I’ve encountered an issue about our ancestors’ names. In short, I’ve had another volunteer who works to photograph and transcribe grave stones state I should “fix” my records because I am not transcribing correctly. I disagree and I will use your input to make decisions on how to proceed eventually. My practice is, whenever I have proof, I provide both the Polish and Americanized version of our ancestors’ names as well use the male version of the last name. I say “proof” as in the death certificate may provide an American name, the obit may use an American name or the male version of the surname, etc. I feel reasonably certain that this is how they were known in their communities by their friends and family; that is how their stories were handed down to us. There then may be what appears to be a discrepancy to an outsider that their gravestones may reflect a different name or a different spelling. However, that may not be known to their descendants.

I know many of the readers here have direct connections to Polish ancestors–your grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Many of our ancestors who came here during the 1880s and forward were given, obviously, Polish first names. As our ancestors came here, they adopted Americanized names–for example, Andrew for Andrezj, Frances for Francziska, John for Jan, Stanley for Stanislaus, Bernice for Bronislawa, Hedwig or Hattie for Jadwiga, and so on. Often, their children were also baptized with Polish first names and those names were not used. Another name was used. This theme is obvious in my family until perhaps the 1920s or 1930s. One needs only to read the baptismal registries from St. Hedwig or St. Anthony to see this! My grandmother was baptized as “Anastazja” but she was well-known by her friends and family as “Nettie.” Her gravestone reads “Anastasia” and she signed documents in this way. However, a great-aunt was known as “Bernice” but her stone reads “Bronislawa.” She was known for nearly all of her life in the US as “Bernice.”

My question to you is this: How do you know the persons in your family research? Were they communicated to you by other family members using their Polish names or their Americanized names? In my family, it was nearly always using their Americanized names. My grandfather was never called Wladyslaw but Walter, as was his son Waclaw.

If you google or go to an ancestry site to look for your ancestors, do you search using Polish first names or another name? Would you have known what their Polish given name was when you began to seek them? My experience when I began, I started with my grandfather and grandmother–Helena and Walter Mierzejewski. I was aware that Walter’s first name was probably Americanized but would not have known exactly what it was. After all, Walter was the name provided on my dad’s birth certificate as his father!  My father always referred to his father and his brother as “Walter” when discussing them. Unfortunately, both of my grandparents and my uncle were dead before I was born, so I could not ask. And while I don’t have a photo yet of my Uncle Walter’s grave, I might totally throw others into a real tizzy: Walter may have “Waclaw Mierzejewski” on his stone; and yet, he legally changed his name to “Walter Myers.” What is on the stone may or may not be what is listed on official records or how they were truly known to their communities. To me, it makes clear sense to index and insert those names in a way they can be found. If someone is searching for Walter Myers, how should his stone be indexed such that it can be found–if indeed, the stone reads”Waclaw Mierzejewski?”(It very well could, son died before mother and mother had strong ties to Poland, but I do not know yet, I have not found his stone yet–I’m using this name as an example.)

I cannot say why that sometimes it seems as if Poles used Americanized names but their families provided stones with their Polish names; all I know is that it happened and if grave data and photos are used in genealogy, does it not make sense to index these records in a way that reflects both names?

My goal: to provide not only accurate data but to provide it in a way that is searchable and find-able. Genealogy is meant for sharing, and it just seems to me that if someone was known in his or her community by a name other than what is on his or her gravestone, that data needs to be provided up front for searching. Am I wrong or right? Or somewhere in between? Hit me with your best shot, fire away! Drop me an email or leave a comment here. I promise to follow up within a day or so.