Jewish AncestorsIf you have or think you have Jewish ancestors, you have in front of you a singular task: researching Jewish family history is acknowledged as perhaps the most challenging of all ethnic identities.
One particular challenge for tracking your Jewish ancestors is that their names -- given names, family names and often both -- changed when one would expect them to stay the same. Given names might appear differently in the old country because formerly (e.g., on a gravestone) a person would be described by his formal, Hebrew name. Let's take a common example: Yisrael. In common conversation, though, he would probably be called Srul. After coming to the US, he might be called Israel, Ceril, Sam or Isaac. Or something else because he probably had a second given name, and if he used them both, or used them interchangeably, he may have chosen to adopt an American name that somehow matches his other given name. Thus, Yisrael Barukh may have chosen Bernard as an American name. Then there are names, such as Naftali, which according to tradition, based on Biblical reference, are associated with certain animals. In this case, Naftali is associated with a deer, and so the Hebrew name Zvi is used synonymously with Naftali and the Yiddish word for deer, Hirsch is a more familiar and common variation. Similarly, Benyamin is Zev is Wolf and Yehuda is Arye is Leib (lion). This is why a boy named Yehuda may show up on records with not only a nickname like Yudel or Yudko, but also as Arthur, or Leon or the ever-popular Louis because both Leib and Louis begin with an "L."
Last names can change for a few well-known reasons. For immigrants, they may want to change their name to fit in better in their new country. Or, new family names may be acquired in order to escape conscription.
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