This is Part 2 of The Orphan in My Family Tree. It is the true tale of my ongoing search for the parents of my great great grandpa Fritz, who was orphaned in New York City in the late 1870s and sent, at the age of seven, to live with a foster family in Bow Valley, Nebraska.
What’s in a Name?
One of the challenges of beginning to search for records for an ancestor is determining what names your ancestor might have been called, and determining what spellings of their name may have been used by the different people recording or transcribing their name. I settled on calling my great great grandpa “Fritz” simply because that’s who he has always been in our family stories. In my vision of him, based on these stories overheard as a child, Fritz Brand was a larger than life man who was unbelievably strong, even at an early age. Fritz was a name that rang true in my young mind with the picture of a strong, tall farmhand and laborer, and it has stuck. Fritz, it turns out, was also a name used off and on in many official records for this orphan in my family tree.
It is likely that Fritz’s given name was Frederick Brand. He is sometimes referred to in records as Frederick, sometimes Fred, and sometimes Fritz. His last name is often listed as Brand, sometimes as Brandt. The picture shared in this post, which is of Fritz’s own signature from his WWI Draft Registration Card in 1918 (which I obtained through the National Records Administration Archive), shows how someone reading his writing years later to transcribe records could easily have added a “dt” at the end of Fritz’s last name. There is some speculation that the deletion or addition of the “t” at the end of Brand/t was a conscious decision by either Fritz or some of his children. An Ancestry.com user that I follow who consistently shares reliable information, known to me as “nannadee197,” shares that Fritz’s family originally spelled their name “Brand,” but that after Fritz’s death they received much of their mail with their last name spelled “Brandt” and at that point the family just decided to add the “t” at the end of their name.
After countless hours combing through records for Brands and Brandts in Nebraska, New York, and beyond, and viewing the issue through the lens of my own search for details about Fritz’s early life, I’ve decided that the sometimes included “t” in Fritz’s last name seems as arbitrary as the person who happened to be recording his name that day. These various spellings have offered more inroads into finding records for Fritz, but have also meant combing through sometimes twice as many records and their associated facts to prove or disprove that a record belongs to “our Fritz.” Spelling, on its own, will not be enough to help me track down his mom and dad.
The National Archives and Records Administration is, quite simply, an archive of our nation’s valuable records. These records include first hand facts, reports, photographs, historically important letters, and records vital to family research such as census, immigration, naturalization and military records.
The site is easy to use, and the instructions to obtain records that have been indexed, but are not digitized for whatever reason, are clear and simple to follow. There are also well produced informational and tutorial videos on the National Archives website that will help you make the most of what the site has to offer.
I have found the National Archives most useful in searching for military records, links to census records, and links to land records.