I try to find an existing handwritten example (or better multiple examples) of a family name that I'm researching. I extract just the family name from those records and then put them into a Word document. I then email that document to my (free) Kindle address so that I have all of the examples on my iPad; you can also just print out the page for a more low-tech solution. If you don't have examples, you can use Google Translate to guess how the name would be spelled. Make sure you are translating from Russian to English. In the bottom of the area where you can type Russian, there is a button that looks like "Py." Click the arrow just to the right of that, and choose "privet -> привет." Then type your family name (followed by a space), and what you just typed should turn into the Russian version of the name. (This may not be exactly how your family spelled the name, but it should give you an idea.)
|My iPad with family names to try to match|
As you go through records, there's generally a pattern. You'll have the family name, individual's first name, and the individual's patronymic (father's name). So Mosko Avramovitch Cohen's patronymic is Avramovitch--meaning his father was Avram. This is very useful in genealogy! In some instances the family name will be first; in other cases it will be last. To identify the order, finding the patronymic is helpful. The ending of the patronymic will generally look similar to "nobr" in English. Actual examples look like like (2 different handwritings):
In addition, many of the older documents will write the family name in fancier or bolder writing; often the family name is underlined. I am indebted to the people who did this, as it is much easier to quickly find the family name in an entry!
Once I've identified where a family name should be, I start looking. I also keep in mind what the family name I'm looking for looks like in English to make it easier to find. As an example, when I'm looking for Halperins, I look for something that looks like "Taubnepunz," as that's how Halperin looks to me in Russian. If I find something similar to Taubnepunz, I then look closer at my examples to see if it could be a match.
|Halperin in Russian--looks like Taubnepunz to me!|
I tend to err on the conservative side and if there is the possibility that a record is a match to my family, I make a copy or take a picture. To verify that I have the right family, I post a copy of the family name on Genealogy Translations or Viewmate to double-check. Only if it is the right family would I then post the entire record and get a translation. Note that many of the older (Czar-era) documents are written in a handwriting that is difficult for modern Russian speakers to read, so there may be a lag until you can find someone who can fully translate the record.
I also look for others researching my mistakes; if I didn't find what I wanted, perhaps I can help someone else. When I first started, I thought I had found a lot of Lefand records, although it did look a bit different. It turned out I had copied lots and lots of Gelfand records. I found someone searching for Gelfands from that town, and they can hopefully find information about their family members in those records.
Any other suggestions to help? Please leave them in the comments.