Sunday, October 23, 2022

Westernized Ancestral Names

My great-great grandfather was Yechiel Suttleman.  He did come to the United States, although his first two wives did not (as they had died in Europe).  On official papers in America, he used the name Charles or Charlie.  His first wife, Kreina, never left Europe or used any westernized name, same as wife #2, Chana.  But how do these three people appear on their children's records?

Death Record of Roza Zutelman Paciornik; Curitiba, Brazil; 1945

Yechiel had one child, Roza, who lived most of her adult live in Brazil, where she both had her children and died.  On Roza's death record (see above), her parents are given as Julio and Kreina.  Now, Yechiel never (so far as I can tell) stepped foot in Latin America.  Yet his Brazilian descendants gave a Spanish version of his name.  In addition, Brazilian birth records (now becoming available on FamilySearch) ask for the child's grandparents' names.  Roza gave birth to six children, four of whom lived past the age of one; I have birth records for five of those six, four of which have grandparents' names.  On their birth records, Roza's parents are given as:

  • Hehil & Greina Sutleman (1914)
  • Jose & Regina Zutelman (1916)
  • Julia & Creina Zutilman (1918)
  • Julio & Clara (1922)

On the death records for Yechiel's children who died in America, parents' names are given as:

  • Children of Yechiel & Kreina (Kreina never left Europe)
    • Charles & Clara Zitelman (1944)
    • Uehill & Kranah (no surname) (1955)
  • Children of Yechiel & Chana (Chana never left Europe)
    • Charles & Hannah (no surname) (1958)
    • Yechiel & Anna Suttleman (1986)
  • Children of Yechiel & Chaya Sarah (consistently Ida in U.S. records)
    • Yechia & Ida Suttleman (1964)
    • Eli & Sarah Suttleman (1961)
    • Charles & Sarah Suttleman (1988)
    • Charles & Ida Suttleman (1997)
    • Charles & Ida (no surname) (1947)

Birth of Mamie Sutelman; Baltimore; 1913
In addition, Yechiel had one child born in America; on her 1913 Baltimore birth record, the parents are listed as Echial & Ida Sutelman (spelling wasn't the midwife's forte; the baby is listed as "fimale").

If I hadn't already known that the children who died in 1961 and 1947 were full siblings, looking at their death certificates wouldn't point me in that direction--why would I assume that Eli & Sarah Suttleman were the same people as Charles and Ida?  (But both of those siblings' graves' Hebrew inscriptions note that their father was Yechiel--and Ida's gravestone does note that her full name was Chaya Sara.)  Similarly, why would I assume that the Jose and Regina Zutelman mentioned on a 1916 birth record were the same people as the Charles and Clara Zitelman mentioned on a 1944 death certificate?  And for that matter, why would I assume that the Jose and Regina Zutelman mentioned on a 1916 birth record were the same people as the Hehil and Grena mentioned just two years earlier?

In just these records, Yechiel's name was given as Julio, Julia, Jose, Hehil, Uehill, Yechiel, Yechia, Eli and Charles.  Kreina's name was given as Kreina, Greina, Creina, Clara, Regina, and Kranah.  If I only had access to one of two of these records, I might have recorded my great-great grandfather's name as Julio--a name that he would have never used.  But if I'd first stepped back and thought critically, I'd have realized that a Russian Jewish man who spent his final years in Baltimore would almost surely never have used the name Julio.  Or Jose.  And Kreina, who never left the Russian Empire, would never have used the name Clara.

And this isn't limited to the Zutelman family.  My great-great grandfather Hillel, whose parents both died in Europe so would never have Americanized their names, has their names listed on his death certificate as Sam and Helen (they were consistently Shimon and Chaya Devorah in Europe).  But Hillel's children who were named for his parents were known as Sam and Helen in America.

So what is the lesson here?  Be careful about drawing conclusions about ancestors' names, particularly when they seem to be westernized on records (when the ancestors never emigrated).  Remember that death records in particular are generally less reliable because those giving the data are more removed from the deceased's parents.  Think critically about whether someone who never left the Russian Empire would be named Sam or Helen.

Look at gravestones.  Look at naming patterns (I knew Hillel's children Sam and Helen's Hebrew names from their gravestones, which helped me to correctly predict Hillel's parents' names).

Happy hunting!

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1 comment:

  1. Yes! As posted elsewhere, it makes me crazy that my paternal-line great-great grandfather shows on Geni as having had three wives: Zlata, Shaindel, and Charlotte. None of the "Charlotte" descendants seem to know what the Jewish name was and both Z. and S. are plausible. I've tried everything to ascertain Jewish names for later Charlottes and variants on that branch, with no luck; no anecdotal knowledge, no gravestone evidence, no synagogue records. The preponderance of DNA matches between that branch and my own (we're Shaindel descendants) are on the weak side for full third cousins, indicating Charlotte = Zlata, but the strongest match is outside of your range for half-third cousins, indicating Charlotte was my GGgM Shaindel after all. Your post is a reminder to get back in touch and beg again for people to upload to GEDmatch for apples-to-apples comparison.