Block / Schnitz… What’s in a name?

This is a (very) slight extension of research I sent to close family a little while back, but I think it’s an interesting example of genealogical investigation, and it’s good to capture for “posterity”. This research involves my great-grandfather, who was known in the U.S. as Alex BLOCK, but whose birth name appears to have been Elias SCHNITZ.

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Alex Block and children (Sadie, Frieda, Ann, David), c. 1930.  This is the only photo I have of Alex, who died in 1939.

What was Alex Block’s birth name?

When Alex’s sister, Sora ABRAMOWICZ (a.k.a. Sarah BLOCK MARCUS) arrived in the US in 1909, her ship manifest listed her closest relative in her origin country as what looks like father Schaje Schmitt:

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“father: Schaje Schmitt / Berzany ??? / Gb Kowno Russia”

Of course, this wasn’t Sarah writing, it was someone writing down what they heard. The town is Verzany, modern Veivirženai, Lithuania, but at the time in the Kovno gubernia of the Russian Empire.

The first name could be Shraga, or more likely (if they were familiar with the European “j” being effectively a “y”) Shae.  Death certificates for Alex and Sarah say their father’s name was “Sam” or “Siras”, respectively, and the Hebrew on Alex’s gravestone says Isaiah. But obviously the thing that stands out is the surname, which is NOT the expected BLOCK.

In 2014, ancestry.com made available a collection of Texas State Naturalization Papers, included in which are those of Alex BLOCK. One very important pieces of information therein is the immigration ship name and arrival date, SS Belgravia, arriving in New York on 17 December,1903.

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SS Belgravia (launched 1899).  This is NOT a family postcard, just a useful picture.

Those ship manifest records are on-line, and knowing that people sometimes misremember dates, I looked a bit wider. The Belgravia arrived three times in NYC during the month of December, in 30 December 1902, 21 December 1903, and 11 December 1904. Looking at the passenger lists, there were no BLOCKs, and only a few Alex/Alexander, none of which were the correct man.  I looked further, using Alex’s Hebrew name, Eliahu.  There were five men who were close to that name, but one man stood out from 1904: Elias SCHNITZ:

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The age is right, and the town of origin is “Ritawen”, which is Rietavas, the town from which his wife originated.

Now having the SCHNITZ name, I noticed that Alex’s 1921 Petition for Naturalization has a mistake for his address. Even though he had lived at 803 Schwartz Street for more than ten years at that point, he dictated his address as 803 Schmitz.  The street name is also given as Schmitz, but corrected, at the top of the form (the correction is plain to see), but remains uncorrected when listing the address of his wife and children.

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Finally, Alex’s naturalization file contains no Certificate of Arrival. When a Petition of Naturalization was made, a copy was sent off to a clerk somewhere to verify the date and ship of arrival. If the clerk found such a beast, a CoA was sent back and included in the naturalization file. None was found in this case, because (I believe) both the year and name were incorrect.

For these reasons, I believe Alex BLOCK’s true name was Eliahu “Elias” SCHNITZ. It was potentially SCHMITZ, but I have run across one SCHNITZ in the Veivirzenai records [Alex’s hometown], and there is no SCHMITZ or variations.  The name Elias easily morphs into Alex, although why he took the name BLOCK remains a mystery.

Side note: Veivirzenai never had more 1000 residents, and fewer than 300 Jews even in the 19th century. Still, there are fewer records than I would have expected. The one SCHNITZ I found was a widow who died in 1930, age 86, so born 1844.  Perhaps an aunt to Alex/Sarah.  More information may eventually arise.

How old was Alex BLOCK?

Alex BLOCK was not consistent when giving his age and birthday.  Written records do provide a few dates, however:

Document Document Date Declared Age
SS Belgravia ship manifest 26 Nov 1904 “28” (1876-1877)
Declaration of Intent 08 Feb 1908 15 Nov 1878
WWI Draft Card 18 Sep 1918 05 Oct 1875
Second Declaration of Intent 05 Dec 1919 15 Dec 1876
Petition for Naturalization 06 Dec 1921 15 Dec 1876
Death Certificate 19 Aug 1939 “about 62” 1876-1877

Seems like he was making up an exact date, but he was likely born in late 1876.  His gravestone says “62 years”, which is probably correct.

When were the BLOCK children born?

While we’re here, let’s talk about the ages of his children as well….

When was Frieda BLOCK born?

Or – more accurately – Frieda SCHNITZ.

The Alex BLOCK’s 1921 Petition for Naturalization lists the names and dates of birth for his children. Eldest child, Frieda, is listed as 10 Feb 1904. This same form lists Alex’s date of arrival in the US as 17 December 1903. Presumably he would remember a small thing like if his child was born before or after he left, and be internally consistent on that point. Therefore, I suspect that Frieda was born on 10 Feb 1905. This is likely using the Julian calendar, since Lithuania, as part of the Russian Empire, used Julian dating until the Russian Revolution. The Gregorian date would be 23 Feb 1905.

This would also mean that Alex saw Frieda for the first time when she and her mother arrived in Houston in September, 1909.  Frieda’s age on that ship manifest is listed as 4, which is consistent with a 1905 birth date.

Frieda’s gravestone lists her birth as 3 April 1911, which was almost 18 months after she arrived in the U.S.!

When was Sadie BLOCK born?

The rest of Alex’s children were born in the U.S., so “BLOCK” is the correct birth surname for them. Sadie is listed on the 1921 Petition as Sarah, born 8 Aug 1910. SSDI has 7 Aug, so we’re close. It’s difficult to say which is correct. You’d think dad would have it right, but given that all the other dates appear to be wrong….

When was Annie Block born?

She claimed 7 Sept 1914 during her adult life, but previous analysis of documents indicates 1912 is the correct date. Alex’s form lists the date as 11 September 1911.  I really don’t know what to make of that. I’ve never been able to locate a birth certificate, nor the 1920 Census for the family.The April 1930 Census says she was 17, so a September 1912 birth makes sense. Was her birthday really 11 Sept?

When was David Block born?

The Petition says 7 May 1913. This is wrong; his is the only birth certificate I have, and it was 7 May 1914. His grave says 7 May 1915.

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One thought on “Block / Schnitz… What’s in a name?

  1. […] have written previously about my great-grandfather, Elias SCHNITZ (a.k.a. Alex BLOCK) as well as the man listed as his cousin in the U.S., Samuel ABELSON.  I may […]

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