Donna, I would like to address your statement that it is sad that people's
names were "ripped to pieces." When we find changes in our ancestors' names
or their names rendered with different spellings, it is an opportunity to
learn why and how it relates to history, language, and culture. Bill
Tarkulich has included in his website an excellent article written for Ellis
Island on name changes after immigration
this is only part of the story, because, as Paula learned, many name changes
took place long before then.
First, spelling of names was not standardized as it is today.
Pronunciation was more important than the spelling, Even an individual might
spell his name more than one way. I doubt very much that your
great-grandfather was troubled by changing his spelling from Lacsni to
Lachney; in fact, he probably changed it so that Americans would find it
easier to pronounce. Spelling also reflected language differences. The same
sounds are spelled somewhat differently in Slovak and in Hungarian. If you
have done much searching in the church records, you will see these changes
as the records change from Latin to Hungarian to Slovak. The reasons for the
written language changes can be found in the history of the region. Yet
pronunciation probably did not change.
Second, people's names sometimes were changed deliberately for a
great variety of reasons. Paula's Wollek to Bohm is a good example. Some had
to do with distinguishing oneself from others with the same name in a
village, some were changed to gain social or political advantage, and there
may be some who changed their names to hide from authorities. The records
are filled with aliases. Some of these changes are recorded in official
records, especially during the late 19th century, but not all of them,
especially earlier ones. And not all of these changes were necessarily
abrupt. An individual might be known in one place with one name and by a
different one in another place, at the same time.
All of this is to say that we should not get hung up on "correct"
names or spellings. Tracing name changes, when it is possible to do so, can
help us understand history, both in terms of politics and in terms of
individuals, and in the end give us a fuller picture of the personal lives
of our ancestors.