Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Name-Changing, Town-Moving Zibkis/Zubkis/Zubko/Zubkov/Soupcoffs!

Many people talk about surname changes that happened after their ancestors emigrated to America (not at Ellis Island!).  But most assume that the family name was relatively stable in Europe and that the town from which their ancestors emigrated from was the family town for generations.  While that might be true, sometimes it's not.  As an example, let's look at my 5th great uncle Hirsh Zubkis and some of his descendants.

The first mention I have of Hirsch is in 1811, when he was a 15-year-old living with his father and brothers (no women were mentioned in this revision list) in Uman.
Zibkis Family, 1811, Uman

At some point between 1811 and 1850, Zibkis family (Hirsh included) registered in Kuna, 70km to the west of Uman (and even today a 1.5-hour drive).  The other brothers and their families used the name Zubkis.

By 1850, Hirsh and his extended family lived in Gaysin, right next to Kuna--and the family name was Zubko.

Hirsh's surname is given as Zubko in the notes of this 1850 Additional Revision List; it also says he was registered in Kuna
In 1875, he's mentioned in Bratslav District's 1875 Jewish Army Census (still using the Zubko name), and there is a notation that the family was relisted as Tulchin merchants in 1859.  It's unclear if he ever lived Bratslav proper (as Tulchin was within the Bratslav District).
Zubko Family, 1875; the notation on the left says that they were relisted as Tulchin merchants in 1859

Sure enough, Hirsh's son, Nachman Itzik and at least some of his children were living in Tulchin, 40km southeast of Gaysin--and they were using the name Zubkov, as they appear in Tulchin's metrical records.
Death of Nachman-Itzik Zubkov, 1895

To make things even more complicated, Nachman Itzik actually died in Kleban, about 14km east of Tulchin.  And he died as a Zubkov.

Hirsh Zubkis Descendants' Towns, 1811-1895

This family moved often, and sometimes relatively large distances, given that it was the 19th century.

(Continuing on another generation, Nachman Itzik's son Moshe-Aron made an even larger move--to Pittsburgh--where he used the name Morris Soupcoff.  Morris' children also made large moves; his son Samuel later lived in Denver and Salt Lake City, and Samuel's children lived in California.)

So here we have a family who, in less than a century--and all in the Russian Empire--used the surnames Zibkis, Zubkis, Zubko and Zubkov.  Yes, the names are similar, but they're still different names, so people might disregard two if they're only familiar with a third in their own family.  And direct line from Hirsh Tolchinsky down lived in Uman, Kuna, Gaysin, Tulchin and Kleban, in less than a century's time.

So don't always disregard names that are relatively similar to your family's.  While there may be no connection to you, it also may be your family.  And think beyond the last place your family lived before emigrating.  Perhaps they weren't there that long after all!

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  1. And there are still people who insist that "we cannot be related because you are Horowitz and I am Horovitz."

    On the other hand Segal and Siegel are not generally the same. That's what makes this fun.

  2. Well, that sure makes all this even harder than it already was! If we can't narrow down relatives by surname or place even after there were surnames, it really is like looking for an ever-changing needle in an always-moving haystack.

    1. Totally! Although I guess that makes it more of a challenge, so a bit more fun!