“What Can We Learn about Our Ancestors from Jewish Surnames Adopted in the Russian Empire?” will be the topic of a presentation by scholar and author Alexander Beider for the 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, virtual meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois.
Register/RSVP at jgsi.org/event-4545169.
A large majority of Jews of the Russian Empire received their family names only about 200 years ago, Beider says. In contrast with many other Ashkenazim, the whole surnaming process was managed internally within Jewish communities, with marginal participation by Christian clerks.
As a result, the names adopted in the Russian Empire reflect a panorama of Jewish life at the beginning of the 19th century, including languages used and their peculiarities, occupations, given names and places of settlement.
Some surnames provide information about ancestors who lived well before the 19th century, according to Beider. This is the case of surnames revealing Jewish “castes” (Cohanim, Levites), those belonging to rabbinical dynasties, and those of other migrants from Central Europe, as well as a small group of names of Sephardic origin.
Because of the Ashkenazic tradition of naming children after deceased close relatives (often, ancestors), certain surnames based on given names (patronymics or matronymics) can provide information linking us to those who lived in the Middle Ages.
Beider holds a doctoral degree in applied mathematics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and another in Jewish Studies from Sorbonne University, Paris. He uses onomastics and linguistics as tools to unravel the history of the Jewish people. Beider was born in Moscow and currently lives in Paris.
The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping members collect, preserve and perpetuate the records and history of their ancestors. The group has more than 300 members and is affiliated with the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
Members as well as nonmembers can look for their ancestors on the free searchable JGSI Jewish Chicago Database.
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