Surname Saturday: or What is Wientjes all about?

First of all….sorry for the earlier, and incomplete, publication….don’t know what happened.  🙂

There is a website for all genealogy bloggers at  (Check on the link on the sidebar.) Basically the blog “owner,” Thomas MacEntee, keeps a list of all genealogy bloggers.  He is very active with at least one post a day and sometimes two.  He has several activities he runs through his blog besides just listing bloggers; for example, today is Surname Saturday.  The idea is to write something about a surname.  I looked over his lists of “days” and while some would be fun to write about they didn’t seem to be in keeping with certification, until Surname Saturday came up.

My genealogical proof is about my great grandmother Grietje.  She was born in 1854 in Ostfriesland, a small region (about 4 Iowa counties in size) of Germany adjacent to Holland, about the time that families in the area were settling in with the concept of surnames.  Until that time, surnames had been primarily patronymic  except for the wealthy who had true surnames (e.g. my Bode family had their surname since the early 1700’s).  As a consequence, Grietje had some choices and, unfortunately for me, she used them all at some time or another.

Wienenga is the name she used when she was married.  Wientjes was her sister’s birth name and the name she used when she immigrated; Wennenga was also used. As a point of explanation: “-enga” is a common ending in the Ostfriesland area and is generally thought of as “clan of-“, much like O’Connell is of the clan of Connell etc.  However, clan of “Wien” or “Wient” does not make any sense as it is not a name in the Ostfriesland/Holland area.  You can see the problem this caused me as I tried to trace her ancestors.  It was a mess.  That’s why she is a great example of how indirect evidence helped build the case that Grietje Wienenga (as she was married) was the same person as Grietje Wientjes and who was the sister to Eda Wientjes.

I find the hard part about writing genealogical proofs is to make sure I am putting in only the information that proves my case and also making sure it is in the right order.  I am sure if I write enough of them it will get easier, but this one seems to be particularly difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. I gathered the information leading to her identification over a long period of time and it did not (surprise, surprise!) come to me in the order that built the case but rather came in erratically.  Then all of a sudden, there was the answer!  It just took 20 years to get there.
  2. It is complicated by the fact that I had to first find her sister who I didn’t know existed
  3. It was also complicated by the fact that her sister was in her household in the 1870 census but the enumerator so misspelled the name (Mittjus) that I did not recognize it as being the same as Wientjes.  And at that time, I didn’t even know I was looking for a Wientjes!
  4. I could not find her immigration record because of course I was using the “wrong” name.  As soon as I had the “right” name, Wientjes, it was right there.

The pieces that made it work were the naming practices of the children (first male after father’s father, second male after mother’s father, etc.).  I compared the 2nd male and 2nd female children of the woman I thought was the sister and Grietje’s children.  While this would not be conclusive if their names were Jimmy and Johnny, Ostfriesen names are very unusual and both Eda and Grietje had the children of interest named Boyo/Boyd and Grietje/Gertrude. Not very common.  from that I layered on other clues and eventually could identify Eda’s village of origin.  With Eda’s village of origin, I looked for Grietje’s birth….and there she was!  It was a very exciting moment that I remember to this day.  My personal “goose bump moment”.

So think about your name and it’s origins.  Do you have any surname stories to tell?  Why not share them here?

Happy Hunting!


Things I have done since the last post:  reviewed all my certification work to date and marked them up.  Incorporated the edited comments into the Proof document.  I still need to do the Lineage.  Signed up for the 2nd quarter of my class and worked on the newspaper assignment (reading and analyzing 4 weeks of the New Ulm (MN) Weekly Review of 1878.)


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