Sunday, November 21, 2021

Lara and the Three Little Bers - Identical Names, Different People

Even in small towns, a "unique" name may actually not be as unique as you think.  People were named for common ancestors, so first (or second or....) cousins often were given identical names.  I learned the hard way that teenaged Lara had assumed that a Shmuel Moshe Rutner who lived in the small town of Kolodne was my great-great grandfather--but it turns out that there were two Shmuel Moshe Rutners in that small town.  Current (non-teenaged) Lara has learned from that mistake, and I've come across other situations where it's important to disambiguate two--or more--people with the same name.  (Owners of Ancestry and other online trees would be well-advised to do this.)  In my Lefand family, I have what I call my Three Little Bers.

Marriage of Yehoshua Zev (son of Ber/Berko) and Mira Lefand, 1871

My 3rd great grandfather was Yehoshua Zev Lefand.  I know from his marriage and death records that his father was Ber (Hebrew)/Berko (Russian) Lefand.  Unfortunately his ~1851 birth is from a year whose vital records do not seem to have survived.

Now, there are multiple births in the 1850s-1870s to Ber/Berko Lefands, with various wives.  How many Bers were there?  Could it be one or two with successive wives?  Or were there more than two?  How many?  And which one is "mine"?

  1. Ber (son of Avraham) & Sima Sara
    •  Births of 9 children from 1857-1871
  2. Ber (son of Meir) and Pesha
    • Births (or marriages for children born) from 1853-1864
  3. Ber--sometimes Yosef Ber (son of Leib) & Basia
    • Births (or marriages for children born) from 1861-1876

It looks like there are three Bers, having children simultaneously--each with one wife throughout.  Could there be a fourth Ber?  (That would mess up my Goldilocks-like title.)  Or is one of these three my 4th great grandfather--but which one?

Lefand Family - 1850 Revision

Looking at the family's entry in the 1850 Revision List for Nezhin, sure enough, there are three Berkos listed, all born within a year of one another.  We have:

  1. Berko son of Meir, aged 21
  2. Berko son of Avram, aged 20
  3. Berko son of Leiba, aged 20

These first cousins were likely all named for the same ancestor--but I don't yet know who.

My suspicion was that "my" Ber was the son of Meir, given that my great-great grandfather's oldest daughter was Pesha Riva, potentially after Ber-son-of-Meir's wife.  And my great-great grandfather had another child named Meir.  But both of the names Pesha and Meir also weren't that uncommon in the area, so I couldn't be certain of my hypothesis.

But then Meir's wife Chava decided she was going to file lots of petitions and leave an incredible paper trail for me to follow.  And in that paper trail, I learned that Berko son of Meir (and Chava) had been conscripted into the military, and one of Chava's reasons (in 1857) for getting her son out of military conscription was that he had two young children--but that the other Bers did not yet bear (thanks to DS Gilson for the pun here) children of their own.  Well, Yehoshua Zev was born about 1851, so his father must have been Ber(ko) son of Meir!  Disambiguation success!

Be careful when looking at online trees and any sort of record--and make sure you're not merging two individuals into one.  Names were not necessarily unique, even in the smallest of villages.  Remember the three little Bers!

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  1. Great article, thanks! Along my maternal line, I have an ancestor in/around London, England in the early 1800's by the name of Joel JOEL (my mother's maiden name was JOEL). However, apparently there were 2 Joel JOELs floating around early 1800s London! Oy vey!

  2. Great article. My search of our Wendt family has many, many Josef, Joseph, Jozef, etc When they came to America their names were all turned to Joseph and then it became a real nightmare. I've worked many hours in keeping them straight.

    1. And since spelling wasn't too important in Europe at the time, it could be that some of those people are the same person with a different spelling of the given name! No one ever said genealogy was easy. :)

  3. Like the commenter above, my Roth branch has Josef, Joseph, and Jozsef in same generation. Luckily one descendant is helping untangle these three with me. Oy vey.

  4. So so true - great article! You laid this out beautifully. I have run into this problem looking at other's trees. Usually they are picking up my information, adding it as if it's theirs and then it's a mess.

  5. I had the same problem with Mendys in my family, who were all first cousins to one another. Got some help from my father before he died last year, who told me the family had nicknames for each. There was Fat Mendy, Skinny Mendy, Old Mendy, and my dad ... Little Mendy!

  6. I've been working on a one-place study of two small villages, one church parish, in Slovakia. There are multiple people with the same names and close in age, due to all the cousins. The ability to separate them out is compounded by all the children who died young, but whose burials apparently weren't recorded, but baptisms were.

  7. Lara - do you have a link to the revisionist lists from 1850 for nezhin? I see you reference it here, but i cannot find on family search. Thanks Susan H

    1. Unfortunately, no. I talk about how I found the Lefand family's entry here: