Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Nicknames and Enumerators

One of those areas designed to drive a genealogist to distraction is the realm of pet names. Nicknames have likely been around as long as have the names they were crafted to replace. Consider the longest name in one record of antiquity, the Bible: Mahershalalhashbaz. What do you suppose his buddies called him?

Granted, most nicknames are derived from more manageable proper names. But even then, there is wiggle room. Most people, for instance, can readily tell you the nickname for the inconveniently three-syllable-long woman’s name Margaret would be Maggie.

Or is it Marge? What about Meg? Or Peggy?

See? There are multiple possibilities.

When it comes to the reverse process—determining an unknown given name, based on the nickname we do know—there likewise is such a challenge.

Consider Mayme, the possible nickname of the wife of my grandmother’s brother, Michael Lasko. In searching for listings of traditional substitutionary names, I found a number of resources. All confirmed what readers here had mentioned in the comments yesterday: Mayme is likely a nickname for the given name, Mary. But it could also be a nickname for Margaret, according to the wiki, “Traditional Nicknames in Old Documents.” (If you’re curious, here’s their Nickname to Formal Name chart here. And, for those wishing to reverse the process, the US GenWeb Project page, Common Nicknames, also comes in handy.)

Let’s go ahead and test out that hypothesis. What can be found for a Michael and Mary Lasko in either Brooklyn or Queens in New York City?

I had actually started on this pursuit years ago, when I hadn’t yet found enough material to substantiate the possibility. I had poked around on the Italian Genealogical Group website (remember, it's not just for Italians) to find any New York City grooms by the name, Michael Lasko.

There was one: a man whose Brooklyn marriage in April, 1909, was to a bride named Mary Hecker. The only other possibility in that database during that time frame was for a Max Lasko who married in 1917. There were no results for a Michael Laskowski.

Granted, the database was limited. Besides the time frames, there was also the parameter of city boroughs—some had records available for a greater time span than others. For instance, I still can’t find my own grandmother’s marriage record—neither at this website nor in the old-fashioned way, cranking through microfilms. I suspect the city wasn’t too efficient at keeping records of such activities back then.

What if our Miczislaus Laskowski was really this Michael Lasko? Did he marry Mary Hecker on April 14, 1909? What else can we find on this couple?

As has already been mentioned—thanks to a link provided by Intense Guy—there was a Michael and Mary Lasko, living in Brooklyn at the time of the 1920 census. Likewise—although indexed under the spelling “Laska”—for the 1930 census. And again, back to the usual spelling, for the 1940 census.

This same Michael Lasko, on the same Bleecker Street in Brooklyn where he resided at the time of the 1920 census, also completed his Registration Card during the first World War—although his status as an alien born in “Germany” likely didn’t go over too well at the time, despite his attempt at tempering the condition by qualifying himself as a “declared” alien. (Nor have I been able to locate any such Declaration paperwork online, in following up on that assertion.)

Still, these few documents do provide some clues to encourage us. Michael’s Registration Card, for one thing, indicated the name of his wife to be Mary. The card also provided his occupation—a cooper—which happens to be the same occupation of his older brother, John Laskowski.

Best of all—just as had happened when the census enumerator had stopped at Michael’s father’s household in Brooklyn that year—for “place of birth” was indicated not the country, but the region where Michael was born. And, like Antoni Laskowski before him, Michael was apparently also born in the invaded region of Poland the Germans called Posen.

In other words, Michael was born in PoznaƄ.

I’d say we’ve found the right family.

Above: Excerpt from the 1920 United States Census, New York City borough of Brooklyn, on Bleecker Street; courtesy  


  1. Jacqi. I share your frustration with nicknames. When I spoke to my mother in law to gather information on her Italian family, everyone had a nickname & most had no relation to their actual name.

    1. Oh, Colleen, that would be frustrating, indeed!

      I have no Italian relatives, so I never had to deal with that challenge, but working through this problem did call to mind the difficulty of reading certain Russian novels, with their constantly-changing names of characters.

  2. The best part of this is - you found some really close (1st) cousins!

    1. Absolutely, Iggy! I'm elated! And you're right: these would be first cousins to my father...cousins I had no idea he had.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes! As long as this is the right Michael and Mary, this is an exciting breakthrough.


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