Who Was Bessie Goldfarb Named For? A Study in Naming Patterns

Before I write about Bessie Goldfarb Malzberg and her family, I want to explore a question that bothered me since I first learned her name.

It struck me as odd that Sarah Brod Goldfarb named a daughter Bessie since that was her sister’s name—my great-grandmother Bessie Brod Brotman. Even their Yiddish names were the same. On the ship manifest for Sarah and her four children, Sarah’s second daughter is listed as Pesie, and my great-grandmother Bessie was listed as Pessel on her ship manifest. I assume Pesie was a nickname for Pessel. Incidentally, Pessel is also my Yiddish name—in honor of my great-grandmother Bessie.

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962

Year: 1891; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 29; List Number: 73, Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Since Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews did not name children for living relatives, I assumed that Sarah’s Bessie was named for either the same person her sister Bessie had been named for or for a relative on Sam’s side of the family. But who was that person?

I decided to explore the naming patterns in the Goldfarb and Brod families a bit further to see if they provided any clues. Sam and Sarah’s first son was Julius (Joel was his Hebrew name), and it appears obvious that he was named for Sam’s father who was also named Julius Goldfarb.1 I will refer to Sam’s father as Julius I and Sam’s son as Julius II.

Sam and Sarah’s second son Morris (Moische), born in 1886, could have been named for a relative on Sarah’s side, and that’s possible here, but since four of Sam’s siblings—his brother Louis and his half-brothers Max, Meier, and Julius 2—all had sons named Morris Goldfarb,3 I think it’s more likely that Morris was also named for an ancestor on Sam’s side though I don’t know who that would be. Perhaps an uncle or a great-grandfather.

Then came Gussie (Gittel) Goldfarb, born in 1888. My grandmother Gussie Brotman was born in 1895, and she was a first cousin to Gussie Goldfarb. Sarah’s death certificate states that her mother was named Gittel, and her sister Bessie’s second marriage certificate says her mother was Gittel, so both Gussies—Gussie Goldfarb and my grandmother Gussie—were named for their maternal grandmother Gittel, my great-great-grandmother. (My daughter carries on the naming pattern as her Hebrew name is Rivka Gittel for my grandmother.)

New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949″, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WT7-T1D : 3 June 2020), Sarah Goldfarb, 1937.

Certificate Number: 22138, Ancestry.com. New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937

That brings me to Bessie. She was born in 1890, and I don’t know who she was named for. Sam’s mother was Dora Kleinman. Dora died not long after Sam’s brother Louis (Lazar) was born in 1859. Louis Goldfarb named his first daughter Dora in 1889 for his mother. It seems odd that Sam didn’t have a daughter named for his mother.4 It makes me think Sam and Sarah may have had another daughter named for Dora who died before they left Europe—unless Dora Kleinman had a double name and Bessie was named for her other name.

Julius I’s second wife was named Rebecca Kirschenbaum,5 so did Sam name Bessie for his stepmother Rebecca? Or was Bessie named for a Brod, possibly the same unknown ancestor for whom my great-grandmother Bessie was named? I don’t know.

After Bessie came Joseph. I don’t see any Josephs on the Goldfarb side, and Sarah Brod and Bessie Brod’s father was named Joseph Brod according to the two records depicted above. So I think it’s very likely that Joseph Goldfarb was named for his maternal grandfather, Joseph Brod.

Leo was the next son, born in 1899. I don’t have any clues as to his namesake. On the  1900 census, Leo  was listed as Lewis, and on the 1905 NYS census he was Louis. Only in 1910 did his name appear as Leo. Sam’s brother Louis was still living when Leo was born, but maybe Leo was named for the same ancestor for whom his uncle Louis was named.  Sam’s half-brother Max had a son named Lewis born in 1901, so perhaps he also was named for the same ancestor.6  I don’t see anyone else with an L name in the Brod family so I think Leo was named for a Goldfarb, not a Brod.

Sam and Sarah’s last child was Rose, and that’s a name that appears four times among Sam’s relatives.  Sam’s brother Louis named his second daughter Rose born in 1891. Sam’s half-brother Max named a daughter Rose in 1901, and Julius Jr. had a daughter named Rose born in 1919. I would assume that Max and Julius, Jr. named their daughters for their mother Rebecca, but who did Sam and Louis name their daughters Rose for? I don’t know. Perhaps their stepmother Rebecca, or perhaps a great-grandmother or other female relative.7

Just to add to the data set here, my great-grandmother Bessie had five children with my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman—Tillie, Chaim (Hyman), my grandmother Gussie, Frieda, and Sam. With his first wife Chaye, Joseph Brotman had four children: Abraham, David, Max, and Taube. Only the name Gussie is repeated among her sister Sarah’s children although Max Brotman, like Morris Goldfarb, was Moische in Europe.

To summarize my assumptions: Sam and Sarah’s son Julius was named for Sam’s father Julius. Their daughter Gussie and son Joseph were named for Sarah’s parents, Gittel and Joseph.  Morris and Rose are names that occur frequently in the Goldfarb family so those two children probably were named for a Goldfarb relative. Leo was originally Louis, a name that appears in the Goldfarb family, so I am inclined to think he was named for a Goldfarb.

But I am without a clue about the ancestor for whom Bessie was named. If my assumptions are correct, it would mean that four of Sarah and Sam’s children were named for a Goldfarb ancestor and only two were named for a Brod ancestor. That makes me think Bessie might have been named for a Brod, and maybe for the same relative for whom her aunt, my great-grandmother Bessie, was named. But I can’t be sure.

And sadly without records for those earlier generations, I probably never will know.

  1. KLG family history and various other sources and records. 
  2. Sam’s father Julius I had a son with his second wife Rebecca who was also named Julius; I will refer to him as Julius, Jr. That seems quite odd—unless Julius I died before Rebecca gave birth to Julius, Jr. Unfortunately I have no records to know for sure. What I do have is a family history compiled by Kay Goldfarb.  Kay’s book says that Julius died 1879-1880 and that Julius, his son, was born in 1880. So it seems probable that in fact Julius I did die before his son Julius Jr. was born. 
  3. KLG family history and various other sources and records. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Ibid. 

Uncle Gustave to the Rescue Again

A key lesson I’ve learned over the months I’ve been doing genealogy work is that it is important to go back and look at documents and information you received over and over again.  Something that seemed unimportant or confusing when first viewed can take on a lot more meaning after you’ve learned more about a family or a person.  So while I am waiting for new documents, I took the opportunity to review some old documents.

I went back to look at the information I had for Isidor Strolowitz Adler, Tillie and Jankel’s oldest child.  I did this because I noticed (for the first time) that on the 1910 US census that Tillie said that she had been married for 27 years.

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

The Strolovitz Adler family with Isadore and Betty in 1910

Since she was a widow, the first time I looked at this it did not seem relevant.  This time I thought there might be a clue here as to when Jankel had died.  Assuming that Isidor was born within a year of marriage, as seemed to be the case in so many of the marriages of that era, if Tillie and Jankel were married the year before Isidore’s birth and were married for a total of 27 years, I might get a better estimate of when he died (or disappeared).

So I turned to Isidor’s information and saw that I had an estimated date of birth of 1883 based on the fact that Isidor was listed as 27 on the 1910 census.  According to his death certificate, he was 31 years, two months at the time of his death on April 23, 1915, giving him a birth date of February, 1884.

Isidor Adler death certificate

Isidor Adler death certificate

Since Bertha, the second child, was born in February, 1885, it certainly is feasible that Isidor had been born twelve months earlier.   Unfortunately, these were the only two documents I had for Isidor since he died so soon after arriving in the US.  I am hoping my Iasi researcher will find his birth record (he has located birth records for two of Isidor’s siblings; more on that in a separate post), but I decided to see if I could find a ship manifest for Isidor.

On my entries for Isidor I had two different arrival dates: 1901 and 1903.  His death certificate in 1915 said he’d been in the US for twelve years, giving me 1903.  The 1910 census said that he had arrived in 1901.  Although the 1910 census indicated that Isidor had petitioned for citizenship, I’ve yet to locate that petition.  And I had no ship manifest.  Although I had found ship manifests for all of his siblings and for his parents, I’d not been able to locate one for Isidor.  I’d searched for Isidor, Isaac, Ira, and Israel and all the variations of his last name, but had not found anything.

But this time I vaguely remembered something: in the records for his father’s hearing at Ellis Island, Isidor had been referred to by another name.  I went back to look at those records and found that Isidor had been identified as Srul.

transcript listing Srulovici children

transcript listing Srulovici children

I had learned from one of my JewishGen contacts that Srul was a Yiddish version of Israel—that Srulowitz means son of Israel.  So Srul had become Israel and then Isidor in the US.  The transcript also said that Srul was 26 in January, 1908, making his birth year 1883.

So I went back to the Ellis Island search engine created by Steve Morse and searched again, using Srul, and lo and behold—there it was.  Strul Strulovici, age 19, had arrived on January 12, 1902, from Jassy, Romania, via Hague on the ship La Gascogne.   That would make his birth year either 1883 or 1882.  So I am no more certain of his birth year and thus no more certain of when his parents had married.  But assuming they were married sometime between 1881 and 1883, that would mean that Tillie became a widow between 1908 and 1910, which is what I already assumed.

Strul Strulovici ship manifest

Strul Strulovici ship manifest

But I did learn something new from the manifest.  Under the column asking who was meeting Strul/Isidor in America was the entry “Uncle.”  I have to believe that this was his mother’s brother, Gustave Rosenzweig, my great-great uncle, the same uncle who stood up for Jankel in 1908 and posted a bond, the same Gustave who acted as a witness at his niece’s wedding.  I can only imagine all the other things that this man did that were not documented for eternity.  This new finding gave me the incentive to go back and learn more about Gustave and his children.

Gustave Rosenzweig

Gustave Rosenzweig

So keep reviewing those documents.  You never know what you will learn a second time or third time or even a fourth time through.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pessel bat Yosef

We decided to go to synagogue for Shabbat services this morning, and for the first time in a very long time, I had an aliyah.  When the gabbai asked me for my Hebrew name to insert in the blessing, I said “Pessel bat Yosef.”  I had not used my Hebrew name in any public way since I started doing all the genealogy research, and beforehand it had not meant anything too layered for me.  It was just my Hebrew name. 

The “Pessel” I knew was for my great-grandmother Bessie, but I knew almost nothing about her.



The “Yosef” was manufactured by the rabbi who married us back in 1976.  He had asked me for my father’s Hebrew name for the ketubah, and I didn’t know what it was.  When I asked my father (whose  English name is John), he said he had never had one.  He’d not had a bar mitzvah, but had been confirmed in a Reform congregation which did not use Hebrew names.  So the rabbi picked Yosef, figuring it was at least a name that started with a similar letter to John.  That was fine with me.  For a while I thought I’d switch to Yohanatan, figuring it was closer to John, but then I thought I should stick with what was on the ketubah (and easier to say).

So when I told the gabbai this morning that my name was Pessel bat Yosef, I felt a real connection to Bessie Brot Brotman, my great-grandmother, and I had a revelation.  I didn’t know it in 1976 when I was married; I hadn’t even known it when I last had an aliyah several years ago.  But now I know that Pessel bat Yosef was Bessie’s Hebrew name as well.  Her father’s name was Joseph.  So that rabbi in 1976 did not realize it, but he had in fact given me the same Hebrew name as my great-grandmother.  When I realized that for the first time this morning, it gave me the chills.

Bessie headstone enhanced

Now that I know so much more about Bessie and her life, I feel particularly honored and moved to share her name. I am proud to be called Pessel bat Yosef, carrying her name and her memory into the present day and into the future.

Enhanced by Zemanta

This Made My Day!

Yesterday was one of those winter days where I didn’t leave the house all day.  I read the paper, did the crossword puzzle, and played on the computer.  It was quiet, relaxing, but not exciting.  Then late yesterday afternoon, I received an email from Judy, Max’s granddaughter, that made my day.  Attached to the email was a document that Judy’s sister, Susan, had found while going through some old papers.  It’s a family tree sketched out by hand by Renee Brotman Haber, one of Max Brotman’s daughters and Roz, Susan and Judy’s mother.

Take a look at it:


If you now compare this to the family tree on the blog for Abraham and his descendants, you will immediately realize that Renee had written out the family tree of her father’s brother Abraham.  Judy and Susan don’t know when she did it or where, but this is definitely written by Renee and it is definitely Abraham’s family.

Paula Newman, Abraham’s granddaughter, commented on the blog a couple of months ago that she believed she had met Rosalie and Dick Jones in Florida years ago when she was there with her parents.  Rosalie was Renee’s sister, and Judy said that both families used to go to Florida every year at Christmas time.  Perhaps it was during one of those vacations that Paula’s family met with Renee and Rosalie’s families and provided Renee with the information she sketched out on the family tree.

This is the third piece of evidence that supports the conclusion that Abraham and Max were brothers and that Abraham, like Max, was Joseph’s son from his first marriage.  First, we have the fact that Max was the witness on Abraham’s naturalization papers.  Second, we have the fact that Abraham’s Hebrew name was Avraham ben Yosef Yaakov, named for his grandfather Avraham whose son was Yosef Yaakov.  (Recall that Joseph’s Hebrew name was Yosef Yaakov ben Avraham.  Also, Abraham named his son Yosef Yaakov shortly after Joseph died, as did Hyman and Tillie.) And now we have evidence that Renee met or spoke with Abraham’s daughter or granddaughter to write down this family tree.  I don’t know how they found each other, or , more sadly, how they had all lost each other beforehand and then afterwards.

I guess you can tell how much this all means to me that receiving this document made me so happy.  Who cares about snow and sleet and cold when there is a new discovery linking our families!!

This should also be an inspiration to the rest of you to look for things like this—old letters, cards, postcards, pictures. You never know what you will find. Come on, make my day!  

Jewish Naming Patterns

Most people know that in Jewish tradition, a child is often named after a relative who is no longer alive.[1]  It is also Jewish practice to identify a person in Hebrew with his or her father’s first name added to that person’s own first name.  For example, on his headstone Joseph’s name appears in Hebrew as Yosef Yakov ben Avraham, meaning that his father’s name was Abraham.  These naming patterns are a great help to genealogical research since often you can find names recurring through several generations, providing a means of establishing family relationships.

For example, we know that Bessie’s Hebrew name was Pessel and that her mother was named Gittel.  Bessie named her daughter Gussie for her own mother—in Hebrew, Gussie’s name was Hannah Gittel.  Then, in turn, I was named for Gussie’s mother, Bessie—in Hebrew, Pessel.  I then named my older daughter Rebecca Grace for my grandmother; her Hebrew name is Rivka Gittel.  So both Gittel and Pessel are names that recur through the generations and perhaps go back even further and perhaps will stretch further into the future.

Similarly, my brother Ira was named for our grandfather Isadore, whose Hebrew name was Ira.  Isadore’s father was Moritz/Moshe, and Isadore was named for Moshe’s father Ira.  Isadore in turn named his son Maurice for his father, and Maurice named his son James Ian and one of his daughters Robin Inez, the I being for Maurice’s father Isadore.  So the M’s and the I’s keep recurring in our family.  My younger daughter Madeline (Mazal Ahava) was named in part for my uncle Maurice (as well as for my husband’s uncle Murray), and there are several other M’s in the family among the fifth generation.

I am sure each of you can find similar recurring patterns in your own branches of the family.  There certainly are many B/P names and J names that run throughout our family tree.   Some of them undoubtedly are for Bessie/Pessel and Joseph or one of their descendants.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, after receiving Abraham’s death certificate and being bewildered by the fact that it records his parents’ names as Harry and Anna, I consulted with my mentor Renee.  She asked me several questions that reassured me that the death certificate is most likely incorrect.  First, she said look for naming patterns.  That reminded me that Abraham’s oldest son was named Joseph Jacob—Yosef Yakov on his headstone.Image  If Abraham’s father was named Harry, then why would he have named his son Joseph and not Harry? In fact, there are no Harrys or H names among Abraham’s children or grandchildren.

In addition, Renee pointed out that Abraham’s full name on his headstone is Avraham Zvi ben Yosef Yakov.  Zvi is a Hebrew name that means “deer” and in Yiddish was usually translated into Hersh or some Americanized version: Harry, Herbert, or (as in the case of my husband) Harvey.  Renee also pointed out that Abraham’s American name was Abraham H. Brotman.  She said it was extremely unlikely that his father’s name would have been Harry or Hersh/Zvi also (unless, of course, his father had died before Abraham was born, which does not seem likely).  By looking at the naming patterns, I am now convinced that it is unlikely that Abraham’s father’s name was Harry and that the death certificate is not correct and the headstone is.  Perhaps the Zvi/H in his name was for his maternal grandfather. Maybe that’s how it ended up on his death certificate.

So, cousins, do you know who you were named for? Do you know what your Hebrew name is? What your parents’ Hebrew names are? It would be really helpful and interesting to me and perhaps to others to know this information as it may open other doors for more research.  If you are willing to share that information, please let me know by using the comment box below so that we can all share this information.  Thank you!

[1][1] At least that has been the tradition among Ashkenazi East European Jews.  German Jews apparently did not always adhere to this tradition.  For example, my father’s name is the same as his father, John Nusbaum Cohen, and until he was an adult, he used “junior” after his name.  Moreoever, his sister’s name was the same as their mother—Eva.

Another day, another death certificate, and more confusion

Sometimes I wonder why we have death certificates.  Just about every single one I have seen has raised more questions than it has provided answers.  I’ve been told by an expert genealogist that death certificates are notoriously unreliable because usually the person providing the information is a close relative still in shock and mourning the death of a loved one.  No wonder Hyman’s said he was born in Philadelphia and Bessie’s said her mother’s name was Bessie.  And so on.

All that leads me to today’s mysterious death certificate, that of Abraham Brotman of Brooklyn.  You may recall that Abraham’s headstone revealed that his Hebrew name was Abraham ben Yosef Yaakov, just as Joseph’s revealed that his was Yosef Yaakov ben Abraham, providing me with the additional clues that helped me conclude that Abraham was Joseph’s son and Max’s brother.Image

(You may also recall that Max was the witness on Abraham’s naturalization application.)

Naturalization of Abraham Brotman Max as Witness

Naturalization of Abraham Brotman
Max as Witness

I had ordered Abraham’s death certificate in order to obtain more confirmation of those relationships as well as to get some information about the place where they were all from in Galicia.

Unfortunately, Abraham’s death certificate confirmed nothing and just added to the confusion.  His birth place is listed as Russia, despite the fact that every census report and his naturalization papers list his birth place as Austria.  His parents’ names are listed as Harry and Anna.


I emailed Abraham’s grandchildren, Paula Newman and Morty Grossman (whose mother Ethel provided the information on the certificate), but neither of them knows anything about Abraham’s parents.  So now what? Do I assume that it’s just another mistake on the death certificate? Is it more likely that the headstone is right than the death certificate? Since the place of birth is wrong, why should I trust any of the information on the death certificate? Perhaps Ethel Grossman was thinking of her mother’s parents, not her father’s parents?   Abraham’s wife Bessie Brotman was born in Russia, so maybe her parents were Harry and Anna? Grrrr…now I am ordering another death certificate to see who HER parents were.  But why would I trust that one either?

Very frustrating! So no new information and just more confusion.

I can’t wait to see what misinformation Max’s death certificate provides.  That should be arriving in a day or so.