Sunday, November 3, 2019

Drawing Incorrect Conclusions

Naming patterns can sometimes be helpful in genealogy.  But sometimes, the way that names are recorded can lead researchers to incorrect conclusions.  Take the marriage record of my fourth cousin twice removed, where her name was recorded as Helen Rifke Jager.
Marriage of Helen Rifke Jager and Jankel Herskovics, Talaborfalva, Hungary (today's Tereblya, Ukraine), November 1941

Helen Rifke Jager married Jakub Herskovics on November 21, 1941 in what was then Talaborfalva, Hungary (today's Tereblya, Hungary).  Helen Rifke's parents are noted as Jozsef Jager and Helen Rutner.

Ashkenazic Jews don't name children for living relatives.  In general, when you see a child with the same name as the mother, that mother died birthing the child.  (And finding boys with the same name as their father means that the father died when the mother was pregnant with the child.)

So looking at Helen Rifke's marriage record, it would be pretty reasonable to think that her mother had died in childbirth.  Except that she didn't.
Birth of Hene Rifke Jager, Dulovo (then Czechoslovakia, now Ukraine), 1922
The birth record of the above bride gives her Yiddish name, Hene Rifke.  Her mother is simply given as Helena.  But here's Hene/Helen Rifke's parents' marriage record.
Marriage of Jozsef Jeger and Jochevet Rutner; Dulfalva, Hungary (now Dulovo, Ukraine), 1907
Hene/Helen Rifke's mother's name was Jochevet.  So while Hene/Helen Rifke's 1941 marriage record would lead a researcher to believe that she and her mother had the same name--and imply the mother's death in childbirth--looking more closely shows that Hene Rifke's mother was Jochevet, completely different names.  Hene/Helen Rifke's mother not only didn't die in childbirth with her, but she had at least two more children after Hene Rifke's birth.

There's also a lesson here for people who are looking at an individual's secular name and who ask what the corresponding Hebrew/Yiddish name is.  There's no one answer.  Helen can be Hene and Jochevet.  It could also be Chaya or Chana or any other name.

So make use of naming patterns in genealogy.  But be careful that you're not drawing incorrect conclusions.

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  1. I had a similar experience. My grandfather was Samuel RUDIN and his father was Samuel RUDNITZKY. When I recently found the Revision list in Lithuania (now Belarus) my great-grandfather was SAMUEL but his son was SHLOMO! He became Samuel only in America.

  2. Although generally accepted Ashkenazi practice is not to name a child for a living ancestor, I don't think you can say that it never happens as is suggested in your blog. I have many relatives (including my father) from Ashkenazi families from Germany who were named for living relatives. Yes, they were pretty assimilated, and yes, they were from German backgrounds, not Eastern European, but still definitely Ashkenazi. And the practice goes back to the 19th century in the US. It might never have happened in Hungary in 1941, but you never know.