A Look At The Impact of Marriage on the Surname


KRG member Ron Lahav provided information for this report from his research on marriage laws in the Galicia Region. KRG member Saul Zeichner contributed inputs to this report from his research on the history of surnames. The KRG Coordinator has integrated this information to assist in understanding the impacts marriage may have on hereditary surnames.

The surname is perhaps the only indispensable fact required to locate information on our ancestors. If you have had difficulty locating records of your grandparentsí siblings from Galicia, or even your parentsí siblings, it may be due to your use of their incorrect surnames. It is common to think in modern Western terms when considering surnames. It usually goes like this: Man marries woman, woman takes manís surname as her own and the family name is the manís surname. Children born to the marriage use the family surname. This continues for generations. For the most part there is no problem following the family tree. However for the 18th and 19th Centuries Kolomea/Galicia that thought process could be quite misleading. The objective of this report is to describe in terms of Jewish marriages and surname laws in Kolomea/Galicia why siblings may have different surnames; why children may have different surnames than their father; and why children may carry their motherís surname.

According to Zeichnerís research, it was Emperor Joseph II passing of the Edict of Tolerance in 1787 that required people in Galicia to adopt hereditary surnames. From about 1900 BCE to that date surnames were concoctions of names based on places of origin, patronymics, priestly designations, nicknames, occupations, or physical characteristics. It seems unlikely that a marriage had any significant impact on surnames before the 1787 Edict. Changing ones surname before there were laws establishing surnames, was done in a more or less haphazard manner. It is possible that after a marriage the husband and wife could have given each other names of endearment.

It appears that the Ketubah, the marriage contract given by the groom to his bride at a Jewish wedding maybe one of the earliest documents showing the names of the groom and bride together. The Ketubah defines the extent of a husbandís obligation towards his wife and may include obligations for clothing, conjugal rights, price to be paid to the brideís father, the bride and groomís dower contribution, how the bride would be taken care of in case the husband dies or divorce. For comparisons of the legal form, content, and appearance of Ketubahs, a 1911 Ketubah furnished by KRG member Michael Weissman from his Kolomea grandparents and a 1957 Ketubah from the KRG Coordinator are provided.

An English translation provided by Rabbi Gedalyah Jeremias of the 1911 Ketubah can be read and compared with the 1957 Ketubah. The 1957 Ketubah is printed with Aramaic on the right side and English on the left side; thus, the groom had no excuse for denying his knowledge of the obligations he was signing up for. It is interesting to note that in the two versions of the Ketubahs there nothing that stipulates that the wife must adopt the husbandís surname. The Ketubah is a one-sided contract obligating the husband to the wife.

According to Lahavís research, one of the basic reforms implemented by Emperor Joseph II was that Jewish marriages had to have both religious and civil ceremonies. After the religious rites were completed, the marriage ceremony had to be repeated under civil authority. As it turned out some Jews apparently did not bother to repeat the civil ceremony. Consequently, those marriages were not recognized by the civil government. Children born to such unrecognized marriages were declared to have no legal father.

To describe the possible effects on hereditary surnames by marriages we will tell a story of a fictitious family. Any resemblance between the names and characters used in the story to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Only the facts are considered to be true.

In mid-18th Century there was a young Jewish man known Yankel Dumbkoff. Yankel came from an impovished family living in a shtetl outside of Kolomea. Yankel met a young woman, called Rebecca Goldsmith, fell in love and had the local rabbi marry them. (Editorís note: There is much controversy on whether surnames were given by the government or taken by Jews, and whether bribes were given to get nicer surnames than otherwise were being dispensed. It is not the focus of this story on how surnames were obtained, only that surnames were required.) Shortly thereafter came the edict that Jewish marriages alone were not recognized by the government. Yankel and Rebecca would need a civil ceremony to sanctify their marriage in the eyes of the civil government. Yankel and Rebecca did not go for a civil ceremony. Yankel and Rebecca Dumbkoff soon started a family. Their first child was named Chaim, the second was Sara. . Because the Dumbkoffís marriage was not recognized by the civil authorities, Chaim and Sara were considered fatherless. Their birth records show them as Chaim Goldsmith and Sara Goldsmith, their motherís maiden name. Yankel and Rebbecca decided to santify their marriage so went to have a civil ceremony. They continued to bear children. Their third child was named Channah and their fourth child was named Zalman. Since these were legitimate children in the name of the law, they carried the names Channah Dumbkoff and Zalmon Dumbkoff.

At this point we have the parents Yankel and Rebecca Dumbkoff and their children Chaim Goldsmith, Sara Goldsmith, Channah Dumbkoff and Zalman Dumbkoff. Chaim turns 18 leaves the family home to pursue work in another Shtetl. There he meets a girl from a wealthy family. He asks her father for her hand in marriage. The father agrees but with one condition, the newlyweds take on the girls maiden name. The father did not want a Dumbkoff in the family. So Chaim marries Eve Rothchild and becomes Chaim Rothchild. Their children bear the surnames Marion and Joseph Rothchild. Sara Goldsmith marries also and becomes Sara Chabin wife of Handel Chabin. There child is Anna Chabin. Channah Dumbkoff marries Otto Brenner and their children Fannie and Ben carry the Brenner name. Zalmon Dumbkoff becomes a Talmud scholar and spends most of his day in study. He does marry a Rose Nachas a hard working seamstress. Due to the need for name recognition in her business, Nachas becomes the family name. There after Zalmon is known as Zalmon Nachas. Government records show the family name as Dumbkoff, so their children Milton and Harold carry the surnames Dumbkoff.

There is at this point first cousins: Marion and Joseph Rothchild cousins of Anna Chabin, cousin of Fannie and Ben Brenner cousins of Milton and Harold Dumbkoff. None of these first cousins bear the same surname. First generation siblings started with different surnames and ended up through marriages with even other different surnames. Unless you had the complete history of births, marriages and adoptions of surnames it would be all but impossible to find a relationship between these people or their vital or other civil records. Be aware of the fact that while surnames are important for finding records, you may need other clues to determine whether a person is a relation or not.

Copyright © 2002 Ron Lahav, Saul Zeichner , and Alan Weiser

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