About the Variant Spellings of Bauerschmidt

Variant Spellings
The following are known variations: Bauerschmitt, Baurschmidt, Baurschmitt, Bauernschmidt, Bauernschmitt, Bauerschmiedt, Bauerschmied, Burenschmied, Burenschmiedt, Bauerschmitz, Boverschmidt, Bouverschmidt, Pauerschmid, Pauernschmid.

The following names, although often confused with Bauerschmidt, are definitely NOT related: Beurschmidt, Bierschmidt, Breidenschmidt, Baierschmidt, Bearschmidt, Behrschmidt, Bayernschmidt, Bayersmith, Berschmidt, Burchmitt, Bauersachs, Bauerfiend, Bauermeister, Bauernoble, Bauerschubert.

The following names are not usually associated with Bauerschmidt (they have their own derivations), but they should be considered because they can also be obtained by a minor typing error in the name Bauerschmidt: Baerschmidt, Burschmidt, Barschmidt, Baernschmidt, Schmidtbauer.

What Can Variations in Spelling Tell Us?
It is often asked, can I tell where my ancestors came from by how they spelled their name? Before answering that question, it is important to point out that the spelling used in the U.S. may not be representative of how it was spelled before they came here. Almost every family has a story about how one of their ancestors had their name changed by some U.S. agency - Ellis Island, the Army, census takers, a naturalization judge, etc. Assuming that you know exactly how your ancestors spelled their name in their homeland, does it mean anything? It might. It is true that the different regional dialects of German lead to different preferred spellings for many common surnames. Despite the mobility of modern society, these regional patterns are still quite evident.

With the advent of on-lne search software, it is now possible to create maps displaying the distribution of German surnames and their variant spellings using telephone directories. Two of the better sites for creating such maps are verwandt and geogen surname mapping. The following figure is a composites of maps that were generated from these sites.

Before drawing any conclusions from this data, the following cautions should be observed:
  1. These maps are a snapshot in time and reflect the current distribution of surnames. They do not necessarily reflect the distribution five to six hundred years ago. Most of these regions have experienced several major wars which disrupted populations, uprooted families and may have resulted in patterns that differ significantly from the original.
  2. Statistical significance is questionable since the total number of people using these spellings is not very large. These maps are based on relative distribution, not absolute numbers, in an attempt to identify areas where the number of individuals is greater than random. These are not the only places where these spellings can be found and these spellings are not the dominant surname in the areas shown. These are simply the regions where the concentration is highest.
  3. The maps are based on telephone listings, not actual census data. Although a reasonable substitute for census data, they represent the number of households using that surname and do not indicate the number of individuals living in each household or households with unlisted phone numbers. The usefullness of this data will also decrease with time, as the increase in cellular phones is reducing the number of traditional telephone listings.
  4. These maps are only useful for individual genealogy if you know how your ancestors spelled their name when they lived in Germany. As stated above, your current US spelling may not reflect the traditional spelling.

Keeping those caveats in mind, the following interesting patterns can be observed.

Referring to the composite map.

It is tempting to try to identify a common homeland with a nucleus in northern Bavaria from which the surname could have spread in all directions. However, an equal argument can be made that the widespread usage and isolated clusters shown disprove a central origin. It is the opinion of this author that this map is reflective of multiple, independent origins in several districts simultaneously which would be consistent with an occupational surname.

Based on these observations, it may be possible to use these patterns as a rough guide for identifying the region where your ancestors might have lived. If your ancestors used one of the highly regional spellings such as "Bauerschmitz", "Boberschmidt" or "Bauerschmied" it is suggested that you start your search in the area where these variations are most common today. If you don't have any other leads for "Bauernschmitt" or "Bauernschmidt", northern Bavaria seems to be the best place to start your search.

About Some Common Spellings
It can be argued that the original spelling of the name was with an n, as in Bauernschmidt. Grammatically speaking, the German words "Bauer" and its root, "Bur", are classified as weak masculine n nouns. This means that they take an ending of n or, en in the genitive case. Thus, villagesmith and farmsmith would be written as "Burenschmidt" and "Bauernschmidt" respectively. Nevertheless, many old documents in the 1500's spell the surname without using the letter n, perhaps indicating that this letter was not pronounced and could be dropped from phonetic renderings. There are also documented cases of individuals signing their name in Germany using the n spelling, but dropping the n upon reaching America - a further sign that the n may have been silent. Therefore, don't think that just because your family spells the name without an n today, that it has always been spelled that way. You should consider both spellings when looking at German records.

"Bauerschmidt" is the accepted standard English spelling, but many German immigrants seemed to have originally spelled the name with a double t ending (Bauerschmitt) or without any t at all (Bauerschmid). These spellings may be a reflection of the regional variation in the spelling as discussed above. The tt ending is also used in the Lorraine area of France.

A common German spelling appears to have been "Baurschmidt" without the e. But, the e is almost always added in American spellings. It is not clear whether this reflects a regional variation in spoken German.

At least two German references indicate that "Bover" and "Bouver" were alternative forms for the genitive case of "Bauer". Thus, in some parts of Germany, the compound occupational surnames were written with "Bover" instead of "Bauer", giving us Boverschmidt or sometimes Bouverschmidt. These variations are still in use in modern Germany and have made their way to the U.S. where they can be found in several states.

At first glance, "Boberschmidt" appears to be an alternative phonetic rendering of Boverschmidt. While it is true that the two spellings were sometimes used interchangeably (particularly in the St. Louis area), it is not clear that all Boberschmidts are Bauerschmidts. This variation, although rare, shows up in isolated instances in Germany and some U.S. states. At this time, reliable information is not available for the derivation or early uses of this spelling in Germany. So for now, we would have to say that Boberschmidt can be, but is not always, equivalent to Bauerschmidt.

Although modern German and English spellings begin with the letter B, this was not always the case. The consonants B and P are phonetically similar and are sometimes interchangeable, particularly in some older dialects of German. One can find the spellings "Pauerschmid(t)" and "Pauernschmid(t)" used in some old written German records. Therefore, when researching old documents in Germany, particularly those written in the 14th through 16th centuries, don't forget to check for the P spellings.

One of the least common spellings is "Bauerschmitz" with a z at the end. This variant derives from "Bauerschmides" which literally meant "the son of the Bauerschmid" (der Sohn des Bauerschmid). These so called "secondary patronymic" surnames were unique to the Rhineland area of Germany. Although uncommon in the U.S., it is still in use in Germany, particularly west of the Rhein river in the Rhineland-Pfalz and southern Westphalia regions.

Many of us have been horrified to see our ancestor's names spelled phonetically on passenger lists or census returns as "Bauersmith" or even worse "Bowersmith". In general, Bowersmith is an English surname which has a separate origin. But, since many immigrants couldn't write, phonetic spellings were often used. That's why the Soundex system was developed. So don't overlook the Smith variations when searching for your ancestors in American records - especially on census returns.

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Sat Feb 16 04:01:52 CST 2019