Cities have longed dotted the landscape of this planet and ever since Argos, Greece over five millennia ago we have congregated in them. As we search through the records of our ancestors, thousands of cities in dozens of languages stand out to us as genealogists. For many of us, New York City and Ellis Island are particular names of places that our ancestors first stepped on the shore of.
Why do cities or locations mean so much to us? It gives a grounding of who we are where we come from. It gives a place to come back to and as short story author Simon Van Booy said:
Sometimes we are puzzled and hit a brick wall when the city we see on the record doesn’t match any city on earth. This could be for a number of reasons but it is always difficult when we come across this. In fact, a few months ago this happened to me and I was stumped about where to find the following city:
Turns out, the place still exists, but because of wars and border changes, it is now in a completely different country. According to this WWII Draft Card, the name of the city the individual was born in was Badzas Vylak, Czechoslovakia. I scoured the internet for the tiny town or village but to no avail, so I turned to Reddit. It just so happens to be the R/Slovakia subreddit that was able to answer my question. Turns out that it was a horrible translation of Bodzásújlak, which is now located in modern-day Slovakia.
Other times, the city still stands and is running, but is known by a completely different name. For instance, Salem, Utah located in the middle of the state of Utah and named in honor of an early pioneer to the area, Lyman Curtis’ birthplace in New Salem, Massachusetts.
I was going through some census records 1870 to find more information about a family living in the area and I kept seeing references to Pondtown, Utah. This puzzled me as I had never heard of the place before. Again, I started down the rabbit hole that is known as Google to find some more information.
It turns out that Salem, Utah was known as Pondtown for a great number of years and is still used colloquially around the area in such things as the Pondtown Christmas Festival. Knowing this can help me better map individuals in a tree, even if the original name of the town has been changed, forgotten or merged.
One of my favorite stories of a town name change is about the city I currently reside in –Bellingham, Washington. The change happened when four distinct villages: Sehome, Fairhaven, Whatcom and Bellingham all merged into one on November 3, 1903. Even though it is all one city, legally, we still recognize each one of those neighborhoods (plus dozens of more) as residents.
What other towns or place names have you found that have disappeared? Share them in the comments below!