Never Assume the Name is Correct!

What was my father’s intended first name? Did he even know? I remember watching him speak of being named Mark but then he said “I changed it to Martin.” He was so nonchalant about it. Why? When?

In my mother’s family, at least three of her siblings were always called by their middle names. The explanation was that they had to be named after a saint, so my grandparents chose a saint’s name as their first name, but then called them by their preferred name—their middle name. (This can explain why you may be unable to find a relative in a genealogy search.)

I researched saint’s names at the time of my father’s birth in 1919, and found that there were several saints by the name of Martin, so I am confused. If my father’s parents did not know that Martin was a saint’s name, why didn’t they do what my other grandparent’s did and give him the middle name of Martin?

I learned that does not conform to the Russian-naming convention, where a child’s middle name—referred to as the patronymic name—consisted of the first name of the father plus a suffix which means “son of” or “daughter of.” Since my grandfather was named Vasily, the middle name of my father and his two brothers should have been some form of “Vasilyovich.” This was confirmed by my Uncle Tony’s death certificate, whose name was stated as “Anton Vasilevich.” Aha! I rest my case.

Therefore, he should have been “Martin Vasilevich.” So I wonder, when did my grandparents begin calling him Martin? Was it after they left the church service when he was baptized, or was it his choice to be called Martin, and they just agreed?

After hearing him claim that his real name was Mark, I always assumed he was baptized with the name Mark, but that was not the case. I have the original baptismal certificate where the name was recorded as “Marek!” (What the heck?)

Martin Wardamasky-Baptism

I looked for the answer to when his name was changed by first looking for the 1920 Census, but after eight years of searching, including looking at all fifty-five pages of the Rockaway, New Jersey Census, I have not been able to locate his family during that census year. (Sometimes you need to look at every single page, but that did not help me.) By 1930, my father was called Martin, and on every other document during his entire life, his first name was always “Martin.” (His last name is a very different story.) So the change happened sometime between his birth and his eleventh birthday.

I then discovered that there was at least one time, while he was serving in the war and stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, that another name (not Mark or Martin) popped up on a list which consisted of four officers who were escorting one hundred fifty enlisted men on a train to Florida.

I have a unique last name, and I know my father was on that train. The name on the list was not Mark or Martin or Marvin or Matthew. Any of those I could have accepted, but for the life of me, the name on the list was inexplicable. It was Walter. Really, Dad? Walter? I am speechless. This is why genealogy research is so frustrating! Sometimes, you need to throw the first name out the window when looking for someone!

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About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as ancestry.com, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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