On Jewish Names and Naming Traditions

So yesterday, I spent dissecting the Jewish names in my family.

We've two branches on our Jewish family tree: The Seneft (sometimes spelled Senft)/Hillingers (originally Hilinger), and the Kresch/Reich-es.

The Seneft Family was located in Galaicia in a town called Sedziszow, which was either west and south of Rzeszow in what is now Poland, or a good deal further west and just north of Krakow. I'm leaning toward the idea that they were north of Krakow, as the other location seems far too close to the location I have for Dora's family to make sense for them never to have met.

Leon Seneft has a first name which sounds a bit too anglicized for me, and I need to look into Yiddish/Hebrew variations of the name. I don't know if he was born in Galicia, as I have no record of him beyond the few mentions my grandfather made, a slight mention in my grandfather's birth documents, and a ships' manifest his daughter was on mentioning him as her closest relation.

His surname is another problem all together. Not Yiddish at all, but German. Very German, in fact. Seneft is a Germanic surname meaning "mustard seller." How a Jewish man would end up with such a German name confuses me, so I'm wondering if it was an imposed name for official documents, and there was another more Hebraic surname used in other documents that I don't know at all, or if he used that in England exclusively, and something else beforehand…it's all very frustrating. I do know that a search for Seneft or Senft in that area comes up with almost no hits at all.

His wife, Mindel Hilinger has a much more Jewish first name, though her surname, again, is not very Jewish at all. Despite that, however, I do know that there are many references to Hilingers/Hillingers/Hellingers and many other variations of the surname in the area, if not as many as the other half of my Jewish family tree. Mindel is a bit of a puzzle, though, because Mindel is more commonly a boy's name, and not a girl's name. So that makes me go hmm as well. Unfortunately, I have even less record of her than of her husband, who I have at least found some document of, if not much. The only mention I have of her that I can think of is on Alex and Dora's family book information, when it covers the parents of the couple, and that is scarce at best. I do know there is a possible Austrian connection for this branch of the family, as that seems to be where the Hillinger name is centralized.

Leon and Mindel had at least five children, though there may have been more. But this is where the true Anglicization of names come in. They moved to England when most of the children were small, and so the kids grew up with English nicknames rather than Yiddish/Jewish ones.

My great-grandfather was Alex, though I believe he was born Elias. I don't think the two are an exact match, but I have found a record for an Alex Hilinger variant—Sander Hillenger, a Jewish form of Alexander, which may have been related to my great-great grandmother in some way, so the name may have passed down to my great-grandfather. I also know that at different times his name was spelled different ways—both Alex and Alec.

His siblings all had similar Anglicized names: Annie, Jennie and Jack. There was a third brother, but I don't yet know his name, so I don't know what he may have gone by either way. Jack I assume was probably a form of Jacob, though it may have been something else…Ichak (or other forms of Isaac), perhaps. Annie, I have just discovered, may have been changed from Chana, which was a common translation to English. Other possible options for her name are Chaya, Hinda, Nechama, and Elka, among others. For Jennie, a very common Anglicization, I've found: Shaina, Zelda, Chana, and Gitel, among many others.

On the other side of this part of my family tree, I have Benzion Kresch, and his wife, Fiege Golda Reich. Their daughter, my great-grandmother Dora, was born in Czudek, Galicia, if I have translated my documents right. The town I've found on the map is just west and south of Rzeszow in Poland. Both of her parents have extremely common names for their location, Benzion is one of many forms of the given name Benjamin, and Kresch seems to be a very common surname in the area. Feige and Golda are also very common, and Reich was common in both Jewish and non-Jewish families.

Unfortunately, this means I'm basically looking for the Jewish form of Jones or Hansen on this side of the family, which makes finding them highly unlikely. I did find information today that says that Jewish children were often named for already dead grandparents, and given that my great-uncle, my grandfather's brother, was named Ben, I know that means my great-grandmother's father must have died before 1920. 1919, if the wedding announcement is to be believed, as it only lists "Frou Kresch" as announcing her daughter's marriage, along with Leon Seneft, Alex's father.

As for where Benzion and Fiege were born, I've no clue. The few documents I have on them tell me very little, aside from the fact that Fiege lived in Czudek, and that Benzion was a teacher who traveled from town to town. It is possible that if any of this branch have Ukranian connections, it would be Benzion's side, though I have no proof of that at this time.

Then there is my great-grandmother Dora and her sister Minna. At this time, these are the only two children I have for this pair. Minna (Mina?) was the name Dora and Alex chose for my grandfather's twin sister, so she may have been named for her aunt, though it was not common to name a child for a living relation at the time, so it's possible she was either dead (though I think not—I believe I have a photo of her in the 40s at one of their daughters' weddings). I'm inclined to wonder if both Dora and her sister's names weren't diminutives of some longer name, given neither sound particularly Jewish to me (though I suppose I could be wrong).

To add to this confusion, today I read through the Jewish Given Names article at JewishGen.org, only to discover that there is likely even more confusion on both sides than I'm aware, given that Galicia had so many different language groups, including Hebrew and Yiddish for the Jewish population. At any one time, you might have Polish, German, or even Russian translations of names as well as the Yiddish or Hebraic names. Which means that just about every document you read is likely to have a different version of the person's name, depending on who wrote it, what language it was written in, and the reason it was written.

And the worst of it all…this is only 1/4 of my family tree… I swear, I could write a book on names and naming traditions…

Brick Wall Update

So a Brick Wall update is very overdue. I haven't done one of these since last year, and while I haven't gained a whole lot of new insight in that time, I like to keep posting about these, in hopes someone will find me who has a connection.

Brick Wall 1 -
The Seneft/Senft/Hilingers:
I still don't know a whole lot about my great-grandfather's family before he left England after World War I.

I know that he was born in Galicia, somewhere in what is now southern Poland. I've not been able to pinpoint the location exactly because there are several places with the name on his family record, or that are too similar to be discounted. The one I think most likely at this moment is some miles north of Krakow, Poland.

According to my paperwork, Alex/Alec (possibly Elias or some variant) Seneft was born June 2, 1883 in Sedziszow, Galicia to Leon and Mindel (nee Hilinger) Seneft or Senft. Unfortunately, until I learn more, that's as far back as I can officially go in time. I've no clue when his parents married or when or where they were born, though I assume that they were probably born in Galicia as well.

As for the Seneft surname…I've seen both spellings, but I keep coming back to this version, though I think given the fact that they probably wrote it in Hebrew, it could go either way. I do have one issue with it, though. Seneft is not a common Jewish name, so I can't help wondering where it came from, or how long it was a family name. I do know that at one point the Germans forced the Jews to take German surnames, so perhaps it came from that period? Either way, I've not found a whole lot of Senefts or Senfts in Jewish lists from the time my great-grandfather was born.

I'm not sure at what point the family moved from Galicia, or even how many siblings my grandfather had. I have record of four others, but there may have been more, since my records are not complete. I only have names for three, though: Annie, Jennie, and Jack. There was also another brother, but I've no name for him at the moment.

I did find one more interesting piece of information on this side: Jennie and Jack may have been twins, which is something that runs in our family, so it makes it more likely. I found one record of a Jack Seneft who died in New York, where I know my great-great uncle lived, which gave me a birth year of about 1893, and I found an Ellis Island record for Jennie Seneft which also gave me an 1893 birth date. Neither is confirmed, of course, but it would make sense, given that my grandfather was a fraternal twin, and that his younger daughter had fraternal twins as well.

The Kresch/Reich Family:
I really know even less about Alex's wife, Dora, and her family. I never separated her side from her husband's before now because I knew so little, but with the amount of information on Alex's family, I didn't want hers to get lost. Starting out my search for her side, all I had was her and the names of her parents. This past year I've learned a little more, but not much.

Dora was born January 15, 1892 in Czudek, Galicia to Benzion Kresch and his wife, Feige Golda, formerly Reich. I have record of only one other sibling for her: Minna, but I don't know if she was older or younger.

I found Czudek on a map very close to Rzeszow, Poland, so I'm fairly certain of their location, and the paperwork I found list her father's occupation as teacher, so I have that as well. But other than that, I have nothing about this family until after Dora and her sister moved to Frankfurt after World War I.

Unfortunately, Kresch is a very common name in this area, so narrowing things down is nearly impossible, though I did find a possible record at one point for a Benno Kresh's death—Benno was my grandfather's older brother, and I believe he may have been named for their grandfather.

For this side, I'm hoping to find a record proving their location and whether or not she had any other siblings. I'd also love to find her parents' birth dates and locations.

Brick Wall 2 -
The Hansen Family:
I've recently made a little more progress on this side. I know have confirmed that Rasmus Hansen's parents Were Hans and Maren (Rasmussen) Nielsen. I've found several different Census records showing Rasmus living with his parents, including one that shows he and his first wife living with them, so I've got record of their general birthdates and locations, but nothing before that.

Hans Nielsen was born about 1816, and his wife Maren was born about 1817. Both were born in Soro, though I don't have a town listed yet. The two had at least six children: Ole, Niels, Rasmus (my great-great grandfather), Jorgen, Jens, and Ane Lisbeth. I've got general dates for them all, and assume that they were all born in the Soro area.

According to the records my great-aunt got from Fjenneslev when she sent for information about her mother's family, my great-great grandfather was born in Knudstrup, so likely all his siblings were born there or near there as well, as it looks as though the Nielsens had a farm which my great-great grandfather took over when he married. I'll have to look a bit into his older two brothers, to see why they didn't. Perhaps they went to America? Possibly died in a war, or of some sickness? Or found another place to live? Either way, the first Census record after his marriage shows that he and his wife are living there with his parents still in residence.

Sill have nothing further back, and I'd love to firm up birthdates, but at least now I have somewhere to start. :)

The Olsen Family:
When my great-aunt got the information for her mother's family, my information only went as far back as her grandparents, my great-great grandparents, Rasmus (above) and Maren Sofie Olsen. So I had her birth information—June 27, 1855 in Slots-Bjergby, Soro, Denmark—but absolutely nothing else on her family or his.

I was lucky enough to find her birth record, though, which listed her parents as Ole Larsen and Birthe Marie Schrøder. However, once I started digging before, I found a rather interesting story. It seems that my great-great-great grandfather, Ole, came here to the states (he is now officially my earliest relation in the US) sometime around/shortly after my great-great grandmother was born. Like many men of the time, he left his wife and child behind, stating he'd send for them once he was settled. But like many of those men, he never did.

So Maren Sofie is an only child, and it looks as though as soon as she was old enough to work, she was sent off to work for other families. I do have a possible record of her being a seamstress, which seems likely not only because of the time, but also due to the fact that her daughter, my great-grandmother, also made a living that way for a time, so that may be an inherited talent.

Of Ole Larsen, all I know is a general birthdate—1812. No location at all, though possibly Soro, given that that's where Maren Sofie was born. I know that he settled in Minnesota, but I've only vague ideas of where—I only have the information from my great-great uncle to go by, and I'm not sure if the names have changed in that area or not.

For Birthe Marie, things get even stranger. I have other records for her, but nothing I've been absolutely able to confirm yet, aside from a previous marriage before Ole. For her, I have four records. Her daughter's birthrecord, which is the most confirmed. Then I have her wedding record to Ole, which lists her birthdate as 1820, and shows her as having been widowed by that time. Then I have her wedding record to her previous husband, the one listed on the wedding record to Ole, which lists her birthdate as 1817. Finally, I have a possible birth record, which lists her birthdate as 1825.

For me, the birth record is the most interesting, though it really only lists her mother, and only gives her father's surname. But if I can confirm it, it will give me her birth location as well, which is much further south than her daughter, somewhere in the south of Sealand near the islands or on the islands, if I remember correctly.

I'm speculating that if this is the same Birthe Marie, that she wanted to get married, but was under the age of consent at the time, so they gave a much older age to whomever married them so she could. I know that birth ages weren't something as paid attention to in this time, but that much of a difference, I think she'd know. And the fact that the two wedding records have such disparate ages suggests to me that that was her way of trying to equalize things so that she was closer to her true age.

I also can't help but wonder if she married again after Ole deserted her, though I've no way to know that for certain right now. But I'm working on it.

Brick Wall 3 -
The Park Family:
Since finding my great-grandfather's death record online, I've gotten no further in this search. Finding a marriage record between a Park and a Dunlop is like finding a blue pen in a stack of pens—far too common to be helpful. If I had a first name for her, it might help, but John Park is just too common a name. And I don't even have a location to narrow things down that way.

I do still speculate that her name might be Mary, given that that was my great-grandmother's name—that is to say Mary Dunlop Park—so it would make sense she was named for her grandmother.

All I know for certain is that Robert James Park was born to John Park and his wife, a former Dunlop, on June 24, 1852, somewhere in Ireland (though I suspect Northern Ireland).

I was lucky enough to find a record of the 1911 census with Robert Park and his wife and their children on it, though. To this point, the only record I had of them was the 1901 US census, while they were living in Philadelphia, and before their final daughter was born. This lists them living in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1911, and shows that my great-grandmother was a shop girl at the time. Still not sure when they came to Canada, though it can't have been too much later—my great-grandparents married in Vancouver in 1917, so they probably left no more than five years after that census was taken.

The Curran Family:
The Curran family has been a bit less elusive. For Thomas and Jennie (Jane nee Blair) Curran, I've now got 8 possible children, a wedding record, birthdates, and even fathers for each of them.

Thomas Curran I now have listed as being born 1840, though still no location, to Francis Curran and his as-of-yet unnamed wife. Jennie Blair was born in 1838 to John Blair and his as-of-yet unnamed wife. They were married on July 31, 1860 in Antrim, North Ireland.

I've still only got three daughters confirmed: Elizabeth, Sarah, and Rhoda. I also have records for Jennie/Jane having six other children: Anna, John, Thomas, Sara Jane, and Joseph. All my records seem to indicate either Antrim as the locations or Belfast, though I know that Belfast is inside Antrim county, so I think that muddles things a bit.

So far, that's everything I've got. I'm hoping I'll be able to find more, but Irish records are scattered at best.

Brick Wall 4 -
The Jones Family:
Like the Jewish branches of my family, I've come to realize that unless I manage to connect with distant family still in Wales, I may never get any further back on this side. Benjamin and Hanna are far too common names, and Jones is just about the worst Welsh name to research, unless you have specific dates or locations. Hannah's surname of Griffiths is only a little better.

What I know:
Benjamin Jones was born December 24, 1865 (though my notes say 'before,' and I'm not sure why, so that's not an exact date at the moment) in Caio, Wales. Hannah Griffiths was born February 1863 in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales. The two were married sometime before 1882, and had seven children: Daniel (my great-grandfather), David, Joseph, Jack, William, May and Sophia.

I've done a little looking at Census records, but I don't have enough information on either of them to be certain I've found the records I need, though I have found a few interesting possibilities.

The Gabriel/Howells Family:
Nothing new here at all to relate, aside from the fact that I recently discovered that one of my Welsh branches is Huguenot-descended. After glancing through the Welsh surnames that I have, Gabriel seems a very strong possibility, as it is a French name. I also know that the Gabriels were known for weaving, and I found a reference to a Northern Welsh group of Huguenots who were known for just that, so I think that might be them. Right now, it's the only line that makes sense.

Since I've got three generations here before my family came to Canada, I think this one will probably be left off in the future until I get further back in other lines.

The Roberts Family:
This one is one I've never gotten any further with aside from finding Selina's mother listed as Pugh instead of Griffiths on Selina's death record. I have no clue where they were from, or when they were married, or if they had any children aside from Selina.

What I do have:
Selina Roberts was born May 26, 1846 in Barmouth, Wales to Hugh and Ellen Roberts.

And really, that's it. Any time I try to look up any of these three, I come up completely blank. Unfortunately, the names, even Pugh, are just too common.

Any help on any of these lines would be greatly appreciated. Particularly the Jewish and Welsh branches.

About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.