As you know from past articles, I have been on the hunt to find out where my surname originated. My ancestor, Daniel Wakenight, is my great-great-great-great-grandfather.
From census records on Ancestry.com, I know he was born in Maryland, around the Hagerstown area. I found on another family tree that the family attended the Lutheran Church in Boonsboro. Boonsboro is about 10 miles south of Hagerstown. The assumption on other family trees was that he was of German origin.
Several had linked Daniel to Martin Weidknecht. Martin had sailed aboard the ship, Dragon, in 1732, from Rotterdam to Philadelphia. I discovered that Martin Weidknecht is Daniel’s great-grandfather. Martin had settled in Upper Milford Township in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1734.
I then found Matthias Weidknecht, who is Daniel’s grandfather. From tax and land records, I discovered that Matthias lived in the Bethlehem area from 1754 until 1790. Bethlehem is approximately 20 miles northeast of Upper Milford. Also, on the 1790 record were Philip and Elias Weidknecht.
In his will of 1799, Matthias listed a Philip Daniel Weidknecht as being his son. Philip Weidknecht is Daniel’s father, whom I found on the 1800 and 1810 US census’ living in Hagerstown.
The reason I am confident that Philip is Daniel’s father is on the 1800 US Census. The census listed one male under the age of ten years old. Daniel was born around 1792, which made him eight at the time. Daniel does not appear in the 1810 US census, because he was not an adult at that time. I am sure he was living with another relative and listed under their name.
Philip lived in Hagerstown until his death in 1815. Daniel lived in the Hagerstown area until 1850. There was another fact that tied these two individuals together. There was no one else living in the vicinity with a name like Weidknecht or Wakenight.
My next question was: “How did our surname evolve from Weidknecht to Wakenight?” I kept thinking about how Germans would have spoken the name Wakenight. On a translation website, I typed it in and heard how it sounded with a German accent. After listening to it many times, I was sure that our Germanic surname was Weidknecht.
I made one more search online to verify this theory. I found a PDF file entitled “Types of German Surname Changes in America.” The article gave me an understanding of how and why surnames became Americanized. The main reason was that Americans were of English descent and bound by the English language. People who did not speak or write German had to spell the names how they sounded in the English language.
If you are of German or eastern European descent, the above PDF file might be of interest to you. I found, after many weeks of searching, that I had a better understanding of how to refine my searches.
If you are searching for the origin of your surname, the internet is a great place to find information. Being persistent and trying different search terms will help you in the long run.
If there is a surname that you would like to add to this article, please use the Comments Section on this page. If you have a question about a name, I would love to hear from you, also.