52 Ancestors Challenge – How Do You Spell That?

German is NOT an easy language!  Any language that would take the simple word of paratrooper and turn it into “fallschirmjager” is not an easy language to read or speak!  In 1981, I traded off my Cornish-sounding last name of “Chenoweth” – which means “new house” (Chy noweth) for the German grounded “Terstriep”  Yes, that’s right…TER STR IEP…No, Not EIP, but IEP….Once again, TER ST RI EP.  It’s not an easy name to spell.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep's death in 1909.

Herman Terstriep family prior to Christina Tenk Terstriep’s death in 1909.

My husband’s 2nd great grandfather was Herman Terstriep. Herman’s father is listed in baptism records in Germany as either Johann Bernard Terstriep OR Johann Bernard Striepert.  The alternative name shows up in other records dating back into the 1700s.

The family story has always been that “Terstriep” is not actually the correct spelling of the name, but a schoolteacher a few centuries back changed the spelling. Really a schoolteacher? Of all occupations, one would assume the schoolteacher would spell the name correctly.

While I can’t corraborate that story, I can tell you the name has been misspelled and mispronounced by friends, teachers, clergy, neighbors and officials ever since.  “Tur-strip”, “Tier-strip”, “Tur-stripe” and a few other derogatory versions have been cooked up over the years.  Even my smartphone pronounces it differently – “Tur – STREEP”….ugh!

According to author Michael K. Brinkman in the book, “Quincy, Illinois Immigrants from Munsterland Westphalia Germany Volume II “Ter- is used as a prefix for surnames in many towns of western Munsterland.  In Dutch, the word means at, in or to.  Some examples are: Terbrack (at the fallow field), Terliesner (at the Liesner forest area between Gescher and Legden in Munsterland), and Terstegge (at a steep path or foot bridge). Every German immigrant in Quincy (IL) whose name began with the prefix “Ter-” came from western Munsterland.”

Western Germany is where my husband’s family came from.  Dating back well into the 1700s, there has always been a “Terstriep” in the parish records at Sankt Marien Roemisch-Katholische church in Alstaette, Ahaus, Westfalen, Prussia. It appears the spelling error was in vogue for a few years, but the rightful spelling was reinstated some time later.

So, once again, I went looking for clues as to how the name Terstriep came to exist.  If ‘Ter-‘ was to be paired with some other word to denote ‘at, in or to’ what was the other word?  That I’d have to ponder.

In previous blogs, I’ve referred to the fact I often “talk” to my ancestors.  While I don’t actually verbalize out loud to them , I internally talk to them.  I’ve asked them to help me find their gravestones, to tell me their stories and in this case, I’ve asked my husband’s ancestors to help me find the “Striep” in Terstriep.

While checking out what our German cousins were doing on a particular weekend (yes, there are still Terstrieps in Alstaate, Ahaus, Germany), I found one of them was visiting an island in the Netherlands.  Being the snoopy person I am, I looked the island up on the map.  Quaint, small, and honestly I didn’t realize there was this chain of islands off the coast of the Netherlands. They looked beautiful.  In some places, you are only allowed to ride bikes for transportation! Who knew?

As I scanned the map of the Terschelling Island, I found a very, very small town called (you guessed it) Striep. Somewhere in my investigation, I found this means “ditch”.  “Ditch” in Dutch. Literally, the name Terstriep must mean “at, on, or to the ditch”.  The ditch?  That’s it?  Misspelled, mispronounced and misunderstood and it just means “At the ditch”?

In 1867, Herman Terstriep (shown above) and his wife, Christina Tenk Terstriep, immigrated to the United States through New Orleans, LA.  They most likely took a steamship up the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois to join many other German immigrants from nearby Munsterland.  Every Terstriep in the United States, and there isn’t a great deal of us, can be traced back to Herman.

When you think of it, the Mississippi can be a wild and wooly river, but in reality it starts as a small stream…in a ditch…in Minnesota.  A ditch.   It all goes back to the ditch.  “Yes, that’s right T E R -S T R – I E P…we pronounce it Tur-strip.  Yes, I know it sounds funny.  It’s German.”

3 thoughts on “52 Ancestors Challenge – How Do You Spell That?

  1. I just loved the way you wrote this! My ancestors are all from Germany and we have many challenging surnames. My maiden name was Biermann, so I have lived the confusion of how to pronounce “ie” (which is a long “e” sound) compared to “ei” (which is a long “i” sound). I, too, talk to my ancestors in my head, mostly screaming, “where are you?”


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