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Fun With Family History

Seth - January 7, 2007

Sam MB has put up a post over at By Common Consent on “Stories of Origin” and the values these narratives have on our identity as communities and as individuals. He asks whether it matters if they are true or not.

Don’t know. But it inspired me to share my own, so here you are:

While my family name is Rogers, if you go back to about the early 1800s, you find that the name was originally Rathje, which is a Germanic corruption of Richard. It was probably changed upon settling in America to evade anti-immigrant sentiment (not an uncommon practice back then).

Hans Rathje, so the family folklore goes, was a captain in the Prussian king’s guard. He happened to fall in love with a young noblewoman who served as an attendant to the queen. Since he was of such low rank, the family opposed any marriage. The story has it that the two of them eloped, swam out to a ship in the harbor, and sailed to America. Once in America, Hans agreed to take the place of a wealthy man’s son, who had been drafted into the Civil War. It was common then for the wealthy to hire others to fight in place of their sons. As payment, Hans was promised a plot of land for farming – which he obtained after the war.

Eventually, the Rathjes/Rogers ended up in the Wisconsin-North Dakota-South Dakota region where they have stayed right up to the point that my dad decided to leave for BYU (where he converted to the LDS faith, married a Mormon girl, and here we are).

Well… if that story ain’t true it ought to be.


  1. Your dad went to BYU when he wasn’t a member?

    There was family lore that said my maiden name a was French name, originally spelled with an “E” on the end of it. When I joined the church and started doing family history research, I quickly learned that wasn’t true. The family name was originally French, but it was way different from what our name became over the years. Some of my family members didn’t want to give up their long-held belief in this story about our name.

    Comment by Susan M — January 7, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  2. Yeah, in the 1970s.

    He’s always been a little vague about why exactly.

    He always says it’s because he heard that their young men all take off for two years and leave their women behind.

    Comment by Seth — January 7, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  3. Ayup. If you’re interested in 20-year old mormon girls, all their worthy 19 to 21 year old male friends should be on missions. It improves your odds.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 7, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

  4. My wife’s family has an ancestor that led a regiment at Gettysburg–for the South of course. The long-held contention is that he led his men into the famous Pickett’s charge. However, when I heard about it, as one who enjoys military history, I wanted to learn more. I did learn more–we even went to the battlefield. My conclusion: he wasn’t in Pickett’s charge. However, grandpa was in Battle for Little Round Top the day before. I’ve tried to correct the myth, but apparently I’m the only one who notices the discrepancy of a mile and a day.

    Comment by jose — January 8, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  5. My wife’s family had a very french, but virtually untraceable last name. So, I took it upon myself to take this family of french origins and see what I could see. After a great deal of research on earlier forms of French, I discovered that their name was a slightly bastardized version of an early french word. I almost fell off my chair from laughing so hard. There last name translated to “The Foreigners”.

    They had to start their family history all over again from the perspective that they were NOT from France. The good news is that they were able to trace their roots succesfully this time around and they were primarily descended from jewish immigrants from Russia.

    Comment by cew-smoke — January 8, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

  6. Well jose, when your talking about the two most important engagements in the entire Battle of Gettysburg and the turning point of the entire war, one out of two ain’t bad.


    If I know anything about the French, I imagine that particular revelation must have been slightly awkward.

    Comment by Seth R. — January 9, 2007 @ 11:10 am

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