Before I started doing genealogy research, I knew only one thing about the Nusbaum name. I knew it was my father’s middle name, that it was also his father’s middle name, and that they were named for some ancestor named…John Nusbaum, my great-great-great-grandfather.
I had no idea who John Nusbaum was, although I think I did know he was from Germany. I didn’t know if he had ever lived in the United States. And I had no idea how he had gotten the name John. John is not a Jewish name. Jonathan, yes, but I do not think I have known more than one or two men named John who were Jewish, except for my father. In fact, there were some people who had questioned whether my father really was Jewish, given his first name.
Things got even more confusing when I first started doing genealogy research a couple of years ago. I was a real novice, and I did not know enough to know that people often put bad information on their family trees. I assumed, very naively, that if someone put a tree on ancestry, it had to be right. Like I said, I was a real novice. So as I was adding information (much of it from reliable sources like census reports), I found several ancestry trees with my ancestor John Nusbaum appearing on it—with his descendants included. I was excited—these trees linked my ancestor to a whole line of Nusbaums going back hundreds of years! I felt like I had hit the jackpot. I added all these people to my tree, thinking that I could now trace my family back centuries on the Nusbaum side.
I should have been more circumspect. I should have picked up on a few clues—too many people named Johann, too many people named Maria, Christian, Catherine—no Jewish sounding names. I began to think that in fact my Nusbaum ancestors had not been Jewish. But I was new and trusting and just accepted what I saw. It was the internet, after all. It had to be true. Right?
I had then turned to other things and put those Nusbaums aside. After all, they were all done, I thought. Someone else had found them all.
But then about a month ago I started looking again at those Nusbaums, an older and hopefully wiser researcher now. I went back to all those trees, and I realized they had no sources to support the claim that my John Nusbaum was the same person as the Johann Nusbaum that linked back to all those non-Jewish sounding Nusbaums. Only one tree had any sources at all for these earlier Nusbaums; the others had just somehow linked to that tree and added my ancestor to it, assuming John was the same as Johann.
I contacted the owner of that one sourced tree, and he and I had a good exchange and a few chuckles about all those other misleading trees. His ancestors were Christian, and he had no sources indicating a link to a John Nusbaum who settled in Pennsylvania, as my John Nusbaum had done back in the 1840s. I detached my ancestor from the other trees, sad to lose hundreds of years of ancestors, but happy to know that my Nusbaums could have been Jewish. (I also wrote to the owners of those other trees, pointing out the error, but not one of them responded nor did they take my Nusbaums off their trees.)
So now my Nusbaum line ended with John Nusbaum. I was able to find quite a bit in the US records, but had no hints as to his parents, siblings, or home town in Germany. And then my father provided me with some answers. He has the Nusbaum family bible, and it has entries for John and his siblings as well as his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It told me where he was born—Schopfloch, Ansbach, Bavaria, in 1814. I had names and birth dates for his siblings: Isaac (1812), Ernest (1816), Caroline (1822), Mathilde (1825). It was a gold mine. And I was off and running to find the real Nusbaums.
Now comes the best part. I contacted the registry in Schopfloch to ask whether there were any records for my ancestors, giving the names of the Nusbaums I knew about. And this is what I received in return from a man named Rolf Hofmann:
FAMILY SHEET AMSON MEIER NUSSBAUM
compiled by Rolf Hofmann (HarburgProject@aol.com) VERSION 01
AMSON MEIER NUSSBAUM
peddler in Schopfloch
born ca 1777 (Schopfloch ?), died 07 Jun 1836 Schopfloch
father = Meier ?
married ca 1804 ?
born 07 Mar 1782 (where ?), died 02 Oct 1842 Schopfloch
father = ?
CHILDREN (all born in Schopfloch):
(01) GUETEL 10 Feb 1805 – ?
(02) MADEL 20 Jul 1806 – ?
(03) LOEW 26 Apr 1808 – ?
(04) ISAK 28 Mar 1810 – ? emigrated to USA in 1843
(05) SARA 08 Jul 1812 – ?
(06) JOSUA 29 Nov 1814 – ?
(JOHN in USA) emigrated to Philadelphia, USA around 1840
married ca 1852 [this is not correct]
JEANETTE NN from Hesse-Darmstadt (Germany)
20 May 1817 – 12 Jan 1908 (died in Philadelphia) parents = ?
so far known children = Millen * 1853 + Lottie * 1863
(07) SALOMON 24 Aug 1816 – ?
(08) MEIER 14 Sep 1819 – ?
I am now in touch with Mr. Hofmann and hope to get the sources for this information, but you can imagine the happy dance I did when I saw this. I had the names of my FOUR-times great-grandparents, Amson and Voegele. I had names for all their children, including some I had no records for and some who matched with the names I had from the family bible. Madel must be Mathilda, Isak is Isaac, and I assume Ernst is Salomon, based on the birth year. Also, I found other Nusbaums through research—Meier is Maxwell, Loew is Leopold.
And most importantly? Well, John, my three-times great-grandfather—his name was originally Josua. He did in fact have a Jewish name. He obviously Americanized it to John, just as many of his siblings Americanized their names to names that were less Jewish-sounding. My father and my grandfather could have been named Joshua Nusbaum Cohen if their namesake had not changed his name to John.
There is still much research to be done and much to learn about the Nusbaums. But one big mystery is solved. My Nusbaums were not descended from all those Johanns and Marias, but were from a Jewish family living in Schopfloch, Bavaria, in the early 19th century.
 Although Caroline and Mathilde were listed with different surnames, I was able to find US records that verified that they were John’s sisters. More on that later.