© 2019 by Rabbi Rachel Bearman.

  • Rachel K Bearman

What's in a name?


As a family historian, I have spent a huge amount of time searching for names. Names are the keys to unlocking the vast treasures of stories and documents that our families have left behind. An ancestor without a name is a mystery, and there's nothing more exciting and frustrating than a mystery!

For those of us who come from Jewish families, the quest for our ancestors names is both complicated and enriched by the existence of our ancestors' Hebrew (and sometimes Yiddish) names. On my family tree, the phenomenon of having both a Hebrew and an English name began when my ancestors came to this country. For example, before, he arrived in America, my three times great grandfather wasn't both Max and משה (Moshe), he was simply משה (Moshe). In fact, for a number of my ancestor, I was only able to find them on a ship manifest AFTER I learned their Hebrew names!

Learning your ancestor's Hebrew name can seem like an insurmountable task, but there are many resources available to us! Start by looking at the gravestones of your ancestors. If those are either not local or unhelpful, call the synagogue's to which your ancestors belonged. Many synagogues have kept wonderful and detailed records! Look through family papers and try to find naming certificates and ketubahs. Don't let yourself become discouraged if you don't find anything. Call family members and ask them to check their files as well!

Recently, I started making a family tree with my ancestors' Hebrew names. The image below is a snapshot of my progress. It's by no means finished, but it's coming along!