Is That an Œ Ligature? Peter Mead’s Real Name

My third great grandfather Peter Meid (Anglicized to Mead) came to America in 1854 from Hesse-Darmstadt, a German duchy that existed prior to Germany’s unification. Peter settled at Fosters Meadow (now Munson), Long Island in the 1860s and became an American citizen in 1868. Peter was a corn and wheat farmer, living alongside Puritan descendant names such as Carman, Langdon, Mott and Pearsall. After search local census records, local maps and other documents for Queens County, I am positive that he was the only man of that name in the area during this time, certainly the only of German ancestry. Until recently, I was unable to track down his whereabouts before 1870 but recently I was able to find his naturalization papers. I scratched my head a few times but based on the available evidence, it is almost certain to be him. (Be mindful as I have yet to inspect Peter’s death certificate from Nassau County).

Clerk's writing: Peter Moeid.

Clerk’s writing: Peter Moeid.

In the 1870 Census, it was made clear in the “Constitution Status” section that Peter had become a citizen. I searched the Queens naturalization index (Nassau County not yet in existence), finding a grand total of zero men by the name Peter Meads, Maid, Meid, Mades or any other possible derivation of his last name. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a Peter Moeid recently. Moeid? I had to see for myself but my first inclination was to ignore it.

According to his Declaration of Intention, which was the first paper all men submitted prior to citizenship, this Peter was a subject of the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. My problem? The paperwork was submitted in September 1857, three months prior than I believed Peter arrived. I knew that another Peter Meid arrived in 1854 but I was unsure if he was the correct individual. I was unsure of his actual origins although I knew other Meids born in Darmstadt. Additionally, the paperwork was from New York County (Manhattan), not Queens. This didn’t put me off too much. Peter likely started his American journey living in Manhattan, most of my other ancestors did. It did not solve the basic question? What is an ‘o’ doing in a name like Meid?

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Peter’s own signature: Peter Meid.

His intent papers did not have the applicant’s signature but his naturalization papers did. Not to my surprise, his signature was a God-awful mess. Immigrant literacy rates varied but it was quite clear he had a grasp of which letters to use for Peter Meid. Sure enough, his signature was devoid of an ‘o’. It seemed pretty obvious that this was the Peter Meid for whom I was searching. So why on earth was there an ‘o’ written by the clerks?

It is entirely conceivable that the ‘o’ is part of a ligature from older German linguistic orthography. The œ ligature is pronounced ‘e’ like in the most famous of œ words, onomatopœia. It is possible that Peter’s family frequently used the œ back in his German homeland, where many other accented letters and ligatures are still used today. It is also possible that the clerk who wrote the name had previously seen names from German lands and scribed the œ accordingly. But, in many years researching I know it could just be an error. Whatever the case, Peter gave up the Mœid – Meid – Mied – Maid name when he arrived in Munson and Elmont, discarding the German name in favor of English-spelt Mead. If there be any doubt about his name change, his gravestone literally puts the issue at rest.

Peter Mead's grave in St. Paul's German Presbyterian Cemetery, Elmont, NY.

Peter Mead’s grave in St. Paul’s German Presbyterian Cemetery, Elmont, NY.

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