Tag Archives: names

How surnames change – research into one name over two centuries

From sadness to happiness and wedding rings.

While my last article looked at changes from the surname Traurig to Trauring which were mistakes, this article looks at changes in the name Traurig that actually did happen – leading to Trauring, Vesely,  Smutny, and Al Yagon.

This article is a fairly long look at how names, or more specifically one name, changed over the past two centuries, using a number of sources including JRI-Poland (covers Poland), Genteam.at (Austria), Yad Vashem (Israel), Historical Jewish Press, FHL Microfilms, old-fashioned gumshoeing, and a bit of luck. While not so many people reading this article may be interested in what accounts to a one-name study of sorts, I think the research methods and family situations discussed would be useful for anyone trying to track down members of their family whose surnames in past centuries might have changed.

The Original Name
About 150 years ago, my family’s surname was Traurig. Traurig in German means ‘sad’. My family lived in the small town of Kańczuga, in the Galicia region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town is now in Poland). Only about 50 years earlier, most people in Galicia didn’t have surnames. Surnames were introduced in Galicia after its consolidation into the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a way to make it easier to tax citizens, and conscript them into the army.
Why Change?
When surnames became required, why would a family choose a name that meant sad? Family legend has it that indeed they didn’t choose the name at all, but rather were assigned it by an antisemitic local bureaucrat. The story goes on that this bureaucrat actually was something of a joker, and named two brothers differently – Lustig and Traurig, or in English – Happy and Sad. The chronicler of this family legend (a distant cousin) even mentioned some members of the Lustig family that were related to us, including the owner of the famous NY restaurant chain Longchamps – which I found out was founded by one Henry Lustig with funding from his brother-in-law Arnold Rothstein. Yes, that Arnold Rothstein. I’ve never been able to make a direct connection to the Lustig family, but interestingly enough I did find an Abraham Joseph Lustig in records that came from Kańczuga  Abraham Joseph was actually a very popular name combination in my family from Kańczuga  so that’s another connection. Maybe there’s something to that legend…
My Family’s Name Change
Our family changed their name within a generation or two to Trauring, which means ‘wedding ring’. I suspect it was simply to avoid the negative meaning of their original name. It’s not clear exactly when the name change occurred, but certainly by the 1880s my family was using the Trauring name. I suspect in fact that they used it much earlier, but only changed it officially once leaving Kanczuga and venturing out to other nearby towns. It is only in other towns that the name Trauring begins to show up, even while the Traurig name continued in Kańczuga until much later.
My original discovery of the name change came when I found my great-grandfather’s older sister’s birth record when searching on JRI-Poland. Kreindel Blime (later known as Katie) Trauring was born in 1882 in Rzeszów, a larger city not too far from Kańczuga. I didn’t then know the connection to Kańczuga and actually thought my family was originally from Rzeszów. When I ordered a copy of the birth record, however, it clearly showed that her father Isaac Trauring was born in Kańczuga. When I tracked down the birth records from Kańczuga (also through JRI-Poland) I was surprised to find there were no Traurings at all. There were, however, a lot of Traurigs. One Traurig was an Isaac Traurig born in 1862. So Isaac Traurig was born in 1862 in Kańczuga, and his first child was born 20 years later in Rzeszów with her father’s name listed as Isaac Trauring.
Detail of Kreindel Blime Trauring’s birth record from 1882
Let me be clear that just finding a person with the same name about the same age in a town does not make them the person you are seeking. I later went on to find many other documents that backed up this record, showing the same town and the same birthday for Isaac Trauri(n)g.

I’ll save you from the details, but another branch of the family shows up in Lancut, also nearby, also went by the name Trauring, and can also be traced back to Kańczuga originally. This probably either indicates that the name change was much earlier than documented (since two separate branches changed their name) or that the two branches coordinated the name change even after they were split between different locations.

Are All Traurigs Related?
With our family name having been Traurig for only for a few decades, and being a fairly common word in German (and a much more common surname than Trauring), I always suspected that that while there are lots of Traurigs out there, none (or few) were related to my family. Indeed, many of the Traurigs I’ve come across have been Cohanim (Jewish priests who receive that status via patrilineal inheritance). Strictly speaking, since my family are not Cohanim (Hebrew plural of Cohen), it should be impossible to be related to Traurigs who are Cohanim (since it is inherited patrilineally).

I said strictly speaking, since it’s not actually true, as many people in Galicia received their surnames from their mothers – as I have discussed in two previous articles: Religious marriages, civil marriages and surnames from mothers and Name Changes at Ellis Island. Thus perhaps one branch received the Cohen status from their father, but their surname from their mother. That said I’ve never found a connection beyond the Traurigs that originated in Kańczuga.

Other Family’s Changes
Since it’s possible some Traurigs are related to my family, I continue occasionally to look into Traurig records, and see if I can find any connection. In doing so I’ve run into something interesting. While my family changed their name well over a hundred years ago, other Traurigs have also changed their names. Indeed I’ve run into at least three other Traurig families that have changed their names.
Ferdinand Traurig (I)
If you look at the list of people on Schindler’s Lists (I use the plural here because there were in fact more than one version of this famous list) you’ll find one Ferdinand Trauring. JewishGen gives some background on these lists, and has two versions of the list included in their Holocaust Database. One version of the list is one that was published in 1944 in Hebrew in the now-defunct newspaper Davar.
While I’ve only mentioned it in passing before, one very important resource for Jewish genealogy is the Historical Jewish Press web site. A joint project of Tel Aviv University and Israel’s National Library, it is slowly scanning many Jewish newspapers from around the globe and making them searchable online. Many of these newspapers are from Israel and are in Hebrew, but of the 35 newspapers currently scanned, the languages also include English, French, German, Hungarian, Judeo-Arabic and Yiddish, as well as papers from Algeria, Austria, France, Hungary, Prussia, Morocco and Russia. One of the papers available on the site happens to be Davar. Searching for טראורינג (Trauring in Hebrew) indeed finds the Davar-published copy of Schindler’s List with an entry for Ferdinand Trauring born in 1892:
Schindler’s List Published Sep 3, 1944 in Davar

You might be wondering why I’m talking about a Ferdinand Trauring and not Ferdinand Traurig. Well, Schindler’s List was my introduction to this man, but not the end of the story. I didn’t know how this Ferdinand Trauring was connected to my family, if at all.

There were other Traurings I couldn’t find a connection to either, including a couple named Israel Wolf and Netti/Nelli (Wachtel) Trauring. I was introduced to this couple by accident. Another researcher who was looking into the Traurig family had received photographs from a researcher in Poland who had photographed graves of Traurigs in a certain cemetery. Except the photographs were not of Traurigs at all, but of Traurings. Since she didn’t think the photographs were relevant to her, and we had connected online to discuss possible connections, she had mailed me the photographs. I haven’t been able to locate the photos of the graves that were sent to me more than a decade ago, but the same graves are shown in records from JRI-Poland:

Cemetery records of Ignatz/Israel and Netti/Nelli Trauring (JRI-Poland)

In the cemetery records, there are two listings for Israel/Ignatz and Netti/Nelli using each variation of the first name. Nelli’s maiden name is given as Wachtel. Both died in 1910.

Later, while searching the site Genteam.at, an amazing resource for families that had relatives living in Austria, I found by chance the birth record of Ferdinand Trauring. Genteam.at, for those who don’t know about it, is a volunteer effort that has already indexed more than 7 million records from Austria, including many Jewish records. Here’s the record as listed in Genteam.at:

Birth record for Ferdinand Trauring from Vienna in 1892 (Genteam.at)

Two important things to notice in the record. First, his parents are the aforementioned Israel Wolf and Netti (Wachtel) Trauring. Second, Ferdinand’s last name is listed as both Traurig and Trauring. I’ve never seen a record before that listed two last names on a birth record, so this is interesting. Presumably, since we know that Israel Wolf and Netti, as well as their son Ferdinand, later went by the name Trauring, the use of both names indicates that the family name was previously Traurig.

Digging a little deeper, using the information from the Genteam.at index, I searched through the FHL Catalog of microfilms to see if they had made copies of birth records in Vienna from that period. I found a series of microfilms dealing with births, marriages and deaths from the Jewish community of Vienna called Matrikel, 1826-1943, and among those films is film 1175374, titled ‘Geburten 1890-1892′. Gerburten is German for Births, so that seems like the right film.

Using the information from the Genteam.at record, and the film umber I had found in the FHL catalog, I submitted a request on Genlighten.com, where you can request document retrieval from researchers who have access to various archives and libraries, including the FHL. A researcher, whom I can’t name not because I don’t want to, but because he’s no longer on Genlighten and it doesn’t show the names of previous service providers, looked up the original birth record of Ferdinand Traurig/Trauring for just $10. For that he retrieved not only the original birth record, but all the index cards that contained the surname Traurig or Trauring as well, which was on a different film (it’s good to hire someone familiar with the records you are trying to access). Here’s the index card that matches the record from Genteam.at above:

Index card of the birth of Ferdinand Trauring from FHL microfilm

You’ll note all the same information, although here the double-surname is listed for the father Israel Wolf, not for the surname on the birth record. That might be explained, however, by the fact that there is a second card in the index:

Index card of the birth of Ferdinand Traurig from FHL microfilm

Note that all the information is exactly the same (birth date, parents names, etc.), except in this card it only shows the surname as Traurig. They both reference the same ledger line (115). So what does the ledger, which is the original record, say?:

Ferdinand Traurig birth ledger entry (click to enlarge)

You may need to click on the image to enlarge it if you want to see it. Ferdinand is unquestionably listed as Ferdinand Traurig, as is his father Israel Wolf, who comes originally from Pilzno apparently. So where did the Trauring name come from at all? Well, the record continues onto the next page where you can see a note at the far right that mentions the Trauring name:

Ferdinand Traurig birth ledger entry, part 2 (click to enlarge)

Okay, so we have a Trauring which was originally Traurig, except they’re from Pilzno, not Kanczuga. Are they related to my family? Not sure. Possibly this is an independent change from Traurig to Trauring by another family. One additional piece of information that can be gleaned from the birth record is that it actually gives a file number and date for when the surname was changed (presumably in Pilzno). The date of the name change was April 1, 1873 (almost exactly 140 years ago).

I contacted the archive in Pilzno about the name change record and was told all Jewish records were destroyed in the war. Not sure how a name change record is a ‘Jewish’ record. Indeed it seems strange that name change records would be divided by religion at all. It’s very possible no name change records  exist from 1873 in Pilzno, but I wouldn’t rely on the response from the archive there to determine that for sure. Whether this is worth pursuing beyond this point is not clear to me. If this is a member of my family, the date of the name change would be consistent with my own family, which was Traurig in 1862 but Trauring in 1882.

Ferdinand Traurig (II)

There’s another Ferdinand Traurig, except he doesn’t become a Trauring, but rather he becomes a Vesely. This is a much simpler story, thankfully spelled out by Ferdinand’s niece in a comment on Yad Vashem’s photo archive. If you’re not familiar with Yad Vashem’s photo archive, it’s a great resource. Yad Vashem teamed up with Google in 2011 to make their massive photo archive searchable online. Searching for Traurig there returns several results, including this photo of one Ferdinand Traurig:

Ferdinand Traurig from Prešov, Czechoslovakia (Yad Vashem)

One of the great features of Yad Vashem’s archive is that visitors can add comments to the photos. In this case, someone named Vanessa (in fact it seems there are two comments merged together from two people) added the following comment to the above photo:

Ferdinand was someone who I loved being around and learnt alot from. A great man who fought the Nazi’s during the Holocaust and fought for Judaism after the war in Australia by setting up a synagogue and raising his child and grandchildren in a Jewish home. May his memory live on through the Judaism that his family practice for many many more generations to come.A wonderful man whom I am proud to call my uncle. Ferdinand was one of 12 children of Yitzhak and Malvina Traurig. Both of his parents and 5 of their children survived World War 2. The list of bothers and sisters were Heinrich, Izidor, Zigmund, David (my father) Ferdinand, Shanyi, Manu, Esther, Annus, Ruzena, Hugo and Josef .Together with their parents, Izidor, Zigmund, David, Ferdinand and Josef survived the war. Many of the other children were married with families who all perished during the Shoah. The family has and is a proud family of Kohanim. The parents and the surviving children [except for Zigmund who remained in Czechoslovakia and was a distinguished scientist ] moved to Australia after the war. The family remains an orthodox Jewish family with a proud heritage. After the war parts of the family changed their family name. Traurig in German means “melancholy or sad”–my father David together with Ferdinand and Josef changed the family name to” Vesely” meaning in Slovak “happy”. Zigmund changed his family name to “Smutny” which is the Slovak equivalent to “sad” The children, grandchildren and now hopefully the great grandchildren of the surviving brothers still keep in close contact and we try to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of those who have gone before us.This is a photo of my grandfather, Ferdinand Traurig. Passed away in 1997 in Sydney Australia. Ferdinand fought with the partisans during the war, his wife Ruzena (née Junger) was in a labour camp and then in hiding, with their only child placed in the care of a non Jewish family. Both Ferdinand, Ruzena and Judith (my mother) survived the war and came to Sydney to rebuild their lives with the remnants of their family.
May 29, 2011, 1:50 p.m.

From the comment we see that Ferdinand Traurig in this photo survived the war with his parents and several brothers, and most of them changed their surname to Vesely, which is Slovak for Happy. One brother changed his name to Smutny which is Slovak for Sad (keeping with the original meaning of the name in German). Here we have a real example of brothers with surnames that mean both Happy and Sad, and it wasn’t something forced upon them.

Doing a quick search online brings a bit more of the story, showing how the Traurig family arrived in Coogee, Australia (a suburb of Sydney) and started a new synagogue there that exists today.

No Sorrow

The Traurigs who made it to Australia were not the only ones to flip the meaning of their name in a new country after the Holocaust.

I originally came across information on this family in 2004 in the run up to IAJGS Int’l Jewish Genealogy Conference in Jerusalem. I had been in Israel less than a year at that point, and was not actively involved with genealogy in Israel yet, but I had volunteered to lay out the souvenir conference journal, and had met many of the people who were running the conference. For the conference, the local genealogy society had prepared a database of name changes that had been published in an official government paper between the years 1921-1948 (corresponding to the time of the British Mandate). This database was original created by Avotaynu, the Jewish genealogy publisher, and put onto microfiche. The database distributed at the conference was created by transcribing the images of the microfiche pages. This database was later put online (although it seems not to fully work now – oddly it seems the original surnames are missing from the search making it impossible to use for its intended purpose), but at the conference it was released on a CD to conference participants. Here is an image from the original microfiche:

Traurig name changes in British Mandate Palestine (click to enlarge)

I’m not clear on the first name change to Weinberger. That happened in 1946. It could of been because she married, or perhaps because she was taking the name of a different parent now that we was in another country. It’s probably not, however, an ideological name change.

The next three names, however, are a family that changed their name together in 1947 from Traurig to Al Yagon. Al Yagon in Hebrew means No Sorrow. Very similar to the change to Vesely by the Traurig family in Australia.

Another interesting change in the change of given name from Roza to Shoshana. A Shoshana in Hebrew is, you guessed it, a Rose.

After finding out about this Al Yagon family I tried to find them and indeed located descendants of those mentioned in these name change records. What happened next is an important lesson for genealogy researchers. As I was writing this article I decided to look back at my correspondance with the Al Yagon family. After a few e-mails back and forth confirming they were the ones whose family name was originally Traurig, I realized why the correspondance had ended. I was told there was an expert in the family history and I should contact him for more information. I was given his name – Meir Eldar – and his e-mail address. I had e-mailed him but not received a response. As I probably thought this family was not related to mine, I probably didn’t notice the lack of response and didn’t follow up. Maybe I had been given the wrong e-mail address, maybe my e-mail was swallowed by a spam filter, I really don’t know. What I do know is that I forgot about the e-mail in 2004 and I never reached this family history expert on the Traurig family. Now in 2013 while researching this article, I corresponded with another Traurig researcher, who informed me that her cousin, the same Meir Eldar, had only recently stopped responding to e-mails due to his deteriorated health. Had I reached him eight years ago, what might I have found out? It’s impossible to know now. This is why it’s important to keep tabs on all the e-mails and other correspondance one has out there at any given time.

Conclusion

So what do we have?

We have my Traurig family from Kańczuga that changed their name to Trauring around the 1870s.

We have the Israel Wolf/Ferdinand Traurig family that came from Pilzno, that changed their name also to Trauring around the same time.

We have the Traurig family from Prešov that changed their name to Vesely and Smutny in Australia, after surviving the Holocaust.

We have the Traurig family that arrived in Pre-State Israel in 1946, and changed their name to the Hebrew Al Yagon.

So four different Traurig families, who ended up with four different surnames. These, of course, being the ones I know about.

What name-change stories have you run into when researching your family history? Does anyone have other example of a name that was changed in so many ways?

Pursuing Genealogical Red Herrings

Plane crashes, bigamy, and global law firms – enjoy.

A red herring is a literary device where the author of work inserts a clue that misleads the reader into thinking one thing, when the truth lies elsewhere. Frequently deployed in mysteries, where the author makes you think one person is guilty of a murder, when really it’s someone else. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for using the technique in his movies. Red herrings are also yummy little fish frequently found at the kiddush table after attending synagogue on the sabbath, but I digress.

In genealogy, sometimes you spend a lot of time researching a lead that is not actually a lead at all. I sometimes think that when you have a very unique surname that you’re researching, you’re more prone to being fooled by a red herring, because you think there’s less chance of the name being from a different family. My own surname, Trauring, is fairly rare. In general, I’ve always been able to connect Traurings to my own family, although there are some exceptions. What I’ve found is that many times when I find the name Trauring, it’s not actually Trauring – that’s where the red herring come in.

The Guatemala Plane Crash

Take, for example, a plane crash that occurred in Guatemala in 1974. A few years ago I ran into an article from the Baltimore Sun that covers a plane crash where 21 American tourists were killed in Guatemala. The crash occurred in 1974, and among the listed victims was a family: Jonathon, Edith, David and Robert Trauring. Here’s the article:

Certainly a plane crash in an exotic location where a family that shares your rare surname is something that draws your attention. I spent some time trying to figure out who these people were, and how they were connected to my family. Something seemed wrong, however, right from the beginning. How was it that I had never heard of a family that lived not that far from mine (I grew up in Massachusetts, this family lived in New Jersey), with the same last name, who died in a plane crash during my lifetime? That issue nagged at me, but I continued to look. I figured they must have been from a distant branch of my family that I was in touch with, that lived mostly in the mid-west. I contacted one of those distant cousins, a fourth cousin once removed I believe, and yet they had never heard of this family either. Another clue that something was wrong was that I didn’t find any evidence of this family existing at all. I eventually gave up, filed the article into my Mysteries folder, and figured I’d work it out later.

Recently I decided to take a look again. I found two other articles that covered the same crash, one on Google’s News search, and another on Ancestry’s Newspapers.com. Here’s the article from Newspapers.com that was published in the El Dorado News-Times (El Dorado, Arkansas) on 30 December 1974:

El Dorado News-Tribune (El Dorado, Arkansas) 30 Dec 1974 Page 2 (Newspapers.comme)

Notice the difference? In this article, published on the same day but in a different paper, the surname of this family is Traurig, not Trauring.

So the surname is Traurig, right? Well, truthfully the information from this article is no more reliable than the other one so how do I know? Obviously finding evidence of the existence of this family as Traurig would be helpful in closing the book on this red herring.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Look at both articles. What are the names listed? The first article says:

Jonathon Trauring, 74 Skyes Avenue, Livingston, NJ; Edith Trauring, same address; David Trauring, a child of the same address; Robert Trauring, a child of the same address.

Clearly according to this article the family is Jonathan and Edith the parents, with David and Robert their children.

The second article says:

Jonathan, Edith, David and Robert Traurig

It doesn’t explicitly state who the children are, but the normal assumption would be that the first two listed are the parents and the last two are children.

So Jonathon is the father, right? Wrong. Robert, the last listed and the one explicitly listed as a child in the first article, is the father. Edith is the mother. David and Jonathon are the children. How do I know this? Well, the obvious person to search for first is the father, and so following the article I searched for Jonathon Trauring, then later Traurig, and found nothing. I finally decided to search for Edith Traurig, where I found her SSDI entry and on Ancestry.com, finally, some solid evidence. Ancestry.com has a collection of documents from the US State Department called Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974. I actually found my great-grandfather’s records in this collection in the past. In this case, considering the deaths occurred on December 28, 1974, I was lucky as the collection only goes through the end of 1974 – only a few days later. Here’s a excerpt of Robert’s file:

Report of the Death of American Citizen Abroad – Robert Bernard Traurig

This file represents a certification of the details of a citizen’s death, including documents signed by the US Consul in Guatemala and records from the medical examiner in NY that verified the identity of the body. As far as I’m concerned, we can safely say this family’s surname was Traurig, not Trauring. Case closed.

Just so you know, with the information in these reports (which includes the names of the parents of Robert and Edith and their addresses at the time), it’s possible to trace the family back quite a bit. Robert and his parents show up in the 1930 and 1940 censuses. Robert’s father came from Austria, likely Galicia (likely because in one census Austria is crossed out and Poland is written in – and the region of Austria that became part of Poland after WWI was the Galicia region). With a little more digging, such as getting a copy of his naturalization papers, we could probably track this family back to the town they came from in Austria/Poland.

One other thing worth noting. Both articles use the unusual spelling Jonathon. The report of death for him spells the name Jonathan. Which is correct? I don’t know, but you’d think the State Department document would have double-checked the name, so possibly both newspaper articles misspelled this given name, but only one misspelled the surname? Pushing that point further, the name given for the father in the original article – Jonathon Trauring – was completely wrong (not the father, spelling of the given name wrong, spelling of the surname wrong). Wonder why I couldn’t find this family originally?

Did my gg-grandfather have two wives?

Ever run into a piece of information on your family that you wish you had not? This is the story of finding one such piece of information, but luckily finding out it was a red herring.

Searching on FamilySearch.org one day, I came across a record of an Isac Trauring in the 1915 Rhode Island state census:

Isac Trauring in 1915 Rhode Island Census (FamilySearch.org)

At the time I originally viewed the record, there was no image available to double check (see the image above for what I saw then, click on the link in the caption to see what it looks like now). The record did show the name of his wife, however, which was Marie. Now, my gg-grandmother’s name was Esther, not Marie, so obviously this was a different person, right? Except my Isaac Trauring was born in 1862 in Austria – and sure enough so was this Isac Trauring. Seemed a bit too much coincidence.

A rare name like Trauring. First name Isaac. Born in Austria. In 1862. I mean, come on, obviously the same person right?

My gg-grandfather had lived in the US from the late 19th century up until about 1913 when he returned to Europe just in time for WWI (lucky him). That was another red flag. I had documentation of him in Vienna in 1914, and plenty of documentation of him living in Antwerp in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but the problem was I couldn’t prove he had not returned to the US in 1915. Indeed, I didn’t have much evidence at all from that document from 1914 until after my gg-grandmother died in 1925. So was my gg-grandfather married to two women?

Luckily, even without the original census record, I was able to prove otherwise. At the time it wasn’t easy, but what I came up with was the following:

Maria Traurig in 1930 US Census in Rhode Island

So in 1930, a woman with the same name as Isac Trauring’s spouse in the 1915 Rhode Island State census, the right age and in the right location, had the last name Traurig, instead of Trauring. Now, that’s not conclusive proof, but it’s a step in the right direction. At the time it was enough to let me stop looking until more evidence became available. More recently, that evidence has been added to FamilySearch. Most importantly, the images of the 1915 Rhode Island Census are online now, and here are the original handwritten entries:

Original 1915 Rhode Island Census entries for Isac and Maria Traurig

The index was transcribed incorrectly. The name is clearly Traurig, not Trauring. Case closed.

Still, it’s worth considering for a moment that this typo (from less common name to more rare name) was made for a person what matched every other metric exactly – same first name, same birth country, same birth year. Too many coincidences? Apparently not.

Greenberg Trauring?

Greenberg Traurig is a fairly well-known global law firm headquartered in Miami, with offices around the US and around the world (even here in Israel). Among other areas of law, they file patents. I’ve had to do patent searches in the past and I have one patent, so occasionally I would search for ‘Trauring’ in the patent database online and see what came up. Besides my patent, and one by a cousin of mine, I saw a few that didn’t seem to fit. Here’s one such patent filed on behalf of Disney:

Disney Patent on Interactive Character System, filed by Greenberg Traurig

The reason the patent showed up when I searched for ‘Trauring’ was because the name of the law firm was misspelled in the patent! Considering the law firm itself filed the patent, that’s particularly odd. Where this mistake originated, I certainly don’t know. Maybe the USPTO made a mistake somewhere, or maybe someone who worked at Greenberg Traurig just made a typo, but why Trauring of all things? Is that a natural mistake when typing Traurig?

Apparently, Trauring is a natural mistake to make, because it’s not the only place it shows up. Look at this screen shot from Greenberg Traurig’s web site:

Web page on gtlaw.com, the web site of Greenberg Traurig

Note the title of the web page – Greenberg Trauring! Maybe the same employee who typed up that patent also worked on that web page?

Luckily, I’m familiar with the law firm and knew the name was Traurig. If the typo had been on the inventors name, and I had spent hours trying to track down a person that didn’t exist, that would not have been fun. The point here is that even documents prepared by global law firms can have typos that can lead you astray.

Indeed all of these mistakes could originate simply as typos. The misspelled name in he news story could have been a typo, or perhaps a misheard spelling on an international phone call between Guatemala and a news bureau in the United States. The census record could have been a transcription mistake, or a typo. The Greenberg Traurig mistakes are almost certainly typos.

So next time you come across a name of a possible relative, and your gut tells you there is something wrong, trust your gut and make sure you’re not following a red herring.

Lessons Learned

So what can you learn from the above cases? Here’s what I learned:

  • When your gut tells you there is something wrong with the lead you’re following, listen to your gut.
  • Always search for all members of a family, not just the adults (or who you think are the adults).
  • Just because an index says a name is correct, don’t assume it is correct. Always check the original document.
  • Never settle for one record to provide you with information you’re seeking – always look for corroboration from multiple additional sources (and different types of sources).
  • Red herring should be eaten, not followed.

Variations in Jewish Given Names

I’ve written about Jewish given names before, but I wanted to look at a different aspect in this article. The main thing I’d like to point out is that given names change over time, and someone might be known as one name in one location and as something else after moving to another country, or even another town. Sometimes, for example, a name changed by an immigrant is easy to guess at, since the name has a clear equivalent in the new country. What happens when the equivalent is not considered a good name when the person arrives? Pinkhas is a Hebrew name which is fine in Hebrew, but the anglicized version is Phineas (not so popular). So what name might an immigrant have taken? Philip? Paul? It could be anything. However, that misses the point that sometimes we are staring at a name and have no idea what name it is actually. For example, I had a gg-grandfather whose first name was Shubsa. I didn’t know what name that was, and in the US he went by Sam. Sam is short for Samuel, or in Hebrew Shmuel. Is Shubse some kind of Yiddish nickname for Shmuel? Actually, it’s a Yiddish pronunciation of a variant of Shabbtai, a totally different name. There’s a derivation there which can be discovered, but it’s not the most obvious derivation to someone who doesn’t know Yiddish and is unfamiliar with the name. Indeed, for my gg-grandfather there was no easy English equivalent (such as someone name Yitzkhok going by Isaac, or someone named Yishai going by Jesse), which is why he went by Sam.

I’ve created a chart below that takes a small sampling of names, and compares what they look like in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and of course English. For English, I’ve given two versions which are the Anglicized version (i.e. the version likely to appear in an English-language bible and to be used by people in English-speaking countries today) and the transliterated version of the original Hebrew name (used by some religious Jewish people even today instead of the Anglicized version, but is mainly there to illustrate the difference between the Anglicized version and the original).

In the case of Yiddish and Polish names, there are many other possibly variations for many of the names listed. I’ve tried to list either the most commonly used and the most clearly different names (i.e. ones you would be unlikely to track backward to the original without help). Don’t hold me to being consistent with my transliteration of the Yiddish and Polish names. My goal was to make them readable, not consistent.

A few more notes. I use the letter-pair kh to represent the Hebrew letter Khet (ח). In English the more common pairing to use for spelling is actually ch, such as in Chanukah, although for the same reason Chanukah is frequently spelled Hanukah instead (because in English we reserve the ch pairing for a totally different sound, such as in the word ‘chair’) I use the pairing kh which is distinct from h, but cannot be confused with the sound we normally use for ch. This is why I write ‘Rakhael’ for the Hebrew transliteration of Rachel, but put ‘Rachel’ in parenthesis since in fact most women who bear this name write it as ‘Rachel’ even if they pronounce it as ‘Rakhael’. In fact, I’ve seen some people write their name as Rachael, which is a mix of those approaches (yet something which doesn’t help people to pronounce the name correctly).

Anglicized
Name
Transliterated Hebrew Transliterated Yiddish Polish Name(s) Hebrew Gn
Aaron Aharon (Aron) Arn/Oren Aron אַהֲרֹן M
Abigael Avigayil Avigayl Abigail אֲבִיגַיִל F
Abraham Avraham Avrom/Avrum Abram אַבְרָהָם M
Alexander Alexander Sander/Sender Szandor אַלֶכְּסַנְדְר M
Anna/Hannah Chana Khane/Knanke Hanka/Hania חַנָּה F
Daniel Daniyel Danil/Donye Danilo/Danek דָּנִיֵּאל M
Deborah Devora Devorye/Dvoshe Dworja דְּבוֹרָה F
Ephraim Ephraim Efroyim/Froyke Efrem/Akram אֶפְרָיִם M
Eliezer Eliezer Elieyzer/Leyzer Lejzor אֱלִיעֶזֶר M
Elizabeth Elisheva Elisheve Elzbieta/Elka אֱלִישֶׁבַע F
Eve Chava Khave Chawa/Ewa/Ewka חַוָּה F
Gabriel Gavriel Gavriel/Gavrilik Gabor/Gabrys גַבְרִיאֵל M
Isaiah Yehoshua Ishaye/Shaye Izajasz יְשַׁעְיָהוּ M
Isaac Yitzchak Ayzik/Itskhok/Izak/Itzik Izaak/Icchok/Icek יִצְחָק M
Israel Yisroel Isroel/Srulik Izrael/Iser/Srul יִשְׂרָאֵל M
Jacob Yakov Yankef/Yankel Jakub/Jankiel/Kuba יַעֲקֹב M
Jeremiah/Jeremy Yirmiyahu Yirmiya/Irmye Jeremiasz יִרְמְיָהוּ M
Joel Yo’el Yoyel Joil/Jowel יוֹאֵל M
Jonah Yonah Yona/Yoyne/Yavne Jonasz יוֹנָה M
Jonathan Yonatan Yehoynosn Jonatan יוֹנָתָן M
Joseph Yoseph Yoysef/Yose/Yosl Jozef/Josel יוֹסֵף M
Joshua Yehoshua Yehoshue/Yoshue/Hesyl Jozue/Gowsiej/Hojsza/Szyja יְהוֹשֻׁעַ M
Judah Yehuda Yehude Juda/Judka/Idel יְהוּדָה M
Leah Leah Leye/Laya Leja/Lejka לֵאָה F
Matthew Mattityahu Mates Maciej/Maciek/Mateusz מַתִּתְיָהוּ M
Michael Mikha’el (Michael) Mikhoel/Mikhke Michal/Michalek/Michas מִיכָאֵל M
Moses Moshe Moyshe Mojzesz/Mosko/Moszka מֹשֶׁה M
Nathaniel Natan’el Nisanel/Sanel/Sanyek Natanael/Sanel נְתַנְאֵל M
Obadiah Ovadiah Ovadye/Vadye Abdiasz עֹבַדְיָה M
Rachel Rakhael (Rachel) Rokhl/Rokhe Rachela/Ruchla/Rechel רָחֵל F
Rebecca Rivka Rifke/Rive Rywka/Rebeka/Rysza רִבְקָה F
Reuben Reuven Ruven/Ruvn/Rubin Ruben רְאוּבֵן M
Samson Shimshon Shimshen/Shimshl Szymszon/Samson/Szymszel שִׁמְשׁוֹן M
Samuel Shmuel Shmuel/Shmul/ Szmul/Sam/Samek שְׁמוּאֵל M
Sarah Sara Sore/Sorke/Tserl Sara/Sura/Cyra שָׂרָה F
Saul Shaul Shoyel/Shaul Saul/Szoel/Szawel/Zavel שָׁאוּל M
Simon Shimon Shimen Szymon/Szymen/Zymel שִׁמְעוֹן M
Solomon Shlomo Shloyme/Zalman Salomon/Szloma/Zalman שְׁלֹמֹה M
Susanna Shoshana Shoshane/Shoshe Szoszana/Zuzanna/Szosa שׁוֹשַׁנָּה F

As an aside, I wanted to point out a street sign I noticed the other day while walking in Jerusalem:

Shimeon St. in Jerusalem, Israel

If one were to transliterate the Hebrew name properly, it would be Shimon St. In English, however, the name was anglicized into Simeon, or Simon. Somehow the person determining the proper name in English combined the proper transliteration (including the Sh sound instead of S) but also included the anglicized contribution of -eon from Simeon, even though that sound doesn’t exist in the original Hebrew. It was actually this sign which put the idea in my head to write this article.

I give the city a hard time, and indeed the mis-named streets are a long-running joke among native English-speakers in Israel (as are mis-spelled and mis-translated restaurant menus), but they have gotten better over the years. I once noticed a street that had three different English spellings on three different street signs for the street, including two different spellings on different sides of the same sign. They later changed them to all be the same.

My favorite street in Jerusalem is Abraham Lincoln St., where in Hebrew they pronounce the silent l, and get something like Avraham Linko-lin. Try to pronounce that name with the correct English pronunciation to a taxi driver, and you won’t get anywhere. Pronounce it Linko-lin and you’re golden.

I should add that these examples (besides being amusing) are intended to help you realize that just like government bureaucrats in these cases didn’t bother to spend the time to find the correct spelling or pronunciation of a name, when one’s ancestors were traveling through Europe, getting on ships, arriving in the US, similar bureaucrats may also have not spelled things correctly. Also, while we are pretty strict with spelling these days, it was not a sacrosanct a hundred years ago.

For more information on Jewish given names, there are some very good books and web sites available. Here are a few books:

Beider, Alexander. A Dictionary of Ashkenazic Given Names: Their Origins, Structure, Pronunciation, and Migrations. Bergenfield, NJ: Avotaynu, 2001. 728pgs

Hoffman, William F., and George W. Helon. First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings. Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1998. 426pgs

Gorr, Shmuel, and Chaim Freedman. Jewish Personal Names: Their Origin, Derivation, and Diminutive Forms. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1992. 128pgs

Feldblyum, Boris. Russian Jewish Given Names. Teaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1998. 152pgs

Cohn, Rella Israly. Yiddish Given Names: a Lexicon. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008. 432pgs

A few notes on the books:

Beider’s Dictionary (and its less expensive Handbook version) is really an amazing resource, but keep in mind when using it that it does not attempt to bring any modern context to the names. For all intents and purposes it ends its look at the names mentioned around 150 years ago. This is not a criticism, just an acknowledgement that the book does not try to look at the evolution of the names into the 20th century. It is still incredibly useful, but you will not find any information in the book about modern usage or changes in the names.

Hoffman and Helon’s book on Polish names is a great book and a bargain. It is a publication of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, and is not specifically Jewish, but it has broad coverage of Jewish names, and shows the Jewish roots of many Polish names. It points out the different pronunciations and spellings of names that came from different regions, and when there is a specific Jewish version it generally points it out.

Gorr’s book, which was finished after his death by Freedman, is certainly not as scientific a look at the history of given names as Beider’s, but it is nonetheless very important as a look at the actual usage of many of the names listed in this brief work. Unlike Beider whose name variations are shown using transliteration, Gorr’s book shows the variations with the original Yiddish (in Hebrew lettering) and transliteration. Considering the difference in spelling between Hebrew and Yiddish, this is a very useful feature of the book. It’s a short book, but with some great information.

Feldblyum’s book on Russian names has the most interesting story behind the book. It is largely based on a Russian book published in 1911 by Iser Kulisher in Zhitomir, Ukraine. The book was intended to help government bureaucrats make sense of all the variations of Jewish given names. This was a serious problem, as people were forbidden to change their name as recorded at their birth. If they were listed in a document with even the slightest variation of their name, the listing was considered a different person. To use an example from the book, if a tax list showed that Moshe paid his taxes, but his name in another register was listed as Mojshe, then he could be taxed again.

Cohn’s book on Yiddish names, like Gorr’s, was also published posthumously. As an academically published book it is incredibly expensive (listed at $165). For that price, you get much less than the much larger, more comprehensive (and at $85 cheaper) Beider book (or even in some ways the $29 Handbook). The introductory essays of the book are good, but the lexicon itself is a bit frustrating. For example, for a book on Yiddish names, it doesn’t actually include the original Yiddish spellings in the book at all, only transliterations. Truthfully, Beider doesn’t include the names in their original Yiddish either, but at least he references the Hebrew names they are based on (in Hebrew) and provides an index of the Yiddish names in Hebrew letters in the back of the book. Cohn offers an index of Hebrew names as well, but oddly transliterates those too. Her index of English names and the Yiddish equivalents is useful. I wonder if some of these shortcomings would have been fixed if Cohn had lived to finish the book herself instead of having it finished after her death.

For web sites, one place to look is the Given Name Data Bases (GNDBs) at JewishGen. Truthfully, this database drives me nuts. It appears to have been last updated in 2003. You can search for ‘European’ names or ‘Foreign Names’ which means, for example you can search for names that were from Poland which is European and see what people changed their names to in the United States which is Foreign. In reverse, you can choose a Foreign country and see name changes to a European country. The records that you see are as varied as the people who filled out the information that makes up the database. Some records provide many alternate names, some don’t. It would seem the database is in need of a major overhaul, and merging into a single database would be a nice start. Also, beyond this major limitation, it doesn’t actually tell you the origin of the names, but only what the person who filled out their individual information filled out. The information therefore can be very useful for trying to figure out what someone named Berish who lived in Romania and moved to Argentina might have changed their name to (Bernardo) but it’s more hit-or-miss when trying to just find out about the name Berish (you nee to pick European/Foreign pairs to search and hope you get lucky).

A general site on given names called Behind the Name, has a section on Jewish names which is very useful. The site shows the etymology and history of names, and will show the language of original (Hebrew or Yiddish for example). If the name was originally in Hebrew or Yiddish, the site will also give you the name in Hebrew letters.

Another useful site, believe it or not, is Wikipedia. Obviously it’s not consistent on how it deals with names, but there are many Wikipedia entries on given names. Try searching for a name and add ‘given name’ to the search. For example, see these entries for Israel (name) and Rebecca (given name).

What’s your favorite name story? What name did it take years for you to decipher? Post your stories in the comments.