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Our ancestors in Europe and in foreign countries of immigration used many different types of given names:  Hebrew, Yiddish (several types), secular (several types).  Partially, these different names were selected by them for use in different environments:  government documentation, formal Jewish community functions, shul services, social life, business, and family life.  As a result, most Jews in Europe and in foreign countries of immigration had a large number of given names, all linked together logically, sometimes as many as several dozen.

We may classify problems connected to our research which uses these Jewish given names, as follows:

  • Problems associated with original European Jewish names
  • Problems associated with corresponding adopted foreign vernacular names
  • Problems of linking original European Jewish names to the corresponding adopted foreign vernacular names

Most of a researcher's problems arise during his research of original European Jewish names and the adopted foreign vernacular given names corresponding to them.  These problems are related to two main factors:

  • Knowing all of the numerous names used by ancestors
  • Recognizing errors and variant spellings of the same name which are found during research

The Given Names Data Bases at this web site (and some books of names) help with the first factor, the number of names to be researched, by providing lists of related European Jewish names and linked foreign vernacular names adopted by immigrants.  But the second factor, the quality of names being researched, is complicated by the many problematic factors involved, such as the use of different transliteration "standards", effects of various spoken dialects of Yiddish in different parts of Europe, errors made by those who recorded the names during the nineteenth century, errors by those who transliterated the archival names into Latin characters, errors of interpretation made by researchers using Jewish name lists, and so on.  These complications demand a certain level of sophistication and determination on the part of the researcher.

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The purpose of this web site's 15 GNDBs and 3 "Get Mesudar" DBs is to satisfy the research needs of three audiences:  Jewish genealogists, non-Jewish genealogists, and rabbis preparing divorce documents.  The content and presentation format of the GNDBs and the "Get Mesudar" DBs have been designed to facilitate and make "user-friendly" their use by these audiences.

Accordingly, the search results in each GNDB record include all of the names in the linked group, organized into sub-groups by type of name.  The "Get Mesudar" DBs include all of the names in the original book (both "Old" and New" names), as well as a data base for obtaining a list of the Hebrew/Yiddish names with which any given kinui is formally linked.  And the viewing of multiple search "hits" is aided by serial presentation of the records.

Each class of user will begin with his small list of names for each ancestor being researched, and will want to find additional names which the person might have used, so that these names can be searched for in archival records along with the known names.  However, some of these names will frequently appear in archives with a variety of spellings which the researcher must recognize.  This problem will be discussed here.

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In the beginning, the genealogist knows a few names of an ancestor and then augments this list by using the GNDBs.  He then enters various on-line data bases and searches for the ancestor's surname, using Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex (to minimize losing possible hits due to search-name spelling errors), obtaining a list of persons with the target surname or one similar, and with different given names.  He examines the given names to see if any of them are in his augmented list, and extracts these hits.  He then determines if any of these extracted names fit his other criteria, such as birth date, city of birth or residence, and so on.

The quality of his results depends partly on the type and quality of the source data bases he has used, and partly on his ability to recognize name variants.  For his European research, here is a short list of typical, useful sources, many of which have been put in convenient on-line data bases:

Government Civil Documents  Private Documents  Jewish Community Documents
Census ListsFamily TreesShul Records
Revision ListsFamily DocumentsBox Tax Lists
Birth/Marriage/Death ListsDivorce ContractsBirth/Marriage/Death Lists
Homeowners ListsMarriage ContractsTax Records
Voters ListsBusiness ContractsRabbi Electors Lists
Vsia Rossia RecordsGhetto Records
Business DirectoriesMemorial Books
Craftsmen ListsYizkor Book Necrologies
Police RecordsGravestone Recordings
Military RecordsNewspaper Listings
Holocaust Name ListsHolocaust Name Lists
Newspaper Death NoticesNewspaper Death Notices
Postal Savings Bank Records

For his foreign (in this example, US) research, here is a short list of typical, useful sources, again, many of them digitized:

Government Civil Documents  Private DocumentsJewish Community Documents
City DirectoriesNewspaper ObituariesJewish Magazine Obituaries
State CensusesAncestry.Com DatabasesLandsmanshaftn Member Lists
US Federal CensusesUniversity Graduation Lists  Yeshiva Graduation Lists
Social Security Death ListsEllis Island Arrivals DBJewish Cemetery Lists
American Medical Assn.High School Grad'n. ListsHebrew School Grad'n. Lists
Divorce ContractsFuneral Parlor Lists
Marriage ContractsShul Membership Lists
JewishGen Data Bases
Private Jewish Data Bases
Private Family Documents

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EUROPEAN ARCHIVAL DATA (Government Civil Documents)

When given names were recorded by government officials in interviews with Jews, they generally recorded heard-names in one of several versions with which they were familiar or (if not familiar with them) in their own conception of the name in the foreign language or local language of record.  The following category list of the resulting transfers from the name stated by the interviewee to the interviewer's recorded name is typical of what happened in all European countries.  The names conveyed by the Jew were typically his Yiddishized-Hebrew, Yiddish, local secular, or foreign secular name;  how the names he gave were recorded depended on which name he gave, how the worker heard the name, the worker's experience with these types of names, and other factors.

"Local vernacular form" means the result of transcribing the Jew's actual name (Moyshe, Yiddishized-Hebrew) into the local character set of record (Moysze, in Poland).  "Local vernacular version" means the local vernacular version (e.g., FRANCISZKA, in Poland) which was used in place of a non-local vernacular name (FRANCISKA, from Germany).

  • Recognized Hebrew/legal name transcribed in its local vernacular form
  • Recognized Hebrew/legal name recorded as a recognized Hebrew/legal name in Hebrew script
  • Unrecognized Hebrew/legal name transcribed in a new local vernacular form
  • Recognized Yiddish name transcribed in its local vernacular form
  • Recognized Yiddish name recorded as a recognized Yiddish name in Hebrew script
  • Unrecognized Yiddish name transcribed in a new local vernacular form
  • Recognized local vernacular name recorded in its local vernacular form
  • Recognized local vernacular name recorded with different spelling
  • Unrecognized local vernacular name in a new local vernacular form
  • Recognized non-local vernacular name recorded in its non-local form
  • Recognized non-local vernacular name transcribed in its local vernacular form
  • Recognized non-local vernacular name recorded in its local vernacular version
  • Unrecnognized non-local vernacular name recorded in its non-local form
  • Unrecnognized non-local vernacular name transcribed in a new local vernacular form

Looking at the wide variety of name types which might have resulted in European archival documents from the interview, it is clear that one original Jewish name could have led to completely different recorded names, as to language of recording, spelling within each language, errors of various sorts by the interviewer, and so on.  Accordingly, a researcher obtaining hits from such name lists must exercise great care in how he himself records, interprets, and uses his results.

Polish archival documents are typical of this process.  For the most part, the names were written in Polish characters, that is Latin letters including diphthongs (two characters used to represent a single sound -- vowel or consonant -- in the language). English examples of diphthongs: hEAr, hEAd, boTH.  Polish example:  moySZe for the Yiddishized-Hebrew name moySHe.  Many Polish archival documents contain Hebrew or Yiddish names transcribed into Polish characters in this fashion, but that does not make them Polish names, just Yiddish names written in a different character set.  In the Given Names Data Bases, rather than include them with the Yiddish names, such names are generally put with true Polish names which were used by Jews (e.g., ANDRZEJ, ANIELA, BERNAT), but they look somewhat like the Polish names (e.g., Oszer for Yiddish Osher, Szewa for Yiddish Sheve).  The Hebrew and Yiddish names in the GNDBs were transcribed into English characters using the modified YIVO  transliteration methods  developed for this project.

The same is true of the archival documents of other countries, for example, Holland (Dutch characters), Lithuania (Cyrillic), Germany (German), France (French), and so on.


As a group, Jewish documents provide the most accurate set of names of an ancestor, primarily because they never hid or misled, and because they dealt with the most important names -- the Hebrew and Yiddish names.  And of these, the Get (Jewish Divorce Contract) has the highest legal status. This is because a consequence of a name-mistake in the Get might be that the Get was declared non-legal after the divorce, meaning that future offspring of either divorced partner could be declared to be Bastards in the Jewish legal sense, with all the attendant major status problems.




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