Friday, January 21, 2022

Elizabeth Laws, Place Names, and Accents/Dialects

Elizabeth Laws is a paternal great-great-grandmother.  Family records/lore/legend tell me she was born in Youssen Square, England, on October 28, 1845.  In the 15 years I've been searching for ancestors I've never been able to find a place called Youssen Square.  And here, now, from her U.K. birth certificate, I see that she was born in Earsdon Square, Earsdon, Northumberland, with no mention of Youssen.  Hmmmm. 

This is a transcription of her birth certificate from UK GRO Year 1845, Quarter Dec, District Tynemouth Union, Vol 25, Page 399.
Superintendent Registrar's District   Tynemouth Union
Registrar's District   Earsdon
1845. BIRTHS in the District of  Earsdon in the County of Northumberland
No.  261
When Born.  Twenty Eighth of September 1845 Earsdon Square Earsdon
Name, if any.  Elizabeth
Sex.  Girl
Name and Surname of Father.   Robert Laws
Name and Maiden Surname of Mother.   Elizabeth Laws formerly Thompson
Rank or Profession of Father.  Collier
Signature, Description, and Residence of Informant.   The Mark of Elizabeth X Laws Mother  Earsdon Square
When Registered.  Fourteenth of October, 1845
Signature of Registrar.  Stephen Aynsley Registrar

Clearly, if this official record is to be believed, Elizabeth Laws's date of birth was 28 September, 1845, and her place of birth was Earsdon Square, Earsdon, Northumberland.

I'm really curious to know how "Earsdon" in Northumberland, England, became "Youssen" in Pennsylvania.  What accent in British English translated one to the other in American English?  I wondered what I don't know about pronunciation of English place names, specifically in the county of Northumberland.  So I started searching. 

Probably the best video I found with pronunciations of towns in Northumberland was the one at ChronicleLive.  Since I was unable to publish the video here, you'll need to click the link to watch and listen to this 2-minute video.  Sadly, Earsdon is not mentioned and I've come away with no understanding as to why or how Earsdon became Youssen among my Doyle ancestors. 

Despite not understanding how the names changed, I'm thrilled to have a birth certificate that states the date and location of my grandmother Elizabeth Laws's birth.


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  1. Oh Nancy - well done indeed. Gawd ! To think of the years wasted looking for a non-existent place - all because of pronunciation. I wonder how many other mysteries are like that in my own family history. Never mind. That's one brick wall that came crashing down for you !

    1. Thank you, Alex. I'm glad I didn't spend hours a day for years trying to find Youssen Square. I gave a look whenever I thought about it. But still, I'm thrilled to know her place of birth. It seems crazy to me that the name could be altered so much through the years.


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