Sunday, April 10, 2022

Swapping Surname Confusion - The Impact of Religious (But No Civil) Marriage

In many parts of Austria-Hungary (including Galicia, Maramaros, Bereg, and many more megye), Jews would often have religious marriages but wouldn't register their marriages civilly.  This meant that while the community considered the couple fully married, the government considered their children illegitimate, and those children would generally have to use their mother's surname.  Sometimes people would marry civilly many years after their religious marriage because it was needed for some purpose, and this would retroactively legitimize their children.  (I saw this in my own family, when my great-great grandparents had a civil marriage after they were already grandparents.)

There are many implications for this in genealogy.  It means that yDNA, which generally follows the surname line, does not do so in these cases.  Sometimes, children of such a marriage would vacillate between using their father's surname and their mother's surname.  Sometimes an individual who used his or her mother's surname in Europe would immigrate to America and begin using his or her father's name.  An example of a confusion I've seen in my own family was with my great grandmother's first cousin Roza.  Her surname use teaches an important lesson for making sure that you don't overlook records for an individual from this part of the world.

Marriage of Roza Fuksz to Jakob Steinmetz, Maramaros-Sziget, Hungary (now Sighetu Marmației, Romania), 1914

On Roza's 1914 marriage record to Jacob Steinmetz, only her mother's name is given--Eidel Fuksz.  My third great aunt Eidel had never civilly registered her marriage to Roza's father Mozes Fogel, so Mozes doesn't even appear on this record, and Roza is given her mother's surname.

1919 Birth of Lipot Steinmecz - Mother's Maiden Name is Fogel

Between 1915-1934, Roza and Jacob had at least ten children in what is now Kalyny, Ukraine (then Alsokalinfalva, Hungary and Kaliny, Czechoslovakia).  In eight of those ten births, Roza's name is recorded as Fogel.  For two of those ten, Roza's name is recorded as Fuchs--and those two weren't sequential.

1930 Birth of Helena Steinmetz.  Mother's Maiden Name is Fuchs (the -ova is added to women's surnames during the Czechoslovakian era)

Roza was murdered in the Holocaust (along with her husband and several of their children) so has no official death certificate.  One of the surviving children recorded his mother's maiden name as Fogel on a Yad Vashem Page of Testimony.

This shows the importance of understanding that a person may have used two surnames--and that you need to account for what they would be, especially if you don't have a marriage record for that person's parents.  Individuals may not have been consistent with using one surname or the other, so you need to make sure to look for them under both of these surnames in order to make sure you've been exhaustive with your search.  This complicates research but also may open up additional records that you wouldn't have realized could actually be related to a person you're researching!

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  1. I had the same issue with my great-grandparents. My great grandmother had 13 children and she was listed as her maiden name, Vogel on some of the birth records and Schnee her married name on other births. I thought it might have been that the marriage wasn't registered so it's good to read your post regarding this!

  2. Very useful, Lara! I have some Romanian documents of a set of siblings recorded as illegitimate, and later legitimized by their parents' civil marriage.

    But I hadn't previously thought of the surname discrepancies this causes. I have several brother and father-son situations where they have different surnames. I even have a mother whose maiden names changed between children. These may all be clues and might indicate their mother's maiden name.

    It only occurs in some of my Romanian records, not my Russian. But I'll be on the lookout.

    Thank you for writing about this.

  3. Something similar occurred in my family. My great grandfather was born in 1848, probably in Kassejowitz, Bohemia, and his parents weren’t able to obtain a marriage license until the following year. His birth record doesn’t seem to have survived, but an index lists him under both his mother’s and father’s names.