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 alternative spellings, such as Pauley, Pawley, Pauling, and Rhoads, Rhoades, Rhodes. This is especially the case with German immigrants: Golder, Colter, Culter, Coulter; Heider, Hyder, Huyter; Scheele, Scheely, Sheele, Shela, Sheely.

Some German names were anglicized phonetically; the builder of the oldest extant house in the District of Columbia (3051 M Street, 1765) has entered history as Christopher Layman, but it is more likely that his name was Lehmann when he landed in Philadelphia in 1727. Some names could be readily anglicized by translation, as when Weber became Weaver, or Müller became Miller.

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.)

For some immigrants, pronunciation mattered more than orthography; what was being sought was a spelling that was phonetically right. 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.

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. An 1852 deed recites his aliases: Schoerge, Schorga, Schorger, Screoiger, and Sherrige. The 1860 census listed the immigrant as Schorya, suggesting––as had been the case with Gebauer––that g was to be pronounced as y. The name Cherry marked the immigrant’s property on the Boschke map (1859); and it was Sherry in his last will and testament (1866).

As easy as these last two spellings were on the ear and eye of English-speakers, they were still phonetically unsatisfactory. The immigrant had arrived in America around 1832, and in forty years of collaboration with native-born clerks, arrived at an American spelling of his surname. The result, which made its first appearance in 1874, was Sherier (from which it is possible to imagine that the starting point might have been pronounced Schörge).

As far as the family was concerned, this was the keeper, but officialdom produced one more variation: until 1977, the street sign in Palisades that commemorated the family farm read Sherrier. Only a long campaign by a descendant, defending the economical spelling arrived at a century earlier, 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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