Category Archives: Family History

Name Changes: Was GRINKER originally GRUNFELD?

Review of John Grinker Mysteries

I have written a couple posts already about my father’s paternal grandfather:  my great-grandfather, John Grinker. (See posts:  http://wp.me/p35vsQ-y and http://wp.me/p35vsQ-5c). I know he was married to Jennie Kaminsky, of Odessa; that his first two daughters – my grandma Bessie and her sister Fannie – were born in Odessa; and that this small family were settlers in the Mauricio Colony of Argentina, prior to coming to the U.S. I know they arrived in Baltimore in 1893, sailing from Mauricio via Hamburg. I know also that their first son, Joe, was born in Argentina.

But there is more that I don’t know. Particularly germane to this post is the fact that I don’t know the names of his parents (other than names provided by his second wife on a marriage license; these are questionable) nor where he was originally from. I can find no record of him in Odessa. The name “GRINKER” is not common. A number of Grinkers seem to have come from Lithuania. On a couple of documents his daughters wrote that he was from “Germany.” This was well after he had left the family in the early 1900s. Other documents list his birthplace as “Russia,” referring to the Russian Empire of the late nineteenth century.

Name Variations and Changes

Those of us doing Ashkenazi family history know how fluid were names – surnames and given names. Our ancestors changed their names frequently and were free with their spelling variations. Because their surnames in the old country were written – at the rare times they were written – in Cyrillic and/or Hebrew characters, not with our Latin alphabet, there was no “correct” English spelling when they came to the U.S.

Their names written on ship manifests did not necessarily accurately reflect the names they had before emigrating from the Russian Empire. I have some relatives, through marriage, whose name in the old country, was pronounced roughly as “Belinky.” It was a variation of the Russian word for “white.” On their ship manifest as they moved to the U.S. their name was listed as “White,” and that is the name the family used in the U.S.

Many of these immigrants were illiterate in any language or, perhaps, were literate in Yiddish and Hebrew; maybe literate in Russian. But when they traveled to the U.S., they may often traveled on a German or Dutch steamship. In that case, their name on the manifest might be written as the ticket issuer or ship purser heard the name spoken. Language differences and accents, as well as the different ways sounds were written in other languages also affected the way a name might be written. For instance, in German “w” has the same sound as “v” in English.

Not only surnames show variations and changes. A Jew coming from Odessa in the late 1800s might have had a double name in Hebrew, a double name in Yiddish, perhaps a nickname, too.

I write about this, in a very cursory way, as background to what seems to be a possible name change. It may be that, before coming to the U.S., GRINKER was not the family name. It may have been GRÜNFELD, or something similar.

Immigration to Mauricio

Although I have the record of their arrival in Baltimore from Argentina, via Hamburg, I never have found record of the earlier journey – the travel from the old country to the agricultural colony, Mauricio.

Years ago I had hit a dead end on this. My correspondence with a Jewish genealogy society in Argentina led me to believe such records didn’t exist. Yesterday I decided to revisit this search.

Looking for information about the Jewish agricultural colonies in Argentina, it’s not surprising that the internet revealed articles I had not seen before. First, I found the full text of an article from the 1906 edition of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/905-agricultural-colonies-in-the-argentine-republic-argentina), an article that told me “locusts, which were very numerous, destroyed the growing crops, and water was scarce. Although the colonies received constant accessions, it was necessary to deport so many discontented colonists to the United States.”

My Aunt Dorothy, when I was a kid, had alluded to unlivable, primitive conditions that the Grinkers endured in Argentina. Perhaps the Grinkers were among the “deported.”

My Google search yesterday brought me more and more recent information about this in an academic publication from April 2013:  “Colonia Mauricio: Two Complementary Visions,” by Edgardo Zablotsky (http://www.ucema.edu.ar/u/eez/Publicaciones/Serie_Documentos_de_Trabajo/doc485.pdf).

It turns out that conditions for the early settlers were even worse than depicted by the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, and discontent among the colonists ran high.

Perhaps more apropos to my search, it became clear to me that 1891 was the year of initial mass settlement of Mauricio. Also, the one departure port mentioned in Zablotsky’s article was Hamburg. That led me to a re-examination of the Hamburg Passenger Lists (in German) online.

Searching the Hamburg Passenger Lists

Ancestry.com has the indexed Hamburg Passenger lists. I tried – as I’m sure I have before – to search GRINKER on that list, and also variations of how it might have been indexed, to no avail. I also tried “Mauricio” and “Maurico” (the way it had been listed on the Grinkers’ passenger list to Baltimore), but could only find at Baltimore manifest.  I also tried using the word “Odessa,” but again couldn’t find another record.

When I left off names but limited the arrival date to “1891 +/- one year” and put in the word “Buenos” (as in Buenos Aires in the “anything” box, I got a huge list (>1,000 records) of Jewish names too many to easily go through. The arrival port for many of these was listed as “La Plata.”

Then I had a brainstorm. I knew that the initial journey would have involved four family members: John, Jennie, Bessie, and Fannie. I had a pretty good idea about the birth years of the two daughters. But I also knew that the given names of these individuals were quite various among the early records. In particular, on the Baltimore manifest they were listed as “Chune,” “Eugenia,” “Paula,” and “Feige,” respectively. Of all of these, “Feige” the one I figured was most likely to be used by a Yiddish-speaking family upon leaving Eastern Europe. “Feige” would also be heard and spelled easily by a German-speaking ticket seller or purser.

I searched within the 1,000+ results I had received by putting in the first name “Feige” and specifying “exact” for that name; I also specified that the result should be a person born in 1890 +/- two years.  Of the 254 results I got, the first five were infant Feiges sailing between 1891 and 1893 and arriving at La Plata. Three of them arrived in 1891:  Feige Goldschmeid, Feige Grünfeld, and Feige Gutrad. No Grinker.

But looking more closely at the records of each of these, I found that Feige Grünfeld’s was suspiciously familiar.

Maybe Fannie and her family; maybe not

Here was the transcribed record for Feige Grünfeld:

Name: Feige Grünfeld
Departure Date: 12 Aug 1891
Destination: Buenos Aires
Birth Date: abt 1890
Age: 1
Gender: weiblich (Female)
Residence: Libau (Liepaja)
Ship Name: Petropolis
Captain: Albert, Th.
Shipping Clerk: Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft
Shipping line: Hamburg-Südamerikanische Dampfschifffahrt-Gesellschaft
Ship Type: Dampfschiff
Accommodation: Zwischendeck
Ship Flag: Deutschland
Port of Departure: Hamburg
Port of Arrival: La Plata
Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 075 A
Household Members:
Name Age
Chaim Grünfeld 38
Schone Grünfeld 20
Pesse Grünfeld 3
Feige Grünfeld 1

A number of things on this record make me think of my Grinker family.

The number of people, their relative ages and genders, fit very closely. (Ages of the parents varied quite a bit on records I have found, but this seems pretty close.)

Feige is the right name and age for Fannie. And “Pesse” seems very similar to “Bessie,” the name my grandma always used in the U.S. Grandma Bessie’s birth date, on most records, is 5 August 1888. so the age of three on 12 August 1891 would be exactly right for her.

But the last residence is shown as “Libau.” The names “Chaim” and “Schone” are ones I never saw recorded for John and Jennie. And, at least at first glance, “Grünfeld” is pretty far from “Grinker.”

 Back to the Issue of Names

Grünfeld, with the umlaut over the “u,” would be pronounced in German something similar to “GRINfeld” in English. So, although the name is still quite different from GRINKER, the sound of the first four letters is about the same.

What about “Chaim” for “John/Chune”? I really can’t explain this. Based on the Hebrew on the headstones of some of his offspring, I think his Hebrew name was Elchanen, for which “Chone” might have been a kinnui. But “Chaim,” as far as I know, is not connected with any of these names. I suppose, in a stretch, I might argue it has a similar sound.

What about “Schone” for Jennie/Eugenia? According to her headstone, her Hebrew name was “Scheindel (Shayndl),” meaning “beautiful.” “Jennie” was apparently a common English cognate for this. The Argentinian name for it might be “Sonia.” (My source for this information is the “Jewish Given Names Database” on JewishGen.org.).  There certainly are possibilities here.

But the names that most make me think this could be the GRINKER family are the names of the girls, combined with their ages.  My grandma Bessie was so secular that she did not have her Hebrew name inscribed on her gravestone. According to the Jewish Given Names Database, Basya / Bisya / Pesha / Peshka would be a Hebrew name that would translate to Base / Basha / Bashe / Basi / Basye / Pesa / Pese / Peshe in the Yiddish of Ukraine and a Yiddish nickname of Peshl / Pesi / Pesil / Pesl / Pesle / Pesye. These sound to me as if they could easily be sounded as “Pesse.” And the US name, according to the Database, would be Bessie, Beverly, or Pauline.

What blows me away here is the “Pauline.” I’ve always been so puzzled by the name “Paula” for my grandmother on the passenger list showing her arrival in the U.S. in 1893. This ties it all together.

The Evidence is Circumstantial and Not Strong

I cannot say with any certainty that the family listed as “Grünfeld” on the 1891 La Plata arrival manifest is my Grinker family. It is way far from reaching any genealogical proof standard. It’s, at best, a guess.

But, to me, it is a guess worth pursuing, and I will be searching for evidence of the Grünfelds in the old country as another avenue to trace my lineage. Also, when I look at my autosomal DNA results (and those of my brother and my paternal first cousin), I will be on the lookout for ancestral names such as “Greenfield,” names I never would have noticed before.

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Clerk of Courts Research, Cincinnati, OH

Recounting My Experience

I’m writing a brief post documenting my experience with an afternoon of research at the Hamilton County Courthouse in downtown Cincinnati. Perhaps it might help or inspire someone else.

For some reason I have avoided courthouse research, but I knew there were things I must get there, things not available elsewhere.

Starting Online

I began at http://www.courtclerk.org/cpciv_namesearch.asp, which is the “Common Pleas Civil Names Search.” It was helpful to copy this chart, from elsewhere on the Clerk of Court’s site, to use as reference:

Help for Case Number Formatting
Case Numbers must be entered in the format of their court of jurisdiction as shown below.
Common Pleas Civil A9707417
Common Pleas Felony B9805800
Court of Appeals C9700980
Domestic Relations DR090001
Domestic Violence Not available online.
Common Pleas Execution EX9800001
Land Registration LR9800001
Common Pleas Misc. M9800002
Common Pleas – Stalking Not available online.
Municipal Civil 98CV04000
Municipal Cert. of Judgment 00CJ28500
Common Pleas Cert. of Judgment CJ99001070
Municipal Criminal C/99/CRB/12362/99/CRB/12362
Municipal Traffic C/99/TRD/12362/99/TRD/12362
NOTE: Municipal Criminal/Traffic case numbers must be entered using the format shown above. The cases begining with a “C” are county cases and the cases beginning with a slash (/) are city cases. The slashes (/) must be included. Do not include the charge code (A, B, C, etc.) at the end of the case number. For felony cases the category will be “CRA”, for traffic it will be “TRD” and DUI’s are listed as “TRC”.

I didn’t use this to enter case numbers, but to help interpret what I found. As it turned out, the very older cases I found (from the first three decades of the 20th century) did not have any letters in front of the case numbers.

The name search worked fine for my purposes. I had a few possibilities in mind, but didn’t necessarily know the years; and I certainly didn’t know the case numbers. The name search form requires a last name and a first initial. If you just put in a last name, it will not perform a search.

Old Records Not Digitized

I did find some digitized records, but they were recent and not of any immediate interest to me. In most cases, when I got a hit in my search, the information provided online was minimal.

The Example of My Great-Grandparents’ Divorce

I knew that my great-grandparents, John and Jennie Grinker, were divorced in about 1908, based on brief articles of court news found through my newspapers.com subscription and my genealogybank.com subscription.

When I entered John Grinker’s name in the name search online form, I got:

Common Pleas Civil Name Search Results
Search results for a party name like: GRINKER/JOHN
Name
GRINKER JOHN

By clicking on John Grinker’s name in this result, I got:

 

Search results for a party name like: GRINKER JOHN
Name Case #  
Party Description Filing Code Case Date Party Info
CJ Indicator Disposition Code Disp Date Image #
GRINKER JOHN 138550
Litigant-2 party/atty info

There were two links to click on here:  the case number and the party/attorney info. Clicking on either of these brought me to a “Case Summary” page, but the only information there – singularly unhelpful – was a message saying:

The case number that you entered was not found.

Pretty discouraging.

I had this experience repeatedly, with the names of several ancestors.

The good news was that when I phoned the Clerk of Courts office and asked if this meant that there was no record of this case, I was told that there was a record, just not a record online.

Go To the “Paper Room”

I was told I needed to go to the Paper Room at the Court House.

The Paper Room is not listed on the building directory at the elevators. When I first came in, I asked the guard stationed before the security checkpoint. He told me it was the Law Library on the 6th floor.

I was doubtful. When I got through security and got to the elevators, I saw that the Clerk of Courts was on the 3rd floor. I went to the 3rd floor and lucked out. The first person I met in the hallway said, “That’s where I work. I work in the Paper Room. Follow me.”

Turns out, if you go to the Clerk of Courts area, someone will direct you to the Paper Room.

Not All Staff Are Equally Adept

When I got to the Paper Room in the early afternoon, the gentleman who helped me was nice but not able to find most of the things I was looking for. I gave him three of the case numbers I had found.

  • One was John Grinker’s, which I assumed was the divorce. When I searched on Jennie Grinker’s name, the same case number had come up, and she had shown up as L-1 (i.e. Litigant One), to his L-2. So it was likely their divorce (it was).
  • One was the case number of another presumed divorce, probably in the 1920s (I didn’t know for sure)
  • The third was a case number in the 1950s.

The staff member was only able to find the third case number for me. It was more recent, and actually had an “A” before the numbers, denoting a “Common Pleas Civil” case, as on my reference table, above. I knew it to be a lawsuit.

The one he found was on microfiche.

He searched mightily for the two older cases, but  he decided the records did not exist.

But all was not lost! He told me that another staff member was “really good” at finding these things, and that she would be back from lunch in 20 minutes.

Don’t Give Up; Work With A Staff Member Who Specializes

I won’t put her name here. But my advice is to ask if there is someone else in the office who might be able to find your records.

This lady knew her stuff. She found both divorce records. She obviously takes pride in her knowledge of the ins and outs of the old records. Both divorce records were on microfilm.

It Doesn’t Go Quickly; It Isn’t Self-Serve

In both cases – the microfiche and the microfilm records, the staff members used both their computers and drawers in a back room to search for the items I needed.

And, in both cases, the staff members loaded the readers, operated those machines, and made the copies. There was a big sign that insisted that only staff could use the machines. But I could pull up a chair and look over their shoulders, no problem.

The process of finding and making printed copies for me was a tedious process. I was there for 2 – ½ hours and ended up with fewer than 50 pieces of paper, covering the three cases.

But the Service is Great, and Inexpensive

I got individual attention from staff members the entire time. The charge to me, ten cents per copy, was less than $5.00. It cost me more than twice that to pay for parking in the area.

I Think I Was Lucky

I was lucky that the very adept staff member was there and that she was not otherwise occupied. I was also lucky that she seemed genuinely interested in providing the service to me. Finally, she gave me her name and phone number at the office, if I needed more assistance. I was impressed!

Next time I come to Cincinnati, I will go for further research, calling in advance.

Courthouse Fires

Before I left, my excellent staff member gave me a handout that began with an article about Hamilton County Courthouse fires. They occurred well before the 20th century, which was my interest. However, if you are interested in records from the 19th century and earlier, I recommend you phone the Clerk of Courts, ask for the Paper Room, and see if they can forward their courthouse fires article to you.

 

 

 

 

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Nicknames: Lewis was Bobby and Bud

Lewis L young man portrait

This was my father, Lewis N. Levensohn, as a young man. Although his name was Lewis, no one in his family called him “Lewis” or “Lew.” They called him “Bobby” or “Bud.”

Here’s what I remember my mother telling me:

Bessie, his mother, wanted to name him Robert and call him Bobby. However, Morris, his father, took him to the shul and named him “Lewis Nathaniel.”

Thinking about it, this doesn’t really make sense. Morris must have completed the paperwork to register my dad’s birth, naming him “Lewis Nathaniel.” At the shul Morris would have given his son his Jewish name, “Leyb Nachem.” And this might well correspond to “Lewis Nathaniel.”

My mother had also told me that Morris, my grandfather, was a learned Jew from an observant family. As such, Morris might have determined to follow Ashkenazic tradition and name his new son after recently deceased family member(s).  Bessie’s own grandparents, Nathan (Nichemn) and Leah Kaminsky had both passed away in the two years previous to Lewis’s birth. I speculate that Morris named his son after the baby’s great-grandparents.

Apparently my grandma Bessie never accepted this as her youngest child’s name. She always called him “Bobby.” So did his sister, Ruth, who was two years older.  The two older siblings, Mitchell and Dorothy, who were about a decade older, chose a middle ground:  they called him “Bud.”

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