Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mysterious Country of “Biron”

Researching 1860 U.S. Census data for Middleton, Wisconsin, I came across a place I had never heard of. A number of residents with German-sounding names are listed as being born in “Biron.” Where could this country have been? Further research and other clues revealed the place of birth as Bavaria. But why “Biron?” Most likely, when the census taker asked the settler where s/he was born, the answer was “Bayern” which an English speaker could easily sound out as “Biron.” There are many spelling mistakes and other recording errors in the censuses, but Bavaria seems to have been an especially difficult case for the census takers. For example, a significant number of Bavarian immigrants lived in the rural community of Bristol, Dane County, Wisconsin, but only very few people from Bavaria show up in the 1860 census. Instead we find many families from mysterious places called Biron, Biren, Brian, or Bryn—sometimes helpfully amended as Germany/Brian or Germany/Bryn.

5 comments:

Kathy, the Single-minded Offshoot said...

I have a friend who told me her German ancestor came from Fort Byron, Germany. That didn't seem very possible to me. It finally rang a bell - Furth, Bayern. So you can add that mistranslation to your collection. In the 1870 Census, my ancestor came from Baden. That turned out to be eastern "Baden" (Bayern) in the Bavarian Forest. But at least that census taker had a vague knowledge of the German kingdoms and tried to make "Bayern" fit.

Antje said...
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Todd Maxwell said...

My GG Grandmother was Henrietta Black. She arrived about 1867. The 1880 Census said she was from Biron. The 1900 and 1920 Censuses said she was from Baden Germany. I presume the census taker listed Baden as Biron.

Todd Maxwell said...

My Gg Grandmother was Henrietta Black. She came to the US about 1867 and married in Pittsburgh in 1870. The 1880 census says she was from Biron. The 1900 and 1920 Censuses say Baden. So I presume the census taker mis-heard her.

Thomas Mees said...

I also have a GG grandfather (1850 U.S. arrival) who was variously described by Census takers as being from either "Biron" or "Germany". It also seems too much of a coincidence that so many census takers all picked the same misspelling of Bayern or Baden.

My family legend and tradition had it that this line of the family was originally Belgian. That brings me to another line of thinking. There are two towns in Southern Belgium named Biron. One is about 25 miles from Belgium's current border with Germany and the other about 35. Depending on where the border was in the 1830-1850 time-frame, It's possible that one of these could be the elusive "Biron."