In Colonial America, the Converso/Crypto Sephardic Jews, finally felt safely out of the reach of the terrifying clutches of the Inquisition. They were free to practice what vestiges they had left of their religion. Many parents sought to give their children names which reflected their true heritage. If you read no more of this post, what you can take from this introductory paragraph is; if you have an Uncle ALONZO, who is not Hispanic, and/or your last name is PERRY, you are most likely a descendant of the Sephardic Jews. In order for me to teach you what to look for in your genealogy, I will show you examples in my own genealogy and perhaps you might even recognize them as your own.
Elizabeth C. Hirschman in her book Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America, described naming patterns unique to Colonial America and some Melungeon families. While in England, Crypto-Converso Sephardic Jews gave their children traditional English names such as William, Elizabeth and James. After arriving in American colonies they relaxed, and named their children, what I will label as “safe” Jewish Biblical names. As they gathered together on the American frontier especially during The Melungeon Migration in the late 1700-a to the early 1800’s; many felt comfortable in the wilderness to name their children unique Sephardic Melungeon names.
Samuel ALLEN born 1567 in England married an unknown wife. They were the parents of children with typical English names:
Thomas, Francis, Rose, Ralph, George, William, Matthew, Walter,
Samuel’s great grandson American Nathaniel ALLIN 1648 married to Mary FRIZZELL 1656 named all, but one of their children (Edward), with what I will label as “safe” Biblical names:
Edward, Samuel, James, Nathaniel, Sarah, Mary, Benjamin, John, Ebenezer,
Nathaniel’s grandson John ALLIN born in 1712 married to Huldah Hill 1718 named their children: Ira ALLEN
Hanah, Mary, John, Amos, James, and Jesse; all “safe” Jewish names
and Eliakim and Finis which are Sephardic names.
Notice while in England the surname is ALLEN. Once in the safety of the American Colonies, ALLEN changes to ALLIN. Perhaps as a reminder of once ALI.
The Sephardic women were persistent in keeping the faith alive in their families. While in Spain, because the synagogues were shut down, the men were left spiritually adrift because had they lost the means and ways of worship. Jewish women had always practiced their faith at home; performing the prayers and rituals necessary for a proper Jewish home. During the Inquisition, and later in Western Europe as practicing Crypto-Jews, it was the women who kept the faith alive. While researching possible Sephardic lines, it is necessary to look closely at the women’s lines. Often it was women who made converts of their husbands, or at least converted their children.
Consider my HOLCOMBE line, or as I like say, “my kin to Jesus line”, which runs back into England, thru France, Spain and into the High Rabbis of Babylonia. I believe the HOLCOMBE descendants were some kind of varying degree of Crypto/Converso Sephardic Jewish. My GGGG-Grandmother Keziah MESSENGER BENSON had three HOLCOMBE great-grandmothers who were closely related as two were sisters and the other one an aunt of the sisters. It is also interesting to note both my husband and I come from these lines and an additional line in my mother’s side also converges farther up. My children carry a good amount of HOLCOMBE DNA.
The male MESSENGER/MESSINGER line marries into the female HOLCOMBE line.
Andrew MESSENGER born 1588 in England married Sarah. They had three sons with English names:
Edward, Andrew, and Henry
Grandson Nathaniel MESSENGER born 1653 in America married Rebecca KELSEY born 1660, who is a descendant of John HOPKINS, who may or may not, have been related to Stephen HOPKINS the Pilgrim.
Nathaniel and Rebecca’s children:
a typical Puritan name of Return
and then “safe” Jewish names for Hannah, Joseph, Nathan/Nathaniel, John, and Rebecca.
Son Joseph, using the Jewish spelling of MESSINGER, and wife Katherine HOLCOMBE have the Jewish names of Isaiah, Ezekial, Sarah, Elijah, Isaac, Joseph, Nathaniel and Jeheil; with one typical english name of Catherine.
Son Isaac born 1717 married to Hannah ALFORD. ALFORD name is also spelled as ALVORD and ALVARD. ALVARD is close to several Sephardic Spanish names such as ALVEREZ and ALVARDO. They named their children a less safe Jewish combination of names such as: Dorcas, Simeon, Joseph, Hannah, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, Rueben, Elisha and Abner. The last three are typically Sephardic such as Rosy, after the Sephardic symbol the rose; Keziah and good ole’ Uncle Carmi.
Joseph MESSENGER the son of the previous ISaac, born 1741 marred Jemima BARBER. Jemima also a Sephardic name. It is interesting to note, there is no record of Joseph and Jemima being married in a church. I suggest they followed the Crypto-Jewish practice of a marriage ceremony in a private home. Joseph and Jemima’s granddaughter Keziah MESSENGER married her husband Benjamin BENSON at a private home in a different county than either resided, despite a number of churches in the proximity to their parent’s homes. The MESSENGER children are:
Joseph, Cornish (family surname), Jemima, Heman, Zebina, Ebenezer, Jediah and Keziah. They also have Elva, a strictly Sephardic name, Chloe and Rhoda typical Melungeon names.
I have spent a considerable amount of time on direct and indirect lines. I saw this pattern repeated a number of times; where while in Europe the names were typical English names such as Henry, William and Katherine. Later in the Americas the names became increasingly Sephardic as in Keziah, Eliakim, and Carmi.
Thanks to the valiant efforts of family historians. I was able to traverse thru large files of my New England family lines. My efforts were rewarded as I found scores of Sephardic names. Here is a small sampling of Jewish names in the ALLEN, VAIL/VAILE, MESSENGER/MESSINGER,BENSON and related lines.
SAMPLING OF SEPHARDIC NAMES
ALEXANDER Alford 1521
LAZARUS Twitchell 1594
SUSANNA Skelton 1620
PELEG Lawrence 1647
EZEKIAL Marsh 1648
ABIEL Twitchell 1663
ELEAZAR Partridge 1664
BETHIA Twitchell 1665
JONA Hill 1691
BARAUCH Pond 1702
ZERIUAH Leavens 1718
ABIJAH Phelps 1734
JEMIMA Barber 1741
BILDAD Barber 1745
ElLIAKIM Allin/Allen 1754
ELNASHAI Benson 1756
SOLOMON Snow 1759
EBER Alford 1760
ELNATHAN Benson 1760
ZEBINA Messenger 1772
ELVA Messenger 1775
MARIAH Benson 1775
ASA Allin/Allen 1776
SIMEON Allen 1779
KEZIAH Messenger 1779
ELIHUE Messenger 1783
OLIVE Benson 1784
ElVIRA Vail 1792
WELTHEA Vail 1795
ALVAH Benson 1799
JUDE Allen 1810
SABRA Messenger 1815
ALONZO Henry Snow 1854
ALPHONZO Houtz Snow 1858
Thomas LORENZO Van Noy 1866
Albert ALONZO Savage 1886
EMMANUEL Preece Nelson 1887
Mary ELVIRA Nelson 1891
Most names were verified at the Sephardim Genealogy website archived by Harvard University managed by Harry Stein www.separdim.com and http://www.sephardicgen.com/ site by Jeffrey S. Malka author of Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World
Names beginning with EL (such as EL-mira) were usually Jewish in origin. AL names (such as AL-mira) were Islamic in origin. I have both types in my family. THe MESSENGER-BENSON line was especially fond of AL names such as GGG-Grandfather Alvah BENSON. It is interesting to note Grandpa Alvah’s granddaughter recounts how Grandpa would prostrate himself on the ground while in secret prayer. It sounds similar to how the Muslims pray. The Converso Moriscoes/Moors retained this type of prayer from Islam.
Cynthia VAIL and Alvah BENSON
I did find some really over the top strange names that are extremely telling on the heritage of these supposably English people:
Very Unusual Sephardic Names
SALAMAN (Sephardic) Alford 1545
AFIEL (from Za’Afiel in the Kabbalah) Twitchell 1665 Martha Tyresha VAIL
DIADEMA (Sephardic) Snow 1756
FINIS (Sephardic) Allin 1765
CARMI (North African Sephardic) Messenger 1771
HIRA (Arabic-the cave where Mohamed read revelation from Angel Gabriel) Messenger 1772
ELIPHALET (Sephardic) Alford 1777
ARBA (Sephardic) Alford 1779
William AHIRA (from Kabbalah –Hanukah) Messenger 1805
Ruth ZERINA (Islamic) Messenger 1816
AFFA (Atta or Afaf Islamic) Messenger 1825
Isadore Percy SINA (Sephardic Holland) Snow 1855
Sarah ALVILDA (Spanish Sephardic) Mecham 1858
ELAM (Persian Hebrew) Allen 1862
Laurin ALVIRAS (Spanish Sephardic) Snow 1863
James CYRUS (Greek) Allen 1869
Laura ALLEN and Joseph SAVAGE family
last row right Uncle ALONZO Savage
Albert ALONZO (Spanish Sephardic) Savage 1886
RHODA ARMINTA (Sephardic) Davis 1887
VEDA (Sephardic-Turkish) Ann Nelson 1893
Mary ELVIRA (Sephardic) Nelson 1901
John QUE (Sephardic) Nelson 1904
Consider surnames as well. If your surname is Biblical for instance, AARON, ADAMS, DAVID, JOSEPH, SAMUEL, ISREAL etc… it is likely you have a Jewish background. Unlike the Ashkenazi of Europe, the Sephardic Jews and Moors had surnames that stretch back hundreds of years. Remember how the Sephardic Jews were notorious for adapting well to another culture? The Sephardim would adapt their surname to the new host country. Some possible examples:
BENSON could be any of a endless list of BEN names since BEN means son.
BERRY- is a Sephardic family surname
BRISCOE- derivative of MORISCOE (Spanish Moors who suffered the same fate as the Sephardim)
(de/da)COSTA-prominet Sephardic surname
FRANKS- prominent Sephardic and found in Ashkenazi families too.
HALE -HA LEVI
HARTLEY- HART is a prominent Sephardic surname. When children from wealthy and/or prominent Sephardic families marry, their surname is hyphened. For example HART-LEVI. Later, the Converso/Crypto descendants adapt their name.
HENDRY/HENDRIX/HENDRICK – HENRIQUE
IBSEN-IBN (son of)
LYONS- Sephardic name
NUNES- common Sephardic name
OLIVER- Olive and all it’s variations
STEELE- CASTILE/ CASTEEL
VALE/VAIL/VAILE/duVAL/ deVAL- Sephardic surname