Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>
"We are talking about the late 1800s, so is this a geographic/historical thing, that country borders changed so much?"
Records of your family beat DNA every time. Much of what was Prussia became Poland, some Germany. In Napoleon's time, the Kingdom of Poland, roughly, was French, the Department of Warszaw.
Where my ggrandparents lived was Prussian (New East Prussia), French, then Russian; later it was Poland, near Lithuania and Belarus, so they probably spoke some of all these languages. Their neighbors spoke them all. Even in Germany or Italy, people from one town couldn't understand people from another town, unless they were familiar with that language. Our ancestors knew Hebrew and Yiddish, and they spoke whatever languages were spoken around them, as they bought and sold, so they had to buy and sell in whatever language you spoke. If your ancestor did business with Englishmen, he spoke English
My 2nd ggrandfather, actually my ggrandmother's foster father and probable uncle, was a translator for the NYC police department. He was from Sztettin, and spoke the usual bunch of languages, Polish, Russian, German, and dialects of them; Hebrew and Yiddish, of course, and he probably learned enough Italian to get by.