JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Finding my Great Grandfather #general

Roger Lustig

Dear Wayne,


Two points to begin with:

1) "Always" is rarely the case when it comes to things like naming
practices. Jews *often* used initials that sounded like the initials of
their previous surnames, but so many other factors could play into the
decision. For instance:
--Many immigrants had never spelled their names in Latin letters before
they bought their steamship tickets. Cyrillic, Hebrew/Yiddish,
sure--but the very concept of "same initial"--let alone "correct
spelling"--may not apply.
--Some families in the Russian Empire had sons who assumed different
surnames as part of their effort to avoid conscription. Changing a
surname in the new country could have been a *return* to a previous
surname, or yet another change >from a temporary name.
--Others changed surnames simply because they didn't want to be
associated with someone else who had the old surname, or because they
*did* want to be associated with someone, famous or otherwise.
--Still others used their surnames to advertise their trades, so MILLER,
BAKER, etc.--or their equivalents in Yiddish, Russian or another
language--might have been either the old or the new name.
--In many cases we'll never know. A friend's family went >from CHEIFETZ
to BROOK. Another friend's ancestor took the train to Hamburg, and his
first stop after crossing the border out of Russian Poland was Bromberg;
he liked the look of the place--not that he even stepped out onto the
platform--so he and his family became BROMBERGs.

2) The borders of Eastern Europe--at least in the northern parts--were
essentially static >from 1815 to 1918. The "fluid borders" story is
something of a myth unless you're talking about the crazy period after
the end of World War I. So if your grandfather came >from Grodno, he
came >from Lithuania, which was part of the Russian Empire. Grodno is
now Hrodno in Belarus, and between the world wars it was part of the
newly created Poland. But in the years between his birth and his
emigration, it was the same place in terms of political geography.

Alas, "Grodno" can mean two things: the city or the Gubernia
(administrative district) of which it was the capital. Many, many
emigrants described their origins in terms of the gubernia, not the city
or village--just as we might do when we're far >from home.
If your grandfather became a US citizen there should be a highly
informative record of the event, especially given the late date of his
arrival. (Before 1906 things are a little trickier and sometimes not as
informative.) His Petition for Naturalization is the first thing you
should seek out. It could tell you about his entry to the US, his town
of origin and more. Sometimes there are supporting documents with
surprising content as well.

>from a different angle, you could pursue the surname. Some surnames
were more common than others, and JAKAROVICH (however spelled--we have
phonetic searches to handle the uncertainty) seems to be one of the
others. So you could consult works such as Alexander Beider's
dictionaries of Jewish surnames to see where people with similar names
might have lived.

But the most important thing of all is to find other people who either
know what you want to know, or are asking similar questions. This is
where the JewishGen Family Finder comes in. Go to, register as a member of JewishGen if you
haven't already (it's free), and then enter your queries as
surname-place pairs, e.g., TENNER/Hrodno, JAKAROVICH/Hrodno, etc. This
will allow others to find you, just as the Family Finder's search engine
will allow you to find people who are researching surnames that sound
like the ones you're working on.

Over 100,000 researchers have entered names and places into the Family
Finder. That's a number approaching the equivalent of 1% of all the
Jews in the world, and I'm not even counting their immediate families.
Which is to say, word will get out that you're looking, and you can
contact others who have indicated their interest.

Best of luck, and do let us know what you find and what other questions

Roger Lustig
Princeton, NJ USA

On 12/13/2012 12:42 PM, G. Wayne Jackson wrote:
Hello Jewish Geneology,

I need some instruction/help in conducting Jewish Geneology research
for my Great-Grandfather. Although not new to geneological research,
I'm having problems with finding information about my Jewish Ancestry.
I just don't know where to begin my research. Most of the information
came to me >from "sitting shiva" notes taken at the time of my
grandfathers death.

Here's what I have so far:

from the stories I have been told, my Grandfather, Benjamin Tenner,
possibly entered the US through Canada (US POE is unknown). It
appears that he changed his surname on the ship coming to either
Canada or the US. If that is the case, then his name change would
not be keeping with tradition. It is my understanding that when
Jewish persons change their surname, they would always start the new
surname with the first letter of their original surname (i.e.
Wasserman, Waterman, Walters - as in Barbara Walters).

Additional difficulties have arisen due to not knowing exactly what
town/country my grandfather came from. I have four pieces of
documentatioin stating that his country of birth was one of the four
listed above. I believe that at the time of his birth, the country
borders were quite fluid and changed based upon the government
controlling that area.

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