Iudel FINGERBREN was my great-great-grandfather. We don’t know a lot about him, but he is most notable for having changed the family name to ADELSON.
There was no real differentiation between “I” and “J” in that part of the Russian Empire, so his first name could be transliterated as Judel. Had he moved to the West, he might have adopted the name Julius.
Iudel was born in 1852 in Jonava, Lithuania, second child and first son of Sholom and Rivka ELIOVICH FINGERBREN. It is likely that he followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a blacksmith. – the name FINGERBREN means something like “burned fingers”.
On 22 Dec 1872 (22 Kislev 5633), Iudel married Liba Rivka “Riva” ZELIKOVICH in Jonava. Both participants are listed as age 20, and given the lateness of the calendar, we can be relatively certain about the 1852 date of birth.
Something then happened a few years later to cause a change of surname to ADELSON. The story my grandfather told was that there was an alphabetic draft in Lithuania, and when they got to about “D”, Iudel changed the family name from FINGERBREN to ADELSON. I thought that rather clever, but it’s also not true.
But, like most family stories, there’s a kernel of truth involved. In 1874 the Russian Empire conducted an alphabetical survey of males, down to young children. It is unclear why this survey was conducted, whether for taxation or conscription, but those in the area would have an interest in avoiding this list (or voiding the information collected) either way. It was in this time period that Iudel began using a name other than FINGERBREN, and likely for this reason.
Iudel and Riva had six children between 1878 and 1892: Elkhanon Mikhel (Chona), Itskhak Ber, Meyer Leiba, Mordkhel, Girsh Zalomon, and one daughter, Rokha. Birth records for the eldest three children name them as ODESON, and the birth record for Girsh is ODELSON, as are the death records of Girsh and Mordkhel, both of whom died young. ADELSON was not a rare name in the area, but Iudel appears to have evolved into it over time.
Why didn’t anyone else in the family change their names? Probably a matter of age. Iudel’s father was nearly 60, and his brothers were 14 and 4. Iudel, at 22, was a prime candidate for conscription.
Son Chona moved to Vilnius in 1895, and it is probable that he moved with his family. The name Iudel ADELSON, son of Sholom, appears on the 1906 Vilna (city) State Duma Elections voter list, so we know he died sometime after that, and prior to his wife’s death in 1922 as a widow.
It seems likely that there were once photographs of Iudel. However, given that mine is the only line to have survived, and I don’t have it, those photos are likely lost. There is a small chance that Iudel lived long enough to get an Lithuanian Internal Passport (identification papers) in post-WWI Lithuania, which would contain a photo. If so, those records await in the Lithuanian State Archives to be translated.