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16421Re: Surnames

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  • Paul Guzowski
    Jan 15, 2007
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      Fran et al,
      I'm new to this group, am no expert, and have only just started researching
      my own heritage on my dad's side which is Polish. I have encountered some of
      the same problems you have in trying to trace my roots. I am living and
      working in Central/Eastern Europe for over five years now and have been in
      Bratislava, Slovakia, since November 2005 so offer a couple of observations
      that may be of assistance.
      First, if you knew when your grandfather immigrated to the US it would be a
      big help. The borders in this part of Europe changed drastically after WWI
      with the June 1920 Treaty of Trianon, the treaty that dissolved the Kingdom
      of Hungary of which present-day Slovakia was a part. You can find more
      detail here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Trianon . The Czechs
      declared their independence on 28 October 1918 and the Slovaks joined them
      two days later forming the first Republic of Czechoslovakia. My reading of
      Slovak history doesn't indicate much migration away from the family's
      original seat during those days. However, it is entirely possible that
      either or both of them originally came from what is the northern part of
      modern-day Hungary or the eastern part of the modern Czech Republic (e.g.
      Secondly, both family and given names can present a problem. My grandfather
      changed his name from Franciszek to Frank to ease pronunciation for Americans
      and to avoid highlighting himself. I found a table comparing English,
      German, and Polish given names that helped me a lot here:
      http://www.sggee.org/AlternateChristianNames.pdf. Maybe something similar
      exists for Slovak given names. In any case, I'd be willing to wager a mug of
      Zlaty Bazant beer that his given name was FrantiĊĦek, which is very common
      Family names can be problematic, too. Most Slavic languages differentiate
      between male and female with an ending on the family name. For example, my
      grandmother was Stanislawa Jasinska in Poland but in the US it became
      Jasinski, just as it did for her mother. In Slovak, all female family names
      (at least all that I have encountered) end in 'ova' hence your grandmother's
      family name would have been Petyakova as would her mother's.
      There are two other nuances to be aware of concerning names. First, while
      Czech family names present no problem for Slovaks except for a few minor
      differences in pronunciation due to slightly different alphabets, Hungarian
      names are another story. For one thing, in Hungarian the family name is
      given first followed by the given name. Also, there are some family names
      (mostly stemming from trades like smith, tailor, etc) which exist in both
      languages and are even pronounced the same but are spelled differently due to
      the different alphabets. To add to the confusion, towns and cities in public
      records could have different names or spellings depending on which country
      they were a part of at the time. For example, Bratislava was Pressburg to
      the Austrians and Pozsony to the Hungarians.
      That said Petyak does sound Slavic to me, lots of Petyaks show up in PA when
      doing a Google search, and lots of Slovaks emigrated to PA. Kumer sounds
      German. Germans established the mining industry in central Slovakia so your
      grandfather's heritage could have been German but I have also found reference
      to it as a Slovene name in some genealogy resources.
      In sum, knowing the precise date of your grandparents' arrival in the US and
      their names in Slovak would probably help immensely in unraveling the
      mystery. As a postscript, I'm reading a book now called "Polish Roots" by
      Maryanne Chorzempa that has lots of great information about genealogy
      research in this part of Europe, including some Slovak references. You may
      want to see if your library has a copy. As I said, I'm no expert but hope
      these few insights might help.

      Good Luck!

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