Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Many Names for Mille


She may have been born in 1760, but she could have arrived earlier—or later. All I can say for sure about her is that she was married by the time she was mentioned in her father's 1782 will. Such is the problem of researching the women who make up our earliest recorded ancestors: they weren't always clearly documented. At least, that is the case for the daughter of Adam and Mary Broyles of the Germanna settlement in Virginia whose name—at least, as I read it—looked like Mille.

Checking page eighteen of the unpublished Broyles manuscript drawn up by researcher Arthur Leslie Keith, this daughter's name was rendered as Milla. But could she have gone by any other versions of that admittedly unusual given name? Checking the well-documented research of a newer publication, the Germanna Foundation's year-old release of Cathi Clore Frost's The Broyles Family: The First Four Generations, it reveals that Adam's daughter was listed under at least three versions of her name: Milla, Milly, and—likely the closest version of her true name—Demilia.

Where tracing documentation becomes even more of a problem is in determining her actual married surname. Of course, the handwriting in her father's will does not help in this situation:

Could that surname actually be Panther? Parther? Or should we read that first vowel as an "o" rather than an "a"?

Since author Cathi Clore Frost examined all the documents in which this Broyles daughter was mentioned, she offered several options for her married surname. It could have been Panther. Then again, it could have been Painter. Incredibly, the author also felt that the name might have been Bender. 

Looking through all the references and endnotes on this section of the Broyles book, I could see she demonstrated that Demilia was entered in records as Bender as well as the other two surname variants. For instance, in a 1776 entry at her church, Hebron Lutheran, for Pentecost Sunday, the record mentioned both Demilia and her husband Adam Bender in the same entry.

Still, reviewing all the documents found by the author in her Broyles research, we can add even more surname variants: Pander, Panter, Penter and Penther, Pinter, and even Parker. Most of those records, of course, pertained specifically to Demilia's husband, Adam, rather than to Demilia, herself. Among the records referenced were tax records, land grants and purchases.

Part of the reason behind the number of variants for the surname might be owing to liberties taken in spelling during that time. After all, if Demilia and her husband were not able to read—a likely circumstance during that era in the American frontier—they would have had no way of knowing whether a clerk or government official recorded their surname correctly.

Another possibility to keep in mind is that though Adam Broyles, Demilia's father, was the fourth generation removed from the original immigrant settlers to the Germanna colony, many such colonists continued the everyday use of their native language long after arrival in Virginia. Perhaps even Adam Broyles and his family were German-speaking people, despite the many generations they had been in America. In such a situation, we'd need to think of how an English-speaking official might transliterate the German name given to them in the course of their duties. Phonics might play a significant role in the morphing of Bender to Painter (or vice versa).

Whatever his name, Demilia's husband arrived at her Virginia settlement with quite a history, for which we might not be surprised to learn of his own lack of documentation. Tomorrow, we'll look at what transpired before Demilia actually met her husband-to-be.    

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