Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Women's History Month Day 3: Fearless Females: The Middle Name that Almost Was

March 3rd Prompt Do you share a first name with one of your female ancestors? Perhaps you were named for your great-grandmother, or your name follows a particular naming pattern. If not, then list the most unique or unusual female first name you’ve come across in your family tree.

The simple answer is no. I'm not named for anyone. I never cared much when I was young about not having a namesake, but now that I'm so fascinated with my ancestors, I do admit to feeling a bit sad that I don't carry the name of one of my foremothers.

Yet nothing in life is that simple. A few years ago, when I was going through some of my mothers photo albums and boxes full of "stuff", a small piece of paper flickered out. I remember picking it up and staring it at. It was a small rectangular scrap of paper about two inch wide and four inches long with my name and date of birth typed accross. Except my name, was not as I knew it. Instead of Smadar Lavi (my maiden name), the paper said, Smadar Tzila Lavi.

Tzila? How strange. I'd never heard of that name. I went to look for my mom and inquired about my discovery. My mother recognized the tiny piece of paper immediately.  It's was the text for the telegram they sent to announce my birth to my US grandparents. Unfortunately, I may have since lost this tiny relic from my past. Today, I have a fantastic archive system for family history records. Back then, I was a bit more sloppy, and this was a tiny scrap.

"So...Mom? Tzila? Where did that come from?" I remained puzzled?

Mom proceeded to tell me the story. Apparently, they were planning to name me after one of my father's grandmothers, she wasn't sure which one, but Tzila was her Hebrew name. My parents were quite young and they felt a lot of pressure from my father's parents to name their newborn daughter, the first granddaughter, after one of my father's grandmothers who died in the holocaust. Apparently they relented and agreed on Tzila, as a middle name, even though they didn't really like the name. Somehow, between the telegraph and registering the birth certificate, the name got omitted. My dad claimed he just forgot, but no one ever knew if his memory loss was intentional or not.

It took me almost forty years to discover that I was supposed to be named Tzila. Tzila, or Cyla (or Celia) Speiser, was my father's paternal grandmother. I like the name Celia, but Tzila, not so much. It's difficult enough to live with a name like Smadar, which is common in Israel where I was born, but quite unusual and difficult to pronounce in the States. Imagine if my name was Smadar Tzila! Quite the mouthful. Despite the difficulty it may have produced, I do find it remarkable that not only was the name dropped, but the story and the woman were almost completely forgotten.

My grandparents were not pleased that my official name did not include Tzila, but by the time I grew up, the battle which may have ensued, was long forgotten and forgiven. In the forty years that passed, Tzila's name was lost to our family. My grandparents never wanted to talk about their past life back in Europe, pre WWII nor about the family that they lost in the Holocaust. Forty years of silence resulted in my father and his only brother not knowing their grandparents names. If Tzila, had been my name, I believe it would have helped keep her memory alive. I am sure I would have asked about her, and insisted to know more.

Yad Vashem Witness Testimony Sheet
For Cyla Jampel Speiser (Reiter)
Filed in 1955 by my grandfather for his mother
who died in the holocaust. 
What saved Tzila's memory was my quest for genealogy. By the time I found the old telegram, I knew who Tzila was through a Yad Vashem document I discovered.

The information translated from the Hebrew:
Surname Name: Speiser Jampel
First name: Tzila Cyla
Father's name: Yakov
Mother's name: Rachel
Marital status: Married
Date of Birth: about 1890
Place of birth: Lvuv, Poland
Part of which community: Lvuv
Country: Poland
Residence in 1939: Poland
Occupation: Laborer
Place, time  and circumstances of death: Holocaust  victim in the city of Lvuv or in the Yanuv camp.
Maiden name: Reiter
Name of Children: Michael Age: 13-14. Place and time of death: Lvuv or Yanuv camp.
Last known address: Berka Yoselevitz Street, Lvuv
The document is signed by Baruch Lavi residing at P.O Box 2167 Tel Aviv and was Tzila's son Date: August 28, 1955.

Yesterday, I read an article in the New York Times titled The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking which describes new holocaust research indicating a much larger number of camps under the Nazi regime than previously known. It helps further explain why it has been so difficult to trace what happen to holocaust victims like my great-grandmother Tzila.

I hope to one day learn more about Tzila and the rest of my family who tragically lost their lives in the holocaust. I have been toying with adding Celia as a middle name. After writing this blog post, I think I just might!

Visit earlier post in the series:
Women's History Month Day 1: Fearless Females: Favorite Female Ancestor & Genealogy Guru!
Women's History Month Day 2: Fearless Females: Third Great-Grandmother!

To learn more about +Lisa Alzo's 31 inspirational writing prompts in celebration of Women's History Month visit her blog:  The Accidental Genealogist.


  1. The Holocaust is unbearably tragic and always makes me think hard about human nature. I have never heard the name Tzila, either, and I can see the link with Celia.

    I also wonder if your dad's forgetting was intentional. Maybe it was because of the woman's tragic story that the name was dropped, as "bad luck." So many people are superstitious -- even me, though I know better.

    1. It really is and always will be impossible to get ones mind around the huge tragedy of the holocaust. It has changed our world forever.
      I think you are right that my father may have wanted to protect me. Not only could it have been from bad luck, but it's also a difficult story to understand for a young child who is likely to ask a lot of questions.
      Thanks for your insightful comment!

  2. I think adding her name is an excellent idea. It is a beautiful name and will mean l lot to you.

    1. Thanks for your vote! Promise to let everyone know when I official change my name!

  3. This was a lovely post. I vote 'yes" as well.

    In hindsight I wish I would have given one of my sons the long-used family Asa for a middle name. The further I dig genealogically, the more I regret it ;)

    1. Family names take a lot of mean as we come to understand them through genealogy. I hear you Sally! I gave two of my son's a middle name after a grandfather. For the third, I didn't. I just couldn't think of someone I wanted to name him after and all in our tradition you only name after people who have passed away. At the time, I didn't know most of my ancestors. Today I can think of quite a few people I would want to name him after.

  4. A small piece of paper led you in big directions!

    1. Absolutely! I shutter to think how many pieces of papers my family has lost over the years! Yet I try not to focus on spilt milk. Instead I'm hunting for the little treasures that are still out there! Thanks for your lovely comment colleen!


Thanks for sharing your comments!