Given Name Analysis: Single Surname Research and Community Genealogies
by Israel Pickholtz

This article appeared in Roots-Key, Volume 27, Number 3/4.
This is the way it was submitted.  Changes were made during the editing process.

In single-surname projects and in very large family databases, there is often a problem establishing a system for how to record different people with similar given names. The Given Name Analysis (developed by the Pikholz Project) makes it easier to keep track of names that appear frequently—either because they are common Jewish names or because they stem from a single ancestor. This analysis helps to prevent (or eliminate) duplicate entries in the family database, to recognize new references as existing entries and to identify possible relationships.1

Community Genealogies tend to include many names and naming patterns that appear frequently. A person with six children can easily be the direct namesake of six grandchildren or a dozen or more great-grandchildren. The name of a beloved aunt or uncle—often without children—may show up numerous times among descendants of nieces and nephews. A local or area rabbi might also be memorialized repeatedly in future generations, even among unrelated people.
Many of these names repeat in parent-child patterns, often with the same surnames as well. Two or more first cousins with the name David Goldstein, all named for the same great-grandfather, may have named their children for their recently deceased common grandfather, Jacob, creating several great-grandsons named Jacob ben David Goldstein not far apart in age. It may therefore be hard to tell which Jacob ben David is meant in a later reference, or whether the later reference refers to a heretofore unknown person with the same name.
There is also the phenomenon of the double name: giving a person two names, either after someone with two names or indicating a name from more than one source. These names may show up inconsistently in subsequent documents: one or the other or both leading a researcher to wonder, whether it the same person or not?
It can be difficult enough to keep track of all this in a Single-Surname Project (which is my own research specialty), but I imagine that in a Community Genealogy—the mixing of families over several generations—makes it even more complex.
To help my own personal research and to make it available to members of my project team, I developed a Given Name Analysis in html format. I cannot overemphasize that what I did is what fit my own needs and should not be considered a template for others, certainly not for a Community Genealogy. But the analysis I present here may be useful as a starting point, from which others can develop tools to fit their own specific needs. (I could even say that if I were building my own Given Name Analysis from scratch today, I would do it differently—but I am not sure that is true.)

Given Name Analysis: The content of the analysis
Each Jewish given name has its own page. Initially, I thought it unnecessary to have a page for a name with fewer than seven or eight appearances, but I have since decided that I was losing track of certain names that appeared only three or four times. As of now, I have pages for thirty-three male names and twenty-eight female names, some with barely a handful of appearances and some with over seventy appearances. An index of these names appears at, color-coded to indicate the number of appearances for each name. This index page also has a list of guidelines which I use, some of which I shall mention later.
One basic rule which I set for myself, is that the Given Name Analysis would include only Pikholz descendants, not spouses—the exception to that being some of the early couples, where we don't know if the Pikholz is the husband or the wife. It seems clear to me that in a Community Genealogy, that rule would be counter-productive, as a spouse from outside the community would certainly be of interest.
A second basic rule is that I have not included everyone. It seems to me to be of little value to include people born in the last decades, for I already know them three or four generations back and their given names have often deteriorated. I see little point in listing Charles (born say 1952) on the Chaim page, even assuming I know he is Chaim and not Kalman or Bezalel or Kasriel or Moshe. I decided therefore to include people born in Europe only until 1940 and people born elsewhere only until 1922.

A third basic rule is that the names on a page are more or less in birth order and include the following information:
Birth name
Moshe Hersch will appear both on the Moshe page and on the Hersch page. To save clutter and spelling variations, anyone actually named Pikholz is listed without the surname, but the given name is in blue. That would be true for birth name, parent's name or spouse's name. That is probably irrelevant for a Community Genealogy, though if a community has several common long surnames, several colors might serve a similar purpose.
Reference number in my database (Brothers' Keeper 5.2 for DOS)
The Brothers' Keeper reference number was initially for my own convenience, but I realized later that it could be useful in the "remarks" column, as in "grandson of #594" or "may be the same as #1832."
Jewish name
For the most part, I did not bother recording Jewish names, particularly when the birth name and the Jewish name were the same. Of course, if the birth name is Bernard or Leon or Frederika, the specific Jewish name would be relevant.
Place of birth and parents’ birth names
Year of birth
I have four ways to indicate birth years: known year, approximate year (such as based on age on a death record or a passenger list), birth of first child (assumes father is twenty-five and mother is twenty-two), and my own guess. I felt it important to have a visual cue to the accuracy of the birth year, so they are coded with a tilde or by color.
Place(s) lived as an adult and spouse's birth name
Date of death
I added the word "Shoah" where relevant.
Family line or source of information
The Pikholz families come from two towns in east Galicia, Skalat and Rozdol, and it is not at all clear that the two are connected. Furthermore, in each of those towns, there are a number of family lines which are probably connected to one another, but we don't know how. Each of those family lines has a page (in another section of the Pikholz Project site) and those family lines are cited—with links—on the Given Name Analysis pages. I have added background colors to the family line cells, so we know if the particular person is from the Skalat families or the Rozdol families. When the family line is not known, I cite the source of information for my reference to the person, such as Vienna birth records, New York grave, Page of Testimony, Prenumeraten list or 1926 Los Angeles Times article.
The remarks column includes comments of all sorts and occasionally I will adjust a remarks cell to include more than one line, for something such as "these two may be the same person."

This is the information which suited my needs. I chose not to include a Kohen/Levi indicator, cemetery and migration information, house number, namesake or other information, but that is strictly a matter of what I felt would be useful to me and my project team. Some of these items might be very useful in a Community Genealogy —as well as title (Rabbi, Dr, etc), when the person joined or left the community, who is named for the person, has a Page of Testimony been filed with Yad Vashem and other information. Certain types of Community Genealogy projects might want to include genetic information, perhaps using a color code, particularly when the project centers on a genetic trait. It is, however, important to strike a balance between including information and keeping it readable, especially when a number of people use the analysis pages. In my own page design, I have several columns with two pieces of information, because I wanted to avoid horizontal scrolling. (Tip of the hat to Carol Skydell for that advice.)

Given Name Analysis: Defining a given name
My most critical decision in defining a name was to be inclusive, that is to make sure that every person appears on any page where someone might look for him.
Men’s names
My Samuel page includes people who lived in the United States as "Sam" even though their birth names (and the Jewish names on their tombstones) are Schneur, Zisha, Shalom and Shimon. Of course, these men appear on their "natural" pages as well. Leib can be either Yehudah or Aryeh, so all those are on one page. The same logic works for Efraim and Yeroham, who are both known as Fischel. I don't think anyone would quarrel with that. Every Hermann goes on the Hersch page even if I don't know if that is really his name. Every Max and Markus goes on the Mordecai page, even if we know his name is Moshe. Nachman and Nathan are not related names, but since they are not common in the Pikholz Project and two Nachmans became Nathan when they left Galicia, I have them together. Same for Benjamin and Baruch. But I did not combine Jacob and Jachiel, even though at least one Jachiel went by "Jake" so shows up mistakenly as Jacob in some documents.
Women’s names
In general, the women's names are more problematic and in my actual work, I rely on those analyses much less than on the men's. When I used the above logic with Yehudit and Esther—since Etta, Yetta, Itta and others straddle that divide—some took issue. They are probably right, but only because this page has become unwieldy, with sixty-three entries as of this writing.
There are no hard and fast rules here that will fit every project. You have to see what names you have, with what frequency they appear, what variations and nicknames were used, and decide what works best for you and your project team. It helps to be consistent.

Given Name Analysis: Why do it this way at all?
This form of Given Name Analysis is very high-maintenance. Every new piece of information requires me to update pages, sometime many of them. When I learned that the maiden name of the wife of Hersch Pickholz from Stryj is Taub, I had to go to the fourteen pages with her children's given names and enter that information. When I learned that Yakov Pikholz of Skalat was the son of Peretz and Perl, I had to go to all the pages for Yakov's descendants and change the family line from "Barney" to "Irene."  I get a correct birth date and I have to move someone up or down on the page. Add a death date here and a birthplace there, it adds up to a lot of work. A genealogist friend in Beer Sheva thinks this is all quite unnecessary. He says that whenever he gets a new reference, he simply asks his database to show him everyone else with that given name and he looks to see if the reference is indeed new. I, on the other hand, see a 1926 Los Angeles Times article about a singer named Aaron Pickholz and I have to go to my Aaron page and start analyzing. Why do that if Brothers' Keeper (or any other genealogy software  program) can spit it out on demand?  Here’s why:
Izak, Isaac, Ajzek, Icyk, Eisig, Yitzhak, Tzahi, Itzig and others are all the same. Does your genealogy  program know that?
Multiple given names
Can your genealogy program learn to put David Samuel on both the David page and the Samuel page?
Added names
My grandfather had the name Chaim added during an illness. I therefore want him on the Chaim page, in addition to his natural Mendel page, but my genealogy program does not know that. (In the "remarks" column, I mention that Chaim had been added.)
Variants and special name consideration
Can your genealogy program consider the variations (secular and Jewish) of Mordecai and others like it? Can we expect it to handle the Samuel, Schneur, Zisha, Shalom, Shimon cases?
Limiting the data
Can the genealogy program include only results from the relevant parts of the database?  For the Pikholz Project, I want only descendants, not spouses, but can it know to include both husband and wife when we don't know which is the Pikholz. Can it exclude my wife's family, my mother's family, my grandmother's family, etc. Can the genealogy program learn to exclude births after 1940 and non-European births after 1922, even if I have not included birth year and/or birthplace in the database?
What about the project team?
Let's say I know how to get the genealogy program to produce the desired results?  Can I reasonably expect the rest of the project team to do this as well?

But all that is technical—here is the most important reason. Having a set of fixed pages brings me to look at them from time to time, most obviously when I have to amend one of the pages. Every time I go back to data of this sort, there is the possibility that I will recognize something that I had not seen before or that I had not known enough to recognize before. It is the same logic as my multi-step filing system, whereby I must physically handle every piece of paper at least three times over a year or two, before it finds its final resting place.
Last but not least, my trump card! It is my project and I do it the way it works best for me. (That is also the answer to "Why html, not say Excel?")

As I said at the start of this essay, this is not meant to present a template, but merely to show what works for my particular project, my particular data and my particular way of looking at things. If it has introduced some ideas that fit another person with a different type of project, then it will have been worth my writing and your reading.