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John Gauss’s Genealogy


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Willkommen an der Geschichte meiner Familie!


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The Name Gauss

In speculating as to where the name Gauss originated it is instructive to look at where the name exists now.  The Burke’s Peerage world book of Gausses 1994 contains ‘The Gauss International Registry’—a list of Gauss households derived from electoral rolls, telephone directories and other similar listings, and as of that date including the following countries in Europe: United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria, former West Germany (and part of East), Switzerland, France and Netherlands.  Prior to the 19th century the name Gauss, amongst my family, was sometimes spelt Gaus, so in 1996 I bought the equivalent book for this surname too.  The countries included were the same, though the former East Germany seemed to be more completely covered.

 

Location

Excluding the UK and Ireland the number of households[1] recorded were: Gauss 430, and Gaus 864, making a total of 1294.[2]  These addresses were then plotted on maps according to their latitude and longitude.  The striking feature of these maps is the way the names, particularly Gauss, are concentrated around Stuttgart and gradually dissipate outwards in all directions irrespective of national frontiers.

I then analysed the statistics in several ways.  For each surname distribution, and for the two combined, I found: firstly the median centres, i.e. the intersection of the E-W and N-S lines splitting the group into two equal halves; secondly the shortest distance centres, namely the point from which the sum of the distances to all locations is a minimum; and thirdly the means, the sum of the latitudes/longitudes divided by the number of households.  The mean is probably the crudest method of analysing these figures as it gives undue weight to extremes in the population, i.e. those living furthest away.  The shortest distance centre is less distorted by long distances, and the median not at all.

Despite the fact that Gaus occurs in a large swathe across North Germany, the median centre lies only 31km north of the centre for Gauss.  This strongly suggests that the two names, or variants of the same name, share a common origin, and almost certainly a common ancestor who presumably lived somewhere close to the combined centre, probably at the time when surnames began in the 14th or 15th century.  The combined median centre lies 27km West of Stuttgart at the small village of Mühlhausen, so perhaps it was near here that the name had its origin.

Since conducting this exercise, there are now online maps showing the distributions of German surnames.  Examples are shown below.

Map showing recent relative distribution of Gauss/Gauß in Germany. The peak region is Landkreis Calw. Mühlhausen, mentioned above, is 3.5km NE of the border of Landkreis Calw. [http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx. Accessed 2010]

Map showing recent absolute distribution of Gauss/Gauß in Europe. This clearly shows how the name spills over into France. [http://worldnames.publicprofiler.org. Accessed 2010]

 

Meaning

The name Gauss, according to the Burke’s Peerage world book of Gausses p2.3, means ‘descendant of Gorzo’.  This sounds unconvincing, though Reaney[3] gives the English surname, Goss, as deriving from Old German ‘Gozzo’ or ‘Gauz’, so perhaps Gorzo is a misprint for Gozzo.  The Burke’s Peerage volume for Gaus gives ‘dweller at, or near the sign of the goose’.  Previously, the only explanation I had seen, claimed that Gauss was from the Low German word for ‘goose’.  However as Low German is spoken in North Germany, this may not necessarily explain a name, which, it seems, originated in the South.  However, Grimm’s German dictionary[4] cites examples of ‘gaus’ meaning ‘goose’ from Switzerland and Swabia, which could support this explanation.  If the name does mean ‘goose’, from whichever dialect, then it could, as suggested, have applied to someone living at the sign of the goose i.e. at an inn presumably, or to a gooseherd, or perhaps it was a nickname for someone who honked or waddled!

As many surnames are derived from place names I also checked three gazetteers[5].  The element ‘Gaus’ does occur on the modern map of Germany in at least twelve[6] place names.  Of these twelve, only three are within 150km of the median centre, namely: Gauselfingen 64km from it; Gausmannsweiler 59km, and Gausbach, by Forbach, 37km, or, some 65km WSW of Stuttgart.  At first glance this latter looks so close to the median centre that it could have been the origin.  However the median centre has 50% of the population living to the West of a N-S line through it.  If a N-S line is drawn through Gausbach, only about 37km further West, then the population is split 22%/78%.  If we accept such a large margin of error then the centre has little meaning.

 

Carl Friedrich Gauss[7]

The above evidence all points to a single origin, which therefore implies that Carl Friedrich Gauss was also a descendant of the first Gaus(s).  However his ancestors had the additional variant spellings of Goes(s), Goos(s), and Goss.

 

Variants (Goes(s), Goos(s), Gos(s), and Jaus(s))

In 1998, a survey of these names in the German telephone directory[8] yielded rather different distributions.   The median centre for Gauss lay in virtually the same place as found from the previous survey, but that for Gaus, without the non-German entries, moved further north, though leaving the centre for the two combined hardly changed (23km WNW of Stuttgart).  Another apparent variant, Jaus(s), found in the oldest registers in Weilheim an der Teck, was very close by (4km S of Stuttgart). Moving north: Gos(s) lay 10km SE of Würzburg; Goes(s)/Gös(s) lay 61km NNE of Würzburg; and Goos(s) lay 36km NW of Kassel.  Within each pair of names the single ‘s’ variant always lay to the north of the ‘ss’ variant, and within Goes(s)/Gös(s) the most common forms were Goes and Göß.  Whether all these variants, whose median centre lies 36km N of Heilbronn, really have a common origin is debatable, and would probably require more research on earlier distributions.  Names could have become confused with similar sounding ones if someone migrated into another dialect area.

 

Gauss Y-DNA Project

If your surname is Gauss, Gaus or Gausz, and you are interested in helping establish whether the name does have a single origin, and therefore whether all Gausses are ultimately descended from a single individual, then please visit the Gauss Y-DNA Project on the FamilyTreeDNA website.  From this page you can click on ‘Request to join this group’ where you will find details on how to order a test.

To take the Y-DNA test you will need to be a male with a direct descent from someone with the surname Gauss, Gaus or Gausz. If you are a female, then please try to persuade a male Gauss relative to take the test.  If you join the project you will be sent a small brush to take a scraping from the inside of your cheek which you then post to the laboratory for testing.  A 37-marker test costs only US Dollars 169.00 (in 2010) and will provide enough evidence of a connection.

So far (in 2010), with seven members tested, none of us are related closely enough to any of the others to prove that the surname had a single origin.  This is a curious result given the geographical distribution of the name and seems to imply multiple origins within a small area.



[1] The books estimate the total number of households from these figures by multiplying them by 1.4 (Netherlands 1.2), and then the total population by multiplying the households by 2.5.

[2] These figures exclude a total of 58 households with duplicate addresses.  In these cases it appeared that either both spouses had been listed separately, or maybe fathers and sons, etc.  It is of course possible that some really were two households living under one roof.

[3] Reaney, P. H. A dictionary of British surnames. 1976. p152.

[4] Grimm, Jakob und Wilhelm. Das Deutsche Wörterbuch at http://urts55.uni-trier.de:8080/Projekte/DWB.

[5] Petzolds Gemeinde- und Ortslexikon des Deutschen Reiches, Oktober 1911; NIS gazetteer: West Germany and NIS gazetteer: East Germany; Official standard names approved by the US Board on Geographic Names, Office of Geography, Dept. of the Interior, July 1960.

[6] Farms: Gausberg, Gausburg, Gausmann; Hills: Gaushöhe, Gauskopf; Villages etc.: Gausbach, Gaushorn, Gausmannsweiler, Gauselfingen, Gaussig, Gaustritz, Gaustadt.  In the last four, ‘Gaus’ may not be an element on its own, e.g. Gaustadt must be Gau-Stadt.

[7] The great German mathematician, 1777-1855.

[8] Entries were taken from the Internet site http://www.teleauskunft.de. As far as possible, business entries were ignored, as were entries for spouses etc. with identical phone numbers.



Contact: jonga@aol.com

Revised 30 November 2010