Monday, January 29, 2018

Grandma Tip - What Are Ref Numbers for?

You may have noticed that there are "Ref Numbers" in the download or CD version of the Grandma database in the Event/Fact field. They are also shown at the beginning of the search results list in the online version of Grandma so that you can see exactly which names were searched.

A bit of background - Mennonites have used a small set of names (both surnames and first names) over the centuries, but they have spelled them differently. For example, Johann, Johan, Hans, John, Johnny, Jehaun, etc. are really variations of the same name. As are Friesen, Frisen, Freesen, Friese, etc. When it searching, it would be nice to search all of them instead of having to do each one individually. The Grandma committee created a list of codes for both surnames and first names. So if you want to search for Johann Friesen, you can check the list and find that Johann is "jn" and Friesen is "075."

When you search online, the database automatically uses the search codes, as long as the box "Return all known spelling variations" is checked, which it is by default. But in the download/CD, you need to do it manually. If you click on Find F3, you can enter a search code instead of a specific spelling of a name or a Grandma number. So to find all the Johann Friesens, regardless of how their names are actually spelled, enter "/075jn." The forward slash tells the program to search the Ref Number field.

There are two advantages to using the search codes and the Ref Number. First, you'll get all the spelling variations without the time-consuming process of searching every variation manually or using wildcards to speed things up. And search codes are MUCH faster than searching by name. It can take 2-3 minutes to search for a common name that has more than a thousand entries, but with search codes it only takes 10-20 seconds for the biggest searches.

It is important, however, to add a Ref Number, whenever you add a new person to the database, or your new people won't come up in searches.


  1. Thanks, Steve. I knew that there are not too many Mennonite surnames, but I was surprised how few Low German surnames there are. 300? That's it?

    Any idea what percentage of Low German Mennonites had these surnames? 50%? 80%? 95%? 99%?

    I was also surprised that there was a relatively large number of Swiss surnames compared to Low German surnames.

    1. I would say that between 1700 and 1950, 99%+ of Low German Mennonites had names on the list. Before 1700, there were Dutch surnames that have died out or all them left the Mennonites. And after 1950, Low German Mennonites gradually lost their endogamy.

      Swiss Mennonites come from an ethnically more diverse background than Low German Mennonites. They come from Switzerland, southern Germany, eastern France, and northern Germany with small groups from other areas. Low German Mennonites are mostly Dutch and Flemish with some Germans and a few Poles. It would be interesting to see if atDNA confirms the idea that Swiss Mennonites are ethnically more diverse.