Applying What I’ve Learned in My One-Place Study to Genealogy Research, Part 3

Many of us have puzzled over surname spellings. I know I have and I don’t mean slight differences like Sargent and Sargeant.

Researching records from the 1800s and earlier brings up two issues.

First, in many rural European towns, fixed surnames were just coming into vogue. Surnames basically fell into four groups – patronymics, such as Peterson (son of Peter), occupation (Miller, Shepherd), location (Hill, Rivers) or physical characteristics (Short, Brown).

Therefore, early records might vary between a patronymic surname and a different fixed surname by which the family was known.

Secondly, surname variations also existed – not just a letter or two difference in spelling, but enough difference to make one wonder whether records referred to one family or more than one.

I came across multiple surname variations in the families of Hajtovka and Udol that I had to stop and do some extra digging to figure out if the families were the same.

For example, the surnames Fedor and Fedorko both appeared often. In the early 1800s, not enough extraneous information was included in each record for me to be sure if I was looking at one family or two unrelated groups of people who shared a similar surname, but were from two unrelated families.

As I built out family groups, I learned that Fedor and Fedorko are two forms of the same surname and both forms can be used to identify one person.

This is a made up example, but illustrates the idea well. Let’s say, John Fedorko married Maria Murcko in 1830. Later register entries for the births of five children name both parents (mother by her maiden name).

However, in three of those entries, the father is called John Fedor and in the other two, he is John Fedorko. John is the only Fedor/Fedorko in the parish married to a Maria Murcko, so I believe that Fedor/Fedorko refers to one family.

That was not the only surname I came across which was found in more than one form. The Lesko family was quite prolific in the area. Furthermore, when infants must be baptized with a saint’s name (John, Michael, Stephen, Andrew, Nicholas, Demetri and Peter cover 95% of the male given names used in these villages) AND you have a family with many members, it becomes challenging to separate out the men and women who share the same given names.

In the Lesko family. the solution was to add an ending to Lesko to identify which branch of the earlier (smaller) Lesko family a person belonged.

Surnames then began appearing – in some, not all – of the records as Lesko, Leskopetra (Peter’s line), Leskojurka (Jurko is the nickname for George) and Lesko Oszifa (Joseph’s line).

Therefore, (again – made up example) Andrew Fabian’s marriage entry might show his wife to be Maria Leskopetra. However, in the baptismal entries of their children, she might be named either as Maria Lesko or Maria Leskopetra. By the time Maria was buried, the priest might only call her Maria Fabian, born Lesko.

Oszifa, which I mentioned above as relating to Joseph, most often appears as the surname Osifcsin.

One last example is the surname Mucha. In the Rusyn/Slovak dialects, the CH sound can also be written as CS, TS, CZ or even just with H. Mucha is often found in St. Dimitry’s records as MUHA.

But. . . it is also spelled Muchanin and Muhanin. I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that -NIN and -CSIN might be ways of indicating a younger generation, used the way we use junior.

Another surname issue, which I have seen in French and Scandinavian records is the “dit” surname, or “also called.”

I had never seen this in Slovak records, aside from the various Lesko family branches, which aren’t truly “dit” surnames.

One of the reasons why a man, or family, would adopt an entirely different surname to the birth name is that there were too many local people with the same given and surname.

Another reason for a surname change might be that the current family has no male heirs to carry on the name. A young man marrying into the family would agree to adopt the alias – the surname of the bride’s family.

They might also make the same choice to change a surname to one less common so everyone could clearly identify who belonged to a particular family group.

Until I expanded my research into Plavnica records, I had come across only a handful, maybe, of alias surnames.

Here are a few examples:

Michael Prisztas recte (recte = rectify or correctly) Arendacs

Basil Bondira alias Peter Petrojanka, which would literally mean Peter, who was a son of John in the Peters family

Paul, alias Cikon Matisz, with not only the alias name of Cikon, but Matisz would place him as being from the town of Matysova.

How about Drab and Drabisin? Yep, they are the same surname and I think the priest wanted to save ink since there was no other local name similar to Drabisin.

Havran and Havrancsin? Also the same family.

Fengya is a very common name in the parish. However, only one of the branches in that family tree adds a clarifier – Fengya Ilyasa – who are descended from Elias Fengya, who lived and died before the church records being in 1827.

I’ve even found an entry for John Mikulik/Kacsmaroszemanov. I’m not even sure how to separate out the names since Kacsmar and Szeman are both local surnames. Somehow, John Mikulik was also known as John Kacsmar and/or Szeman? I don’t know.

Sometimes, the priest entered aliases like Arendacs/Kacsmar. In those cases, there is no way to tell which is the correct name and which is the adopted alias unless the same person is found in a different record with “recte” (correctly) inserted.

My biggest surprise, though, was finding one single entry the brother of my 2X great grandmother, Maria Patorai, who married John Murcko:

Patoray recte Mikulik, Michael, son of John & Anna Szurgent, married Helen Miklus, daughter of Michael & Susanna Pathanej of on 9 February 1874

There is a second, similar entry for one John Patorai:

Patoray, John, 24, son of John Patoray recte Mikulik,  married Anna Fecsisin, 20, daughter of Peter, married 27 January 1873

Three times can’t be a coincidence, but in the baptismal entry of Susanna, the youngest child of John Scerbak and Maria Patorai, she is called “Maria Patoraj recte Mikulik.”

John Patoray and Anna Szurgent are my 3X great grandparents. Grooms Michael and John are brothers, siblings of my Maria.  I can take the Patorai line back to more generations to John’s father and grandfather, both named Andrew Patoraj.

There are no marriages to any Mikuliks in this family.

However, Patorai in all its spellings is an extremely rare surname. Did an earlier generation adopt it because Mikulik was very common in the area?

I don’t know that I’ll ever have an answer to that question, but it seems likely.

One more comment about surnames. There might or might not be a common ancestors between the Murczko and Murczko families in the Udol area. However, one was clearly Roman Catholic out of Plavnica and the other clearly Greek Catholic in Hajtovka. They even intermarried.

If they were cousins, they couldn’t have been too closely related, though, or the church would not have allowed them to marry.

It would be interesting to see DNA results from the two family groups, wouldn’t it?

Today’s takeaway is that it might take extra poking around and gathering extensive family records to determine if similar, but different, surnames pertain to one family.



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