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.