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“What Can We Learn about Our Ancestors from Jewish Surnames Adopted in the Russian Empire?” by Alexander Beider

  • 27 Feb 2022
  • 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
  • Details to be announced soon.

Russian Jewish surnames is focus of Alexander Beider talk for JGS of Illinois on Feb. 27

“What Can We Learn about Our Ancestors from Jewish Surnames Adopted in the Russian Empire?” will be the topic of a presentation by the scholarly author Alexander Beider for the Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, virtual meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois at 2 p.m. CST. Registration/RSVP details will be forthcoming.

A large majority of Jews of the Russian Empire received their family names only about 200 years ago, Beider says. In contrast with many other Ashkenazim, the whole surnaming process was managed internally within Jewish communities, with marginal participation by Christian clerks. As a result, the names adopted in the Russian Empire reflect a panorama of Jewish life at the beginning of the 19th century including: languages used and their peculiarities, occupations, given names, and places of settlement.

Some surnames provide information about ancestors who lived well before the 19th century, according to Alexander. This is the case of surnames revealing Jewish “castes” (Cohanim, Levites), those belonging to rabbinical dynasties, and those of other migrants from Central Europe, as well as a small group of names of Sephardic origin. Because of the Ashkenazic tradition of naming children after deceased close relatives (often, ancestors), certain surnames based on given names (patronymics or matronymics) can provide information linking us to those who lived in the Middle Ages.

Alexander Beider holds one doctoral degree in applied mathematics (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) and another in Jewish Studies (Sorbonne, Paris). He uses onomastics and linguistics as tools to unravel the history of the Jewish people. He has written a series of reference books dealing with the etymology of Ashkenazic and Sephardic surnames and Ashkenazic given names, all published by Avotaynu Inc. (1993-2019). His book “Origins of Yiddish Dialects,” published by Oxford University Press (2015), sheds light on the early stages of the development of Yiddish. Beider was born in Moscow and currently lives in Paris.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping members collect, preserve, and perpetuate the records and history of their ancestors. JGSI is a resource for the worldwide Jewish community to research their Chicago-area roots. The JGSI motto is “Members Helping Members Since 1981.” The group has more than 300 members and is affiliated with the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

JGSI members have access to useful and informative online family history research resources, including a members’ forum, more than 65 video recordings of past speakers’ presentations, monthly JGSI E-News, quarterly Morasha JGSI newsletter, and much more. Members as well as non-members can look for their ancestors on the free searchable JGSI Jewish Chicago Database.


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