of their mother? Under what circumstances might this be the case? If this is not common why might there be two surnames listed for the same ancestor in different records? Context: Ancestors from Templin, Brandenburg, Germany. I have birth and baptism records for my great-great grandfather (Carl Mehlberg) and some of his brothers and sisters born in Germany. They seem to alternately list the mother's (Wilhelmine's) surname as Ringel or Lemke. I also have what I believe to be a wedding record (having a hard time getting translated) that lists her as Ringel and her mother's name as Dorthee Ringel. One other researcher I have connected with has Dorthee's husband's name as Daniel Lemke.


Reply from Rhonda McClure, NEHGS Genealogist

This would be unusual. In most instances European women are often recorded in official records under their maiden name. However, I have not seen an instance where a woman went by her mother’s maiden name instead of her own maiden name.

Your message did not indicate how you know that the brothers and sisters are indeed relatives of your great-great-grandfather, Carl Mehlberg. It would appear that you are getting these records directly from Germany, as the records for Templin, which were microfilmed by the Family History Library cover only a one year period (1873-1874) and are for the Catholic Church.

You would be wise to contact the church and see if they have a Familienbuch – basically a family book – that has family group sheets for the families that attended that church. This record would have the father and mother (along with their birth, marriage, and possibly death information) and the names of their parents. Then below that would be listed each of the children with their birth/baptism date and in some instances notations if a person has their own page in the familienbuch or if the emigrated to America and other notations.

Given that the children’s mother is alternating, my first concern would be that you in fact have merged two separate families. And the familienbuch could help you with this.
If there isn’t a familienbuch, then you may want to see if there are two marriages – one to a woman with the last name of Ringel and the other with the last name of Lemke.

You didn’t mention if you had a death record for your great-great-grandfather, Carl Mehlberg. You mentioned a marriage record, but not if it was for Carlo or for Dorthee. If it isn’t for Carl, you will want to get his as well. Both of his marriage and death records should reveal the maiden name of his mother. And the surname, as listed on the marriage record, would be the more accurate of the two documents.

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