Pinpointing Places

By Melinda Kashuba Premium

A. The first step when you encounter an unknown place is to verify the spelling in the original record. German writing can be difficult to decipher, so have someone who’s knowledgeable in the handwriting of the era confirm your interpretation. Also, since clerks tended to spell phonetically, consider alternate spellings — even unusual ones. Try typing hard-to-find place names into the Worldwide Gazetteer <> to see both matching and similarly spelled places.

You might have to take an indirect approach: Look at clues Peter Mons and the clerk left you. Mons’ father was a tailor — a trade that would require living in a town populous enough to support his occupation. The clerk’s note that Seckenshave was “near Canada in North America” also helps. You’re looking for a northern town where Germans tended to settle after the American Revolution. Several prominent locations in the major river valleys of upstate New York (such as the Mohawk and Hudson river areas) fit these clues.

Your next step is to study a map of the region from the time Peter Mons’ father was living in North America, perhaps 1800 or 1825. You’ll find many historical US maps on the Library of Congress Web site at <>.

My hypothesis? Schenectady, a city and county in New York, has a tantalizingly similar name to Seckenshave — especially when you change the last sound of the word from vee to dee. To test the theory, search for the Mons family in Schenectady records.