Immigrant Names


In searching the indexes of old land deeds, tax assessments, and censuses, it soon becomes apparent that many names from the early days of this neighborhood come down to us with a variety of spellings, such as Pauley, Pawley, Pauling, and Rhoads, Rhoades, Rhodes; Frizell, Frizzell, Frizel, Frizle.

This is especially the case with German immigrants: Golder, Colter, Culter, Coulter; Heider, Hyder, Huyter; Scheele, Scheely, Sheele, Shela, Sheely.

Anyone searching American censuses and other records for members of the Kengla family of Georgetown will discover a staggering variety of experimental spellings, including Kunglaw, Canley, Kenley, Kinley, Kenla, Kengly, Kengley, Kingley, and Kingla. (At a guess, Künkle is a possible origin.)

Some German names could be readily anglicized by translation, as when Weber became Weaver, or Müller became Miller. Others were anglicized phonetically; when Christopher Layman, the builder of the Old Stone House in Georgetown (1765) landed in Philadelphia it was probably spelled Lehmann. For many, pronunciation mattered more than orthography. Christopher Gebauer, for example, seems to have come from a part of Germany where the initial g was pronounced y, so his children wrote their name Yeabower.


For many of immigrant families, it is clear that pronunciation mattered more spelling.

On 22 January 22, 1840, Conrad Schoerge and his wife Anna Catharina Ernst christened their son, Johann Caspar Schoerge (Births and Christenings, 1830-1854, Concordia Lutheran Evangelical Church, Washington, D.C.).

In the 1850 census a German-born farmer listed as Conrad Schorge appears in the northwest ward of Georgetown.

He was listed as Conrad Schorya in the 1860 census; evidently he came from a part of Germany where the initial g was pronounced y, and the census taker wrote what he heard.

In a land transaction a few years earlier, the clerk had noted that the buyer was also known as Schorga, Schorger, Screoiger, and Sherrige. His purchase, along what is now MacArthur Boulevard, was marked “C. Cherry” on an 1865 map; a year later, his last will and testament said Conrad Sherry. As easy as these last two spellings might have been for English-speakers, they were clearly not satisfactory phonetically. The keeper, which the immigrant’s son John C. had by then begun using, would be Sherier.

(However, the street that bears the family name was Sherrier Place until 1977, when a long campaign by a descendant persuaded the city to drop one r.)


Post Script




While an immigrant’s nationality was less likely to present spelling difficulties than his surname, Jacob Clair, a laborer living on the crest of Pole Hill, just north of Georgetown, appears to have had trouble making it clear that he was from Bavaria. As a result, the nationality entered in the census––“Byrish”––was the census taker’s rendering of Clair’s response: “Bayrisch”.  (1860 census, District of Columbia, Washington County, 1st division, Tenleytown P.O., roll 103, p.16.)






Layman/Lehmann: Gary C. Grassl, Genforum, April 13, 2000

Schoerge, Schorga, Schorger, Screoiger, Sherrige: DC Liber JAS38 (1852) f.384/320

Sherier: Atlas of Washington and 15 Miles Surrounding, 1874

Sherrier: Washington Post Magazine, February 5, 1978


German immigrants:

1820, Peter Colter, gardener

1830, Daniel Scheele, butcher

1840, Conrad Sherier, gardener

1850, Christopher Yeabower, butcher

1860, Frederick Heider, gardener

1860, Traugott Rosenbusch, gardener

1860, Peter Dill, butcher



Carlton Fletcher

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