Once Upon A Time…
Here is a humorous account found in the FamilySearch German Wiki: Phonetic Spellings
“When a phonetic spelling of a place name is given, it can mislead the researcher to the extent that it is impossible to proceed with the research on a certain ancestral line. Gerhard Jeske, retired reference consultant at the Family History Library once recounted an interesting account of a perplexing place name problem brought to the library by a German patron. It shows how misleading a phonetic spelling can be.
Some time ago a patron came to the Family History Library with a German research problem and asked a reference consultant for assistance. The problem was to find records of a place in Germany by the name of “Viceneck.” When the reference consultant looked at the given spelling of this place name, he knew immediately that this was a phonetic spelling. He was sure that a place with such spelling would not be listed in any of the German gazetteers, but he checked the gazetteers anyway to satisfy the patron.
After the gazetteers had been searched without being successful in finding this place, the reference consultant began to analyze the problem to determine what the German spelling for this place could be. Viceneck is not a Germany spelling but a phonetic American spelling. The German spelling could be Weisneck, Weissneck, Weisnek, Weissnek, Weisseneck, Weissenek, Weisnick, Weissnick, Weisnik, Weissnik, Weisnich, Weissnich, etc.
The reference consultant then check the gazetteers for many different spellings but could not find any of them, and he realized that such place does not exist. He wanted to get a clue and find out what was wrong with the spelling of this place name in order to help the patron with this research problem. The consultant asked the patron how the spelling of this place name was obtained and who had given the name to the patron. He was informed that the name of the place was given by word of mouth by a living relative from Germany who did not speak English too well.
When the patron asked this relative where his ancestor was born, the answer given was: “Weiss nicht.” The answer had been given in the German language. “Weiss nicht” translated into English means “I don’t know.” The patron, who didn’t know the German language thought that “Weiss nicht” was the place where the ancestor was born, which phonetically spelled would be recorded as “Viceneck.”
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