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National Flags for ancestors: use current or historical?

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  • National Flags for ancestors: use current or historical?

    At times it seems fitting to associate a national flag with an ancestor who came from a different country. But which flag to use: the current flag of the ancestor's country (if it has the same or similar boundaries as in the ancestor's time), or the version used when and where the ancestor was living?

    I have a mixed ancestry composed of several European countries. One branch has German and Austrian roots. Of course, that branch of ancestors are a brick wall for me, so I haven't been able to confirm where in Germany or Austria they originated. I have some very likely clues that Pauline was born in Prussia, and I was told by a DNA match that her father's surname (Schmida) was Czech. He may have been from a nearby area toward the east between Prague and Prussia, therefore in the Austrian Empire.

    For example:
    • Pauline, b. "Germany" 1858 - would the flag of the North German Confederation (tricolor black/white/red bars, no emblem), used during most of her lifetime, be appropriate? She immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1880s. The current German flag is black/red/yellow bars - but where I suspect she was born and lived in Prussia is now part of Poland!
    • Her father, b. "Austria" ca. 1820s - born and lived when the national flag for the Austrian Hapsburg Monarchy was simply one each of black and yellow bars. The current Austrian flag is red/white/red bars, and the Czech Republic flag is white and red bars with a blue triangle at left.

    I can't say I obsess over flags for Greece, Ireland, Malta and Switzerland this way, but usually just use the current flag for those countries. Maybe I should be as concerned with "historical accuracy" for these countries' flags, although sometimes there is no change in a national flag from the time when the ancestor lived to the present. I suppose it boils down to knowing one's ancestors' histories accurately, then finding out if a national flag existed for that time.

    Does anyone else wonder about using flags that are correct for the time period?

  • #2
    Why bother using them at all? I never came across that practice in any genealogy seminar or book. If you don't use them, you don't have to worry about which flag was used in which region at what date.

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    • #3
      MoberlyDrake, what you point out is true enough. But, in the past I've made fan charts for my close relatives (see attached example), and it's nice to break down the proportions of ancestry by country, and nice to illustrate the countries with a flag. I suppose a map of a particular country would also work, and with appropriate labeling of nationality/ethnicity, either would be equally as recognizable to the person viewing. I think it would be interesting to have as an illustration for a large family tree chart at a reunion, as well.

      I'm just visually oriented, so am interested in these additional ornamentations. It is part of the overall history of the ancestors, too.

      example_fan_chart.jpg

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      • #4
        I wouldn't mix historical flags and current flags - it could be confusing ... unless you labeled the flags or provided a legend, to clarify which was which. And that's likely to give you a messy chart.

        As to which era's flag to use, that depends on what you're trying to achieve (and also how interested the recipient is in world affairs and history). If you want to be historically accurate, and the person you're giving the chart to knows how to identify past flags, use the older flag. If you're just trying to say "she came from this part of (modern day) Europe", I'd use the current flag.

        A nice idea, BTW Mine would be very boring: all British Empire

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Fern View Post
          I wouldn't mix historical flags and current flags - it could be confusing ... unless you labeled the flags or provided a legend, to clarify which was which. And that's likely to give you a messy chart.

          As to which era's flag to use, that depends on what you're trying to achieve (and also how interested the recipient is in world affairs and history). If you want to be historically accurate, and the person you're giving the chart to knows how to identify past flags, use the older flag. If you're just trying to say "she came from this part of (modern day) Europe", I'd use the current flag.

          A nice idea, BTW Mine would be very boring: all British Empire
          IMO, it seems that flags are now currently in vogue more than ever, and some like to 'wear their heart upon their sleeve'. Flags are symbols and social signals, often meant to attract others of the same mindset or culture. Flags have served that purpose for many centuries.

          Beware the person who feels no need to display any flag. It doesn't mean he or she has no allegiance to a country or a cause. It can mean that he doesn't have any need to reveal or demonstrate to others who he is.

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          • #6
            We don't always know how the ancestor would have felt about the flag either. The village in France where my great-grandfather was born had been annexed by Germany and he fled the country to avoid having to serve in the German army when he grew up. I can imagine how he'd feel if I attached the appropriate flag for the period in history when he was born! His birth certificate is written in both French and German.

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            • #7
              https://culture.pl/en/article/learn-...-in-10-minutes

              Because Poland ceased to exist as a nation and vanished from the map for 123 years between 1795-1918, I guess, historically, the Polish people did not have a flag (or a country) for that period in time.
              Last edited by Biblioteque; 12 July 2018, 10:04 PM.

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              • #8
                Current, and current only. Determining the correct flag for times in the past is difficult. Hoping that readers would know historical flags indicates a healthy dose of optimism

                Even with the simplification to current flags, there are places where it is challenging to decide which current flag to use.

                Like some of the previous posters, I would not recommend using flags (current or historical).


                Some of people in my genealogical database have extensive entries describing the details of place name changes and country/kingdom/empire changes. As far as I know European history and geography, after 1815 Congress of Vienna until today, only borders of Portugal, San Marino and Switzerland have not been changed.

                I have not read the link in the previous post, but here is a simplified example illustrating complexity of Central European history. One place (Warsaw), different names and flags:
                • Those born in 1806 were born in the Kingdom of Prussia (Warschau).
                • Those born there 1807-1814 were born in Poland (Warszawa).
                • Those born in 1815 were born in the Russian Empire (Варшава).

                and then 100 years later
                • Those born in 1915, until August, were born in the Russian Empire (Варшава).
                • Those born until November 1918 were born in the German Empire (Warschau).
                • Those born afterwards were born in Poland (Warszawa).



                Mr. W.

                P.S.
                Bonus points for anyone who knows this simple flag

                _________________________________________________
                Last edited by dna; 25 July 2018, 02:26 AM.

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                • #9
                  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/...r-1-000-years/

                  And, an interactive map of the changing of Europe's borders over 1000 years. Note how large Poland was at one time and then completely disappeared for a time.
                  Last edited by Biblioteque; 25 July 2018, 07:18 AM.

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                  • #10
                    Thanks to all for their input.

                    Recently I saw a thread in another forum where someone was looking for an icon to use in a family tree, to show a line that had, as they put it, "dead-ended." One responder was of the opinion that using something for "dead end" (or whatever), or other symbols such as "immigrant ship" icons, state/country flags, or coats of arms, etc. was "tacky." To each his/her own, I think.

                    For my own purposes, the use of flags for me will not be used for public consumption, so I'll just use whatever I feel is appropriate. Most will be the current flag, but in any case, will be labeled appropriately to avoid confusion.

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                    • #11
                      Some of us have a strong sense of the past and a great fondness and love for our ancestors; and we use icons as "labels of love" to honour and pay tribute to long-gone ancestors. They are not just some surname from the past; they are OUR personal ancestral surnames from the past.

                      I do not use many, but I do have a beautiful and brilliant gold praying hands icon I use for a few of my ancestors who faced great hardships.

                      And, conversely, I even have an icon of a horse's butt. Have I ever used it? I will never tell; I would not want someone to accuse me of being "tacky." LOL

                      Sorry, KATM, if I have derailed your thread, but sometimes I get off track. Pardon the Pun.
                      Last edited by Biblioteque; 25 July 2018, 04:33 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by KATM View Post
                        Thanks to all for their input.

                        Recently I saw a thread in another forum where someone was looking for an icon to use in a family tree, to show a line that had, as they put it, "dead-ended." One responder was of the opinion that using something for "dead end" (or whatever), or other symbols such as "immigrant ship" icons, state/country flags, or coats of arms, etc. was "tacky." To each his/her own, I think.

                        For my own purposes, the use of flags for me will not be used for public consumption, so I'll just use whatever I feel is appropriate. Most will be the current flag, but in any case, will be labeled appropriately to avoid confusion.
                        I am responding because of your quote from another forum.

                        It is a really, really bad idea to declare a branch to be "dead-ended." Only an individual who had died in early childhood is guaranteed to have no issue. However, for those who lived into their adulthood, all what should be entered is in 99.99% of cases only "no known issue." Regardless of their sex.

                        Since this reasoning should be applied to both of anyone parents, a branch might only be labelled as having "no known issue."


                        Mr. W.

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                        • #13
                          Yes, it was pointed out to the original poster in the other forum that it was a bad idea, so you are not alone.

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                          • #14
                            I prefer having no images attached to ancestors in charts anyway. To me it seems more professional. In narratives, I use pictures only for those ancestors for whom I have a relevant photo of the person, his/her tombstone, house, etc. Otherwise, I don't bother with photos unless some document is particularly interesting.

                            I see photos attached to people on Ancestry and the person in the photo could not possibly be the person it's attached to, either because the clothing is of the wrong period or because photography hadn't even been invented yet! Photography, as we know it was in it's infancy in the 1840s and wasn't extremely common until around the Civil War.

                            And yo have to do a lot of history of costume before you can date photos correctly. If you grandmother wrote the wrong name on a photo that she had had around the house for a long time and she just took a guess at who it was, do you have the knowledge to notice things in the photo, including clothing, are not in the right style for the person whose name is on the photo, given the apparent age of the person?

                            I attended a seminar on costume given by a curator at the Metropolitan Museum once. It was extremely interesting. It might be more difficult than you think. I'd get lots of books on fashion at the library and study them carefully. Remember that no one can predict future fashions. If you have a photo of a girl who was 10 years old in 1860 and she appears to be about 10 in the photo, but is wearing a dress that wasn't in fashion until 1875, the photo has been misidentified!

                            Look at the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. That shows what they thought people would dress like in 2001. Do those fashions look like what we were actually wearing in 2001?

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                            • #15
                              Another thing to consider is that elderly people didn't necessarily keep up with the fashions and would continue to dress and wear their hair in styles that were in vogue when they were in the prime of life.

                              Clothes were not ready-made, easy to come by, inexpensive and disposed of as soon as they were out of style. Woman often took their dresses apart and remade them over and over again, trying to make them look a little more like current fashion, or to remove a section that was damaged.

                              Puritans didn't wear black all the time. Their clothes were quite colorful. But wealthy people, who were the only ones who had their portraits painted, wore black as a status symbol. Black cloth in those days soon turned a very rusty color. So rich people showed that they could afford to buy new black clothes when their old ones got rusty!

                              Green dye was made partly from arsenic in the Victorian era. Many seamstresses and others were poisoned! And then there was mad hatters disease . . .

                              But I'm getting way off topic!

                              I do get a lot of laughs though at the photos and paintings attached to people at Ancestry.com!

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