Tag Archives: jewish genealogy

The Ring of Trust

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania

For those who have never looked at my bio on the right side of this page, my last name is Trauring. I’ve written a bit about the name change from Traurig (German for ‘sad’) to Trauring (German for ‘wedding ring’). While Trauring is a fairly unique name (show me a Trauring and it’s 99% likely I’ll show you how they’re related to me), it has an interesting quirk in doing online research. When researching online databases of newspapers, the name Trauring for some reason is commonly confused with the word Training. Depending on the quality of the scanned newspapers, the the quality of the optical-character-recognition (OCR) done on the scans, you’d be amazed how many hits are for the word Training and how few are for Trauring.

While skimming my Google+ feed recently, I came across an article by Kenneth Marks about the newspaper search site Elephind. Elephind is a newspaper search aggregator created by digital library developer DL Consulting in New Zealand. It provides a single search interface to multiple newspaper search sites, including the US Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site, and Australia’s Trove site. Currently the site claims access to 1,034 newspaper titles (and 1,099,175 newspaper issues). Most of those newspapers come from the two sites already mentioned (845 from Chronicling America and 111 from Trove), with other smaller local newspaper search sites included from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

One of the annoying things about Chronicling America is that the search results don’t show the context of the hit, but rather just show a thumbnail of the page. Combine that with the unfortunately low level of OCR in the Chronicling America database, you spend a lot of time looking through false hits. For example, here is a search on Chronicling America for ‘trauring’:

Chronicling America search results for ‘trauring’ (Click to Enlarge)

You might notice the red highlighting which is supposed to show where the hit occurs on the page, but I defy you to actually read any of that text. In order to figure out the context you need to click on the image and load the full version of the page and find the text on the page. With 2,060 results, you can imagine how much time it would take to go through all those pages.

Now let’s take a look at the Elephind results:

Elephind search results for Chronicling America for ‘trauring’ (Click to Enlarge)

The search was specifically restricted to Chronicling America, to try to get the same results. Oddly, instead of 2,060 results there are only two. If you take a close look at both sets of results you’ll notice that the two results are the same as the first two results on the Chronicling America site, although in reverse order. You’ll also notice that the first result on the Elephind site illustrates the general problem with searching OCRed databases for the name Trauring:

.. t ilio lowest possible cost. IT is today, with a fhcnltv of 83. a boarding patronage of 308, a student body of -138, and a plant worth $160,000, The Leading Trauring School for Girl;-, in Virginia. PAYS all charges for the y? ar, Including Tnblo Board, Room, Lights, 8leam Meat, I .au miry, Medie.il Atton tentiorr, Physical Culture and Tiiltlon …

Besides the general incomprehensibility of the text, you’ll notice the phrase ‘The Leading Trauring School for Girl’ is clearly supposed to have the word Training, not Trauring. Of course, the important thing to notice here is that the user interface actually does show you the context. I don’t need to load the image and look, I can immediately dismiss the search result, which is very welcome. Why there are only two results is a mystery, however.

Page found in The Evening Herald (click to load on Chronicling America)

The text recognition on the second result (from The Evening Herald of Shenandoah, PA) is a bit more readable, and while the story is not about my family, it is interesting in that it mentions Trauring in the following context:

After pronouncing two benedictions the Rabbi took in his hand the wedding ring, saying, as the ring was one entire mass, not separated but continuous, so their lives in the future should be one–a combination of love and faithfulness and unity. The ring is called in German “trauring,”–trau meaning trust, it ought to remind them that it was the ring of trust.

A very interesting interpretation of the word trauring, giving it more meaning that the simple definition ‘wedding ring’. The story is something very common in newspapers of the day (this article is from May 28, 1891), chronicling the big local social events, this one being a Jewish wedding in Shenandoah, PA, described as “one of the most brilliant affairs of the kind ever celebrated in this section of the country”. This wedding, between Lena Friedman and Simon Yedinsky, is described in great detail, has two illustrations, and even lists which guests gave which gifts. From a genealogical point of view these kinds of articles are sometimes goldmines. In my own research I’ve come across wedding descriptions that listed many relatives as guests, sometimes specifying them as such, and sometimes not, but all the information is useful.

Illustration from 1891 article describing Jewish wedding in Pennsylvania

Anyone have a good story on the meaning of their name? Share your story in the comments.

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes

Back in May 2011 I discussed a book Petitions for Name Changes in New York City 1848-1899 as part of a broader article on the myth of Ellis Island name changes. The book transcribes 890 name change petitions that were made in New York City in the 52 years between 1848 and 1899. In my original article, I discuss many of the reasons people changed their names. In this post I want to go back to take a look from a slightly different perspective.

That names changed due to racism and antisemitism is not hard to show. While not every name change says it explicitly, without a doubt many of the name changes that are for ‘pecuniary benefit’ or similar reasons are due to the petitioners believing (perhaps rightly for the time) that their names were too ethnic sounding to allow them to flourish without discrimination.
Some, however, were explicit. Indeed, the first two petitions listed in the book are:

Petition (11 July 1892) of William Abraham, aged over 21, residing at 323 E. 3rd St., unmarried. His father, Morris Rogozinski, came to the U.S. in 1866 from Russia and assumed the name Abraham. Petitioner’s father is dead. His mother’s name is Sarah. He states that as the name Rogozinski and Abraham are of Semitic origin, it will be to his material and pecuniary advantage to bear a name that will not be so distinctive. He wishes to assume legally the name William Abraham Rodgers.

Petition (25 Mar. 1891) of Joseph Abrahamson, age 21 on 2 Nov. 1890, residing at 2093 Third Ave. He was employed about 8 years by one Russak, now deceased, who had 3 other Josephs in his employ and called the petitioner Edson. The petitioner has become a Christian and is about to marry an Episcopalian young lady. He and his bride desire that ‘all semblance of a Jewish surname shall be removed from the petitioner.’ He wishes to assume legally the name Joseph Abraham Edson.

Looking at patterns in the names, however, we can learn some more. For example, which names were changed the most?

It may not surprise anyone to know that the most commonly changed name is also the most common name in the United States, Smith. Consider for a moment over a hundred years ago how people found each other. New York City had city directories, pre-cursors to phone books, which listed people by name – but what happened when there were 50 other John Smiths? What if 10 of those John Smiths were in the same business as you? It’s not hard to see why someone with the name Smith might want to change their name to something more unique. According to the 2000 US Census, there were 2,376,206 people in the US with the last name Smith. I don’t know how many people in the US, or even just New York City, had the name Smith in the years covered in this book, but there is no question even then it was a very common name. Take a look at the following chart that looks at the name changes from Smith, and the reasons given for each change:

Name changes from Smith, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)

Note that more than half of the petitions were due to commonality of the name, and even more were probably for that reason (although not explicitly shown in the petitions). The next most often petitioned names, however, were not among the most common US surnames, but rather of the most obviously Jewish surnames – Levy and Cohen. I’ve created charts of the name changes from Levy and Cohen (with Cohn) that illustrate the changes made, and why the changes were made:

Name changes from Levy, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)

Among the people who changed their names from Levy, while none explicitly point out the removal of ‘Semitic origin’ like the example above, it is implicit in almost all of them (one says it is because the name is too common).

Name change from Cohen and Cohn, with reasons. (Click to enlarge)

In the changes from Cohen and Cohn, there is a similar implicit pattern. Only two petitions list commonality as a reason (the Keene and Spahn petitions). Compare that to Smith where more than half of the name changes are attributed to the commonness of the name.

Clearly something else is going on that causes these name changes to occur, and if we can’t know that the names changed for the reasons in the first two petitions from the book, we can certainly infer that the reasons are fairly similar. The desire to ‘not be so distinctive’ was strong among many immigrants, and changing ones name to fit in better was an easy way to remove distinctiveness.

The reasons behind these name changes are very different from some of the other reasons I’ve discussed in the past, such as children having to take their mother’s surnames because it was difficult for Jews to be civilly married in places like Austria in the 19th century. While the circumstances are very different, it’s no less complicated for family members try to research their family when names change. Moreover, the circumstances, while different, still emanate from racism. In the case of mother’s surnames, discrimination against Jewish families in the civil registration process, and in the case of these NYC name changes, discrimination that causes the petitioners to want to change their surnames to fit in better.

Interestingly, the fact that many Jews did not have surnames until just over 200 years ago probably contributes to the lack of commonness as a reason for changing one’s surname. Other reasons are more common, however, such as changing a name that was derogatory (assigned by antisemitic bureaucrats) when possible, changing from a mother’s surname to a father’s surname (common when coming to the US where name changes were easier), and changes to try to prevent discrimination. Name changes of Jewish immigrants to Israel is a whole different topic, but encompassed a whole different set of reasons, including a desire to Hebraize one’s surname – in some cases this was not a choice but a requirement if the person worked in the government or military in Israel.

What interesting name change stories do you have in your family?

Jewish names, red herrings, and name changes

The study of one’s family history includes a large amount of dealing with names. Surnames. Given names. Maiden names. Married names. Nicknames. Name changes. While many of the articles I’ve written in the 2+ years of this blog have dealt with names in some fashion, here’s a look at the articles that focused specifically on them:
January 9, 2011
A look at the introduction of surnames in the Jewish community two centuries ago in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the government bureaucracy which forced many Jews to take the names of their mothers instead of their fathers, forever confusing their descendants researching their family history. A look at a specific case in my own family where birth certificates show the truth of what happened.
May 10, 2011
A look at names changes in NYC and the reasons behind them, as well as the myth and history of name changes at Ellis Island (or in my family’s case, Castle Garden). A look at a very interesting book documenting names changes in New York, and a interesting story of a family that lived and had children under the wrong name for years, before changing it later.
May 17, 2011
This article is a brief look at two common historic Jewish naming patterns, and how they intersect. The first naming pattern is the use of animal names from Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The second pattern is giving two related names to a child.
This article also looks at the historical role of the shem kodesh (Jewish religious name) and the kinui (secular name) among Jews.
June 17, 2011
A look at how given names of the same person can change over time, particularly if they moved between countries. This article has a great table of Jewish given names that shows the names in English, Hebrew, Transliterated Hebrew (i.e. Hebrew in Latin letters), Tranliterated Yiddish, and Polish.
This article also lists and reviews a number of important books on Jewish given names, and provides information on the Given Names Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen.
March 21, 2013
Plane crashes, bigamy and global law firms – this article has it all! Seriously though, this article takes a look at how sometimes you can spend years pursuing a lead that turns out to have been a typo. Examples include a newspaper article that detailed a plane crash in Guatemala, a Rhode Island state census that shows a man with the same name, birth year and birth country as my gg-grandfather who is married to a different woman, and a global law firm that somehow seems to spell their own name wrong on occasion. In all three examples, a family whose name was Traurig was erroneously printed or displayed as the much more rare name Trauring, leading to endless pursuits of families that it turned out were not related at all.
April 15, 2013
Whereas the above article looked at three cases where a family named Traurig was erroneously listed as Trauring, this article looks at four families whose surnames started out as Traurig, but actually changed their names to four different surnames – Trauring (two families), Vesely and Smutny (one family), and Al Yagon (one family).
The article looks at families that started out with the name Traurig, and changed their names in Poland, in Australia, and in Israel.
I hope you like these articles. Let me know what you think. Is there anything else you’d be interested to hear about Jewish name, or names in general, let me know and I’ll see about adding a new article to this list in the future.

What does New Zealand have against Justice?
May 2, 2013

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the different rules that some countries have restricting what parents can name their children, with a special look at the most-rejected name in New Zealand: Justice (which happens to have been the 512th most popular male name, and 529th most popular girls name, in the US in 2011).

Popularity of girls names in the US
June 6, 2013 (on lexigenealogy.com)

What girls names have been the most popular in the past century? What makes a name popular? What causes an old name to come into fashion again? Where did the name Aaliya come from? Layla? Why did Savannah come back after 50 years off the most popular name list?

Racism and Commonality as Reasons for Name Changes
June 9, 2013

A look at the reasons given for changing names in New York City, as recorded in a book that transcribed name change petitions filed between 1848 and 1899. On two ends of the spectrum, some people changed their names because they were too common, and some changed them because they were too ethnic (specifically too Jewish). A focused look at the most commonly changed names in the book – Smith, Levy and Cohen.