Saturday, September 13, 2014

What's My Name?

My surname is Noznick--or is it?
My surname has been problematic for most of my life.  It is often mispronounced unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally.  I have had some strange nicknames derived from my last name--like nozzie or just noz.  So I always assumed that when I married, I would change my name immediately.  But, I didn't.  My husband's surname, Gerstein, is fairly common, easy to spell and pronounce.  So why didn't I change?  When I got married, in 1981, many women did not change their names when they married, and I was also a bit lazy, so I just kept the status quo.
Now I will get to the interesting part.  In spite of keeping this surname, I have found out in my genealogical research, that Noznick isn't my family surname at all.  My real surname is Nyznyk. 

Many people assume that surnames were changed when people went through Ellis Island--but actually that didn't happen.  An immigrant's name was recorded on ships' manifests at the port of embarkation, and written according to the immigrant's passport.  When the person got to Ellis Island, that manifest was copied, often in longhand, and the immigrant's personal information was recorded.  From what I have seen, nothing was changed at this time.

Many immigrants changed, shortened or Americanized their names after they were in the United States.  On my side of the family, my mother's family name went from Kociuba to Koshuba.   My grandmother's surname, Rychlyj, was changed to either Rychly or Rychley.  In my husband's family, his grandmother's surname was changed from Monkovski, to Markin by some cousins. Karbovsky was changed to Krause in the 1930's. In the Gerstein family, his great Aunt's Biele Schwartz's married name was changed from Mankevetsky---to Mancoff. Her first name became Becky.

Peter Noznick in Central Park, NYC,about 1930.

So, how did Nyznyk become Noznick?  First of all, there is no evidence that the name was legally changed. My father found this out when he applied for a passport in 1965. He found no records under  Peter Paul Noznick, born August 18, 1915, in New York City.  He made a trip to New York City to locate information that would prove his identity.   He found his birth certificate,  his last name was spelled Nausneck--no first name listed.  More searching located his baptismal certificate and his parent's marriage license.  On both of these documents the name was spelled Nyznyj. His father's name was written in Latin as Ionnes Nyznyj--in English he was John Nyznyk.  My Dad still could not prove that Peter Paul Nyznyj was Peter Paul Noznick. 

1930 United States Census, listing the Noznick family.
I came across on of my Dad's report card with his name listed as Noznick. He signed his mother's name to the card as Mary Noznick.  In 1930, she was married  to Peter Zackowski and was known as Mary Zackowski.  In the 1930 census, I found the Noznick family at 624 E. Eleventh St, NYC, which was the address where my Dad told me he lived.  I believe that my Dad gave the census taker the information since both his parents worked three jobs, and were not at home.  The head of the house was listed as John Noznick, wife as Mary Noznick and son as Peter Noznick.  According to his application for US citizenship, dated 1930, my Dad's father, John Nyznyk, lived at 533 E. 6th St, his occupation was upholsterer. But In the 1960's, the 1930 Census information was not available and my father did not know that his father applied for United States citizenship.

John Nyznyk's application for US Citizenship, 1930.

How did he solve the problem of establishing his identity?   He did get the passport and made the trip abroad.  He obtained an affidavit stating that he was Peter Noznick and had been known by that name since high school. 

My Dad in the 1934 Crystal, the yearbook of Windham High School.

How did Nyznyk become Noznick? The fact that his mother was illiterate, and did not speak English very well may have contributed to the transformation of nyznyk to noznick.  Since the name sounded a bit like noznick,  he became Peter Noznick. Perhaps the teachers knew of the Noznick family, who lived in New York City, and spelled my dad's surname in a was that was familiar to them.    My Dad's father was literate, so his name was never changed, misspelled or mangled like my Dad's was.

So what about the Noznick surname? It is an uncommon name, but  as I researched my family history, I found there were several Noznick families living in New York City.  I have no idea what their ethnic background was, and I have found no family connection with any of these people.