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Another Surnamer Surfaces

Tracing the worldwide migratory movement of a family that can be traced back to circa 1654.
By Judith Langer-Surnamer Caplan, October 2005

SUR(I)NAMER genealogical research that has been done suggests that this family originated somewhere in the area of what is now Lithuania, most probably the Zagare–Siauliai area. This article traces some of the worldwide migratory movement of a family that can be traced back to circa 1654.


(First published in AVOTAYNU, Volume XIII, Number 4, Winter 1997.
Reprinted with permission.)

The first Surnamer who surfaced into my consciousness, naturally enough, was my maternal grandfather, Jacob Surnamer, a.k.a. Yakov Shalom ben Moshe Mordechai. One memorable vignette my late mother told me about this man, for whom I was named, was a story about how he taught his grandchildren to spell the family name, Surnamer.


Jacob Shalom Surnamer

According to my mother, he would ask his grandchildren to spell their last name. Invariably they would reply: "s-u-r-n-a-m-e-r." And, just as invariably he would teach them that Surnamer started with a "Capital S!" From this apocryphal tale, I believe, came the genesis of my interest in family genealogy, especially Surnamer genealogy.
My interest in the history of the family Surnamer was heightened in the 1950s when the late Frederick Oudschans Dentz was researching, writing, and then publishing his monograph on the Surnamer/Zurnamer family. I remember the letter he wrote to my uncle, Samuel Surnamer, and I remember the flurry in the family when a letter was received from a distant relative in South Africa who had shortened the name to Zurne. Above all, I remember traveling with my mother to the campus of the Jewish Theological Seminary, to visit the offices of the American Jewish Historical Society, then located in New York City, to pick up "our copy" of the newly published article, "The Name of the Country Surinam as a Family-Name."
The second "Surnamer" who entered my consciousness was the person responsible for the family assuming the name Surnamer or Surinamer: Gerrit Jacobs, the owner of the plantation, Nieuw Meerzorg, in Der Juden Savannah, outside of Paramaribo, Surinam. In honor of his bequest of profits from his estate annually to his relatives in Eastern Europe, when the time came to choose a last name, the people in this family took on the last name Surnamer or Surinamer. Actually, though, my mother always told me we were related to one of his wives, a maiden great-aunt who had been traveling towards Nieuw Amsterdam, but whose ship veered off course, and took her to Surinam, where she married one of the few Jews there.
Over the years a few more mentions of other Surnamers surfaced, especially when one of my first cousins, Honi Surnamer Luria, turned to my mother 14 years ago for information on the family. My mother gave me a duplicate of the letter she had sent in reply to Honi. It was full of information on my grandfather’s brother, Isaac, who came to America with him in 1890, and who later became a physician in Paterson, New Jersey, as well as hints of a branch in Atlanta that had changed the name Surnamer to Sherman.
Plus, during my poetry writing period, a new Surnamer surfaced: Shulamith Surnamer. When it came time to submit my poems for publication, I felt the need of a pseudonym, a nom de plume to help me through the acceptance/rejection process. My legal name, Judith Caplan, was not only very common, but also very easy to misspell. My maiden name, Judith Langer, was almost as common. But Shulamith Surnamer — a combination of my middle name and my mother’s maiden name — was poetically alliterative, musically euphonious, and, above all, unique in the whole world. Moreover, my choice of the name, made my late mother, Gladys Surnamer Langer z"l, very proud, and prompted her to share with me yet another bit of family lore. She explained to me that when men had married into the family, frequently they had taken on the last name to help ensure their right to receiving a share in Gerrit Jacobs’ bequest. My mother felt I was certainly as entitled to this singular surname as any of the men who had married into the family were!
Thus, I thought I already knew a good bit about my Surnamer family, my mother’s four brothers, plus my eight Surnamer first cousins, and the family history as well as its antecedents — until I started my genealogy phase in the summer of 1992. Without a doubt, innumerably more Surnamers, Surinamers, Zurnamers, Zurinams, and even a Suramowicz have surfaced ever since, thanks to helpful relatives, knowledgeable experts, telephone books, archival research, foreign archives, foreign researchers, CD-ROMs and other databases, the Internet, e-mail, and JewishGen.


One certainly could not get very far with genealogical research without the cooperation and the assistance and the memories of relatives, near and distant, both blood-wise, and mileage-wise. My first cousin, Honi Surnamer LeVine, had copies in her files of items my mother had donated to the American Jewish Historical Society that could not be located. These items included an article in a Riga Yiddish newspaper, the Batog, from 1932 about the demise of a woman named Hirschhorn but "geboren" Surnamer, and a 1915 letter from Suriname to a Surinamer in Atlanta. In addition she shared with me a hand-drawn family tree of the descendants of Sustel Zadok, author unknown that traced various Surnamer/Surinamer lines going back to the 1700s.

Hand Drawn Descendants of Sustel Zadok Family Tree, Author Unknown

She also told me about another Zurnamer one of our cousins had met by chance or divine design. It seems that while traveling, my cousin, Joel Surnamer, was told about another person with a similar last name, Zurnamer, and asked if he would like to meet him. From this, my American branch of the family reconnected with a brother and sister, Zel Zurnamer and Leonie Zurnamer Klugman from the South African branch, and through them with even more members of the Zurnamer line of the family.
When my other cousin, Honi Surnamer Luria, had written my mother years ago, asking her as an older member of the family, questions about the people who had preceded us, my mother, wise woman that she was, made a carbon copy of her answers to her niece’s questions, and mailed the information to me. I placed this letter in the back of my wedding album, where I kept miscellaneous family information. Lo and behold, when I went to begin my genealogical journey, I had clues that were nowhere else to be found. Moreover, Honi Luria also sent me something I had not seen before. It was a typed manuscript copy of a supplementary addendum Frederik Oudschans Dentz had written to his original article. Even here, on a brief two pages of notes and footnotes, some new Surinamers surfaced. They were Arnold, Selina, and "L.H." who were said to be living in Holland. There was also a tantalizing mention of an 1898 list of 141 beneficiaries to the will — the usufructal heirs of their day — which I hope will someday resurface.
In all branches of my extended family, I have found that there are usually one or two in each line who are especially interested in family research, and who will go out of their way to help the genealogical research cause. In England, my late cousin Raymond Surinamer sent me a copy of a draft of the original Gerrit Jacobs’ will, written in flowery Old Dutch, all 21 pages of it, which had been preserved in his family.
In South Africa, I have received wonderfully invaluable help from two cousins, Louis Rosenzweig and Dr. Louis Blumberg. Since Louis Rosenzweig lives in Robertson, the very same town where the first South African Zurnamer settled as an ostrich farmer, he was able to photograph the grave of Yehezkel Zalman Zurnamer for me.








Memorial Gravestone for Yehezkel Zalman
Zurnamer in Robertson, South Africa

Dr. Blumberg has done quite a bit a personal research into the Zurnamer family at the South African archives, which I was unable to do by mail. In the process he has unearthed many invaluable family papers which provided new research clues.



It is always important to be able to turn to and to consult an expert in the field. What is a simple little tip to them, or an everyday source, frequently becomes an important key to unlocking a whole new area of research.
The first such expert I consulted, and reconsulted, via his published writings, was the late Frederick Oudschans Dentz. I referred repeatedly not only to his article on my Surnamer family, but also to several other works he had published on Surinam and the Juden Savannah in the course of his career. I only wish I were doing my family research when he was still alive, so I could have consulted him directly. I would love to see the lists of beneficiaries he stated he saw, and which I have been unable to locate, either in Holland or in Suriname.
The second expert I consulted was the late esteemed Rabbi Malcolm Stern. At the first meeting I attended in May 1993 of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York, he heard me name Surnamer and Suriname as part of my research focus when I was called upon to introduce myself as a new member. He quietly and unassumingly came over to me, and told me to call him that evening so that he could give me some suggestions. One of the suggestions he gave me was to contact Dr. Ralph Bennett who had written several articles on Suriname.
I wrote Dr. Bennett, who sent me a remarkably thorough 25 page article on Suriname Jewry, discussing what plantations or plantation Gerrit Jacobs actually owned, and what plantations mentioned in Dentz’ article might actually have been owned by others in Der Juden Savannah. When I needed to have a copy of the will translated from the Old Dutch, Ralph suggested an excellent translator and researcher in Holland, Helga Becker Leeser, who also had a strong interest in Gerrit Jacobs’ will and the people mentioned in it.
Not only were Surnamers surfacing, but also the handful of people in the world most interested in Gerrit Jacobs’ will and his Surnamer usufructal heirs were also surfacing.


Foreign telephone books were instrumental in finding two major branches of Surnamers, the Surinamers in England, and the Zurinams in Israel. My cousin, Honi Surnamer LeVine, told me that frequently when she traveled she would look in the local telephone books to search for Surnamers. This was how she originally located Raymond Surinamer: he was listed in the London telephone directory. As I later learned from my correspondence with Raymond, and my visit in July 1995 to England and the Surinamer family plot at the Edmonton Cemetery, Raymond was the grandson of Moses Raphael Surinamer, the first Surinamer to go to England, and Moses Raphael Surinamer was the brother of the first Zurnamer to go to South Africa, Yehezkel Zalman Zurnamer.
It was also with the aid of a foreign telephone book that I located my Zurinam cousins. Since two branches of the greater Surnamer/Surinamer/ Zurnamer family had already turned up in Israel during the course of my research, I thought it might be wise to sit down with the Israeli telephone books in the Jewish division of the New York Public Library at the 42nd Street Library to see if there were any more Surnamers to be found. In the Haifa telephone book I found a listing for a Yehudah Zurinam and a Yehoshua Zurinam. I wrote both sets of families a letter in Hebrew, explaining who I was in the Surnamer family, and inquiring if they, too, were possibly part of the larger mishpaha (family). Imagine my delight to receive back a letter from Frieda Zurinam, telling me that they had made aliyah to Israel from Lithuania over 20 years ago, but had thought until they received my letter that they were the last Zurinam(er)s in the world — and that her son Aryeh was in the States, in nearby Brooklyn! My family and I now see Aryeh frequently, and there is something uniquely satisfying about developing a close relationship with one’s sixth cousin, and, especially seeing the next generation — my sons, Hillel and Baruch Caplan, and the Zurinam offspring, Aryeh and Nehama — getting to know each other so well.

Fifth or Sixth Cousins: Baruch Caplan, Aryeh Zurinam, Nechama Zurinam, Hillel Caplan

Additionally, the name Leopold Surnamer surfaced on Microfilm of the Latvian telephone directory from the 1930s as having lived in Liepaja. It took me a while to figure out who he actually was, but with help from documents later found in the Latvian archives, eventually I realized that Leopold was actually one of my grandfather Jacob’s brothers, Leib Surnamer.









This postcard shows on the left the awning of a store owned by a brother
of Jacob Shalom Surnamer on Rosenplatz in Liepaja, and reads "Surnamers."


Many, many archives and repositories worldwide, in Atlanta, Latvia, Lithuania, Jerusalem, and elsewhere have been invaluable in advancing my genealogical records, as they have been for so many other eager family historians. Sometimes, however, it is true the archival research does not seem to yield much in the way of results, but at least one knows the answer is no, as in the case of Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (P.O. Box 11755, 2502 A T, The Hague) in Holland which could not find any documents that bore on my research. At least one knows one tried to find the information, as in the case of the Surinam archives in Surinam which have yet, in four years, to respond to my letters.
Atlanta: My mother had written in her notes that a branch of the family had gone to Atlanta, and changed their name to Sherman. She also mentioned what business they had been in. She also had once had a letter written to a member of this family in 1915 from Surinam, which she had donated to the American Jewish Historical Archives. Unfortunately for me, the AJHS could not locate the letter. Luckily for me, my cousin Honi located a copy of this very letter in what had been her father’s family files. From it I gleaned yet more clues. I then contacted several resources in Atlanta, in an attempt to locate this missing branch and to find out more about them. I wrote to the Georgia Vital records. Regrettably, since Georgia did not mandate the keeping of records before 1919 this did not prove a fruitful avenue. Next, I contacted Congregation Ahavath Achim, where I my father had once been the Educational Director with what clues I had. To my great delight, the family they suggested getting in touch with from their membership proved to be the right Sherman family, at least Surnamer family tree-wise.
It was around this point that I contacted Mr. Franklin M. Garrett, the Historian at the Atlanta Historical Society (Atlanta History Center, 3101 Andrews Drive, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30305) for further suggestions. Mr. Garrett was a goldmine of information that was unobtainable anywhere else, for he had, years earlier, made two studies that included information vital to advancing my research.
1. He had made abstracts of birth and death records for the city of Atlanta pre-1919 that did not show up in Fulton County Records. Thus, he had information about the first Surinamer in Atlanta, who had been listed as passing away in 1915 in the Atlanta City Directory.
2. He had made a study of the memorial stones at Greenwood Cemetery, including many members of this Surnamer/Sherman family. (Eventually, I also obtained photographs of many of the Surnamer/Sherman graves, thanks to Gary Palgon of the Atlanta Jewish Genealogical Society.)
Latvia: When I thought I had sufficient information to proceed, I contacted the Latvian Archive (Central State Historical Archives of Latvia, 226007 Riga, Slokas iela 16, Latvia). Among other items which they eventually located for me were internal passports for four Surnamers — my grandfather’s brothers Leib and Wulf and their wives, complete with photographs, plus information about Surinamers in Riga, and even information about a heretofore unknown woman who was probably a sister of my grandfather’s, named Leja Mara Movshovna Hirschhorn nee Zhurnamer and her five children.
In addition, the indefatigable genealogical researcher par excellence, Dr. Aleksandrs Feigmanis, did a very comprehensive review of other records at the archives. He uncovered information about the Surinamer family in Jelgava (Mitau) going back to 1812, including court cases, which yielded a cornucopia of additional Surinamer first names. (Additionally, this research independently corroborated many of the names on the anonymous hand-drawn Sustel Zadok Family Tree.) He also made a trip to Liepaja, to the Jewish cemetery, where he located the grave of my great uncle, Leopold/Leib Gittelson-Surinamer. Most incredibly for me, he found a page in the merchants’ list for Liepaja in 1936 that listed the family of this same Leib Gittelson Surinamer, the widow, and the children, complete with birthdays. It was here, for me, that the most touching surfacing of a Surnamer occurred.
When I was a little girl, probably about 8 years old, I remember my mother telling me — as she held an envelope — that she had had a cousin named Sonia in Latvia who, before the war, had wanted to emigrate to the US. However, the family here in the U.S. warned her that she should be very sure about her decision to come to the U.S., for if she did, she would probably never see her family again. Even though Sonia had her papers, she hesitated after receiving that letter, and did not come. World War II broke out shortly thereafter, and, sadly, nothing was ever heard from Sonia and her family ever again. My mother never told me her cousin’s last name, just the first name Sonia. Lo and behold, here, on the page Dr. Feigmanis sent me were the names: Feige, widow of Leib, Frieda Zurnamer, whose name had appeared on the Yad VaShem Witness Page — and the name that brought tears to my eyes — Sonia Gittleson Surinamer, my mother’s first cousin.
As if this was not enough, Dr. Feigmanis later sent me a present of a copy of a Razumny Family Tree he came across which listed a Surinamer-Bushman as one of the descendant branches. Again, thanks to his long-distance help in Latvia, another line of missing Surinamers surfaced, who turned out to be living in Pennsylvania. Truly, Feigmanis’ incredible research and onsite visitation solved many puzzles and loose ends for me, at the same time that he helped many long-lost Surnamers to surface in Latvia.
Lithuania: Just as I had done in Latvia, when I thought I had sufficient information to proceed — names and towns — I contacted the Lithuanian Archives (CVIA, Central State Historical Archives, Centrinis Valstybinis Istorijos Archyvas, 232015 Vilnius, Gerosios Uilties Street 10, Lithuania) for assistance. Galina Baranova was very helpful, but, unfortunately, she could not locate any birth, death, or marriage records for Surnamers/Zurnamers in Zagare, Siauliai, or Popilyani, the towns in which my research confirmed they had lived. (Two more Surinamers surfaced in Siauliai when Dr. Beider found their names on the voter registrations lists as living in Siauliai. In addition, Dr. Louis Blumberg had located papers in the South African archives which stated that Yehezkel Zalmen Zurnamer was born in Shavli, aka Siauliai.) Apparently the older 19th century records that would have helped me round out the tree a bit more either had not been archived or else had been lost or destroyed during World War II. However, an independent researcher, Regina Kopilevitch, was able to locate many "modern records" circa 1910-1930 at a second archive. With her able assistance, a whole slew of Surnamers from Siauliai and Zagare surfaced, including many of the ancestors of the Zurinams in Israel. Now, with the recent publication of the book, Jewish Vital Records, Revision Lists and Other Jewish holdings in the Lithuanian Archives, by Harold Rhodes and Sally Amdur Sack, about other records, such as census revision lists which may exist for the towns in Lithuania I am interested in, I am hopeful that even more information about the Lithuanian origins of the Surnamer/Surinamer family, and more individual Zurnamers/Zurinamers will yet surface.
Israel: The two archives I contacted in Israel were Yad VaShem (Hall of Names, P.O. Box 3477, 91034, Jerusalem, Israel) and the Search Bureau for Missing Relatives (6 Yeshayahu Press, P.O. Box 92, Jerusalem, Israel). In many ways, the research here at these two sources was complementary. At Yad VaShem, the Surnamer/Surinamer search of Witness Pages yielded two names, that of a Frieda Zurnamer in Liepaja, and a Miriam Surinam in Riga. It took me two additional years, until Dr. Feigmanis’ study, to learn that Frieda was Leib’s daughter, and my mother’s first cousin. I am still attempting to find out via the International Tracing Service (Grosse Allee 5-9, 34444, Arolsen, Germany) the fate of the wife and children of Leopold/Leib Gittelson-Surinamer.
The Daf Aid (Page of Testimony) for Miriam Surinam included an address for an Aharon Friedman who had memorialized his cousin, Miriam Surinam. When I wrote to him in 1993, I learned that he, like Miriam Surinam, was a grandchild of Moses Bensin Surinamer, who had lived in Jelgava, Latvia, whereas my mother was the grandchild of Moses Mordechai Surnamer, who had lived in Liepaja, Latvia. Aharon filled in many modern parts of his branch of the family tree, though regrettably, all too many of the names elicited the very sad refrain, "Murdered by the Fascists."
Whenever I needed help updating an Israeli address on a witness page, I always turned to the expert, Batya Unterschatz, at the Search Bureau for Missing Relatives in Jerusalem.. In addition, when I wrote Batya Unterschatz, asking if she knew of any additional Surnamers or Zurnamers, she unearthed two more for me. They were indeed of a rare variety, for they were two women whose maiden names had been Surnamer!
South Africa: I obtained helpful information about Zurnamers buried in Cape Town from the Chevra Kadisha (United Chevra Kadisha, P.O. Box 543, Cape Town 8000, South Africa). I also obtained a copy of an April 1942 article on the Surnamer family, cited in the Dentz article, "Surinam and a Surname: The Romantic Story of a Zager Jew," from The Zionist Record.


CD-ROM disks have likewise proved invaluable in extending the scope of my Surnamer research, first in repositories such as the LDS Family Library Center and the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, where I first used the Social Security Death Index to locate a few missing Surnamers, and currently -- since February 1996 -- on the CD-Rom drive of my own home computer.
I did not know what had become of one Surnamer, Bertram, who was my grandfather’s nephew. But, by way of the SSDI, he, too, surfaced. Once I located his record, I sent to the appropriate state vital records for his death certificate.
Then, one day this spring, while I was playing around with the Family Finder Index on Family Tree Maker, yet another potential Surnamer unexpectedly surfaced. Besides all the Surnamers in America who should have been listed as being included in the SSDI, there was also a David J. Surnamer, enumerated as being counted in the US Census for Ohio in 1850! If Surnamers from Latvia and Lithuania could be in Surinam, Dutch Guiana in 1754, why not in Ohio in 1850? I have written to several genealogical and historical societies in Ohio, including the Ohio Historical Society (Archives-Library Division, 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211) and the Hardin County Genealogical Society (PO Box 520, Kenton, Ohio 43326), endeavoring to learn more about this David J. Surnamer, and determine if this is a correct reading of his name or a misreading, as well as to try to ascertain if and where he belongs on my family tree.
In July 1996, while I was at the Boston Summer Seminar, I consulted the Cemetery Database Project of the American Jewish Genealogical Society, maintained by Arline Sachs, in the computer research room. Three new Surinamer/Zurnamer names popped up, all for individuals buried in South Africa. There was one Surinamer named Michael. I think he may be a missing British Surinamer whom my notes from my late cousin Raymond suggest went to South Africa and was never heard from. There were also two Zurnamers, Hyman and Francina, previously unknown to me, but about whom, naturally, I hope to learn more through my South African sources.


Just when I thought I had located every Surnamer/ Surinamer/ Zurnamer/ Zurinam(er)/ Zhurinamer possible or imaginable, yet another member of this world-wide family surfaced in the most amazing way —on the internet. One day in February 1996, as I was surfing the net, I typed in Suriname to see what would come up. Among other things, a web page dedicated to the country of Suriname appeared. I went to it, read the information, and then e-mailed the web site master with my usual research query: How can I find a researcher to assist me with the research I would like to do about the family of Gerrit Jacobs in Suriname?
The web site master replied that he did not know much about genealogy, but he would turn my request over to someone who knew more about genealogy than he did. A month or two later, I received an e-mail post from his mother, Jetty Breebaart DeMiranda, who wrote me that she, like I, was one of the numerous "linea recta" descendants of Gerrit Jacobs. Moreover, she — who had been able to research the past of the family most extensively, whereas I had been researching more of the relatively modern descendant branches of the family -- gave me some astonishing new information. I had always believed I was related to Gerrit Jacobs nee Naphtali Bar Isaac HaCohen via marriage, probably through his second wife Chaya Zadok, for Sustel Zadok was the name that appeared at the top of an ancient hand-drawn family tree. Moreover, I had hypothesized that Zadok was probably the name of their mutual father. But Jetty knew from documents I did not have available to me that Gerrit Jacobs had "een echte zuster," a "real" sister named Esther Isaac HaCohen who was indeed married to a Zadok, Zadok Simon van Coerland. Jetty knew that Gerrit had married his niece, and that the family was therefore related to him by blood as well as by marriage.
Happily, my friend in Holland, Helga Becker Leeser, who is a wonderful researcher, used this new information to check out the original line in Amsterdam. She searched the Amsterdam compilation of Jewish Publication of Marriage Banns, 1598-1811, and discovered that a Zadok Simon van Coerland possibly from Wittmund, widower of Esther Isaac a Cohen, was remarried in 1765 to a Sara Meyers.
Thanks to one of the newest modes of communication, the cyberspace world wide web, I was truly back to the beginning in a very new way! Thus it was, by way of the internet, that several more Surnamers, past and present, surfaced. I now know the name of my sixth great-grandmother, Esther Isaac HaCohen, and my sixth great-grandfather, Zadok Simon van Coerland (HaLevi?), as well as that Gerrit Jacob’s father, Isaac HaCohen is also my seventh great-grandfather. Furthermore, there is also Jetty and her family!


As the Hebrew saying goes, "Achron, achron, haviv," or "The last is the favorite." My favorite surfacing of a Surnamer or three has come by means of one of the newest genealogical research aids: e-mail, especially as part of the JewishGen Discussion Group which I take as a newsgroup. These are three of my JewishGen Surnamer Surfacing Success Stories.
Judel Surnamowicz: In December 1994, I posted a list of the families I was researching on JewishGenDigest, the Jewish Genealogical Digest newsgroup list. Warren Blatt saw my listing of Surnamer as he was indexing death records from 1829 for Nowogrod, Poland, for his monumental Nowogrod database project. He e-mailed me with the information that death entry # 12 for 1829 in Nowogrod was for an out-of towner named Judel Surnamowicz. Never in a million years would I have thought to look so far afield as Poland for a Surnamer! Yet since Judel or Yudel showed up more than once as a first name in the Zurinam branch, "Surnam" plus a Polish ending of "owicz" seemed eminently reasonable and plausible! I have since printed out a copy of the citation to add to my archives. While some experts, including Dr. Beider, question the reading of the name as Surnamowicz, seeing it perhaps as Lurnamowicz or Furnamowicz, I will for the time being stick to Warren Blatt’s deciphering of it as Surnamowicz.
Missing Known Cousin: In July 1995, just before I was to depart on a brief trip to England, I posted a request on JewishGen for help in locating a Surnamer line cousin who was supposed to have moved to England, named Barbara Levine Gelb or Kalb. Within just hours of my posting, and only a day before my flight, there on my computer screen was the very information I sought. Thus, thanks to JewishGen, while I was in London I was able to call and speak with her.
Dinah Surinam(e): On Monday, August 19, 1996, the newest Surnamer of all in my database surfaced. As I was perusing the daily JewishGen posts, I suddenly spotted the following one from Naomi Heaton:


I am trying to trace my relatives. My great grandfather was MOSHE LEIB or LIEB married to DINAH SURINAME / SURINAM. MOSHE was 20 years older than his wife and he was aged around 90 in 1939. His DOB was therefore around 1849."

Naturally and understandably, the e-mail between us started flying back and forth furiously as we both attempted to figure out how we might be related. It would appear based upon promising mutual evidence — including the name of a mutual ancestor, Solomon Mayer Surinamer — that we are third cousins, brought together through the good offices of that remarkable shadchan Jewish Gen.


At this point in my genealogical adventure researching the mononymic Surnamer family, based on the evidence gleaned from archives, cemeteries, the Internet, and relatives’ information, I have successfully managed to marry what were once separate, seemingly unrelated families with variants of the surname SURNAMER/ SURINAMER/ ZHURNAMER/ ZURINAM into one united family tree, going from our mutual progenitor, Isaac HaCohen, for 11 traceable generations forward to the present.
Yet there are still some familial loose ends that may or may not be solvable. Plus, now that I know about Isaac HaCohen as my seventh great-grandfather and Zadok Simon van Coerland as my sixth great-grandfather, even though they both must have been born in circa 1650-1670, I still have this irrepressible desire to see if I can someday find out more about them, and extend the family tree, the shalshelet yuchasin ha-dorot, the chain of the generations, even further back. Given the number of Surnamers, Surinamers, Zurnamers, Zurinamers, and Zhurnamers who have surfaced so far in my ancestral adventure, anything is still possible!

An International Gathering of Sur(i)namers:
Sanford and Honi Surnamer LeVine, Frieda Zurinam, and Judi Langer-Surnamer Caplan


by Judith Shulamith Langer-Surnamer Caplan

Since "Another Surnamer Surfaces" was first published in 1997, a few needed corrections have come to light, as well as, happily, there have been some additional advances in Sur(i)namer and Zur(i)nam(er) research.


Nieuw Meerzorg is *not* situated in the region "Joden Savannah" but rather is in
the district Commewijne bordering the Matapica river.
Since Gerrit Jacobs had no children of his own, which was one of the reasons for his drawing up his unique will providing for his usufructal heirs, there are no actual linea recta or straight line descendants from Gerrit Jacobs. Instead, there are linea recta descendants of the numerous heirs of Gerrit Jacob.
The Search Bureau for Missing Relatives in Jerusalem as described in the article came to a close with the retirement of Batya Unterschatz. Some of its functions have been undertaken by the Search Bureau for Information at The Central Zionist Archives.Inquiries may be made to Ruth and Tamara at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
When I was growing up the name of the country was spelled Surinam, but today the preferred spelling is Suriname with a final "E."


In 1998 a mid 19th century Russian Empire "Revision List of Zagare Jewish Community of the District of Siauliai, Kovno Gubernia, 1858" Revizskaya Ckazka which listed my great grandfather Moshe Levin Gitelson aka Moshe Mordechai Gitelson Surnamer was unearthed by Galina Baranova of the Lithuanian Archives. On this record he was entered as Movshe Gittlesohn ili (or) Zhurnamer, giving him two possible surnames, Gitelson or Zhurnamer, age 22. His brother Zalman, 16, was also listed with him.

The graves of the plantation owner, Gerrit Jacob, and his first wife, Judith, as well as the graves of many others in the Old Beth Chaim Cemetery in Paramaribo have been reclaimed and restored. Jetty Breebart de Miranda visited there in December 2000.

Jetty visits the tombstones of Gerrit Jacobs and his wife at the old Beth Chaim Cemetery

The arrival in cyberspace of the Ellis Island Database generated a flurry of new Surinamer, Surnamer, and even Szurinamer surfacings including:

* Note Szurnamer, 18, aboard the Polania, sailing from Libau, arriving in NY on Oct. 12, 1921
* Rochel-Malke Szurnamer, 21, aboard the Lituania, arriving in NY on June 9, 1922
* The family of Salomon and Milke Surnamer aboard the aboard the Pennsylvania, which sailed from Hamburg, Germany, and arrived in NY 12 September 1901. Moreover, there was a fascinating extra little detail on the digitized manifest ~ the family’s destination in America was Trenton, NJ, the home of Joseph Surinam who later moved to Atlanta and also changed his name to Sherman. The manifest recited they were going to Jos. Surinamer!! Now to try to figure out the hard to read handwriting and make out the word before Jos to determine whether it is an abbreviation of some kind starting with a "G" ~ maybe great-uncle or grandfather ~ or possibly even "brth" for brother?!?!

After the funeral in June 2001 of my first cousin, Charles Surnamer, his brother Frank gave me a copy of a letter he had come across that had originally been addressed to my mother as Ms Gladys Surnamer in Brooklyn back in 1946. Now I hypothesize since this letter, from Medingen, Germany, had wound up in my Uncle Abe’s files, and that my mother, busy with one year old me, and no longer the Gladys Surnamer of the letter, but a married Gladys Langer, may never have actually received the letter.
This letter was written by someone named Tillie ...ff who lived in Medingen, who mentioned a connection to Riga, and two men in her life named Werner and Jack, one a husband and the other a son, though I wasn’t absolutely sure from the letter which was which. She seemed to want my mother’s help to come to this America. In the letter, Tilli was writing about what she and her husband and son had gone through in Riga during the Holocaust, and that she and her son would like to come to America. I did not readily know who this letter to my mother was from -- and the mystery was compounded by the age of the letter for while there was a return address in Medingen, Germany, the envelope had crumbled, and only the last two letters "...ff" of the surname were visible.
In an effort to find out who wrote this 1946 letter to a Surnamer from Medingen, Germany, I first I put a post up on JewishGen to see if any of this data struck a chord.   I also started trying to find an archive that might have some data on people in Medingen in 1946. Thanks to a web site in Germany which suggested the best logical archives to write a letter — in late July 2001 I received an almost miraculous letter from the Stadarchivar at the Stadarchiv in Bad Bevensen, Germany — who had been able to figure out from the meager clues I had of the address and first names that Tilli was Mathilde Ritoff, who, with her son Werner, was listed at the 1946 Medingen address. Moreover,  I was really excited and amazed when I saw this surname, Ritoff. I had always thought there might have been a possible sister of my grandfather’s named Sore Feige Surinamer who married a Ritov in Zagare and then resurfaced on a list in Riga. Possibly either this woman, Tillie, was a Ritov-Surinamer by birth or else by marriage — and if so, I want to find out where she or her son is today!!  Oh, the twists and turns of genealogy!!
I went on line searching the various international telephone databases for a Tilli or Werner Ritoff. There were only two Ritoff telephone listings in the German Telephonbuch — and one is for an Inge u. Werner. Could this possibly be the same Werner who was the 16 year son Tilli refers to in her 1946 Medingen letter?!?!
Early in August 2001 I revisited the EIDB to see if possibly a Ritoff or Ritov from Riga ever came to America. It seems that a Jacob Ritoff, born in Riga, but living in Germany with his brother, came to America aboard the Laconia in July 1923 for a visit — and, according to the typed passenger manifest, he went to his uncle, Dr. Surnamer, in Paterson, NJ!!
On August 29, 2000, I received a reply from Werner Ritoff, who was now living in Spain. He wrote in German, and thanks to Eric Page of Follow Your Art in Long Beach, who speaks German, I was given a quick oral translation of this letter that same afternoon. Werner wrote, in part:

"Yes, a relationship exists. Frau Feige Ritoff (spelled Ritov in Latvia), born Surnamer, was my grandmother. She was married to my grandfather, Boris Ritoff, and dealt with heavy machinery.
They had 13 children, ten of whom survived, nine sons and one daughter. The daughter, Sonja Klein, born Ritoff, was sent by the Russians to Siberia afterinto Latvia.
Of the sons, Gowsei and Wolodia were killed by the Nazis. All the others survived. But since then all of them died. The one before last was my father, Jacob, 91, in Hamburg,. and after him was his sister, the one who survived Siberia, at 104, in Stockholm.
Of the grandchildren of my grandparents all except me were murdered by the Nazis."

Aleksandrs Feigmanis made the remarkable discovery that Sonja Gitelson Zurnamer (one of the two daughters of Fanni/ Fanijja (Feiga??) Hirschhorn and Leopold / Leib Gitelson/ Surinamer/ Zurnamer) had been a librarian at the Latvian State Pedagogical Institute of Language in 1941, which was then located in Riga at Raina bulvaris 29. He e-mailed me that he had found new information about Sonja Gitelson Surinamer in the fond of the State Pedagogical Institute of Language (Valsts pedagogiskais valodas instituts).


J. Kelle, the Director of the Institute had confirmed in May 1941 that Sonja Gitelsons-Zurnamere worked at that institute as a librarian, and this paper was signed by S. Surnamer.  This document was dated May 1941, which "was the Soviet year before Nazis started the war."
There was also a second paper, dated June 23, 1941, stating that Sonja Gitelson-Zurnamer worked at the institute each day from 11 AM until 19 PM, and could not have other duties. Since the war started June 22, 1941, this confirmation was apparently given after the Nazi invasion of Latvia. Unhappily, this is the last trace I have of Sonja...

In late October 2002 the Mormon LDS announced that they had put the index to the 1880 US Census as well as the 1881 British and Canadian Censuses on line. Even though most of my known relatives did not live in the US nor Canada nor the United Kingdom in the 1880’s, I still tried to do a test run using Surnamer and its variants. To my surprise, information about a 48 year old William Surinam surfaced on this 1881 British Census. Moreover, the following mystifying members of his family constellation who were living with him at 33 Gloucester Place in Herne, Kent, England, appeared to have included:

SurnameFirst NameRelationMarital StatusSexAgeBirthplaceOccupation
SURINAM William Head W M 48 Canterbury, Kent, England Boatman (RN)
OLIVE James Brother In Law M M 44 Canterbury, Kent, England Formerly Tobacconist
OLIVE Deborah Sister M F 44 Essex, England  
OLIVE Charles T. Nephew   M 9 Middlesex, England  
OLIVE Albert E. Nephew   M 2 Middlesex, England  

Now to try to find out more…

Leib Zhurinamer 

In the fall of 2004 I received a copy of a page from a newspaper printed in 1938, celebrating the 20th year of the "Yiddishe Shtimme" newspaper, which contained pictures of various journalists and behind the scenes newspaper administrators – including a photo of Leib Zhurinamer, who was an administrator for this Yiddish periodical in Kovno (Kaunus), Lithuania. This Leib Zhurinamer was the father of Yehudah and Yehoshua Zurinam, both of whom now reside in Cholon, Israel.

In December 2003 I began exchanging a series of several fascinating e-mails from Iwan de Vries in Suriname. Among other items, he sent me a printout of a family tree of the descendants of the earliest known female Sur(i)namer ancestress, Esther Isaac a Cohen. This descendancy tree added quite a few bits of new information including: (1) According to the Ashkenazi burial records in Suriname, Zadok Simon van Coerland, husband of Esther, passed away in Paramaribo March 12, 1773: “Zadok Simon is overleden op 12-03-1773 in Paramaribo, Suriname, ongeveer 73 jaar oud.” (2) Jacob Joseph, Haya Zodoks’ first husband, may also have had the surname van Coerland, just as Haya’s father had the surname van Coerland.

In addition, Iwan knew of some possible cousins for me to try to contact. On Dec. 16, 2003, he wrote that "Turns out a full cousin of mine (and of course her sibs and their offspring), Lya Pearl deVries, is a descendant of Beeltje Zadok van Coerland on her mother’s side. Her husband, Hugo de Vries (a Dutch Christian de Vries) is my fellow family genealogist. I also have Surinamese descendants for Noach Isaac’s daughter Haya." Then, on January 2, 2004, he e-mailed me that he had found another remote degree cousin for me and "It occurred to me that you might want to contact Ilse de Vries in Holland, who is the granddaughter of Jacob Machiel and Henriette Seelig." According to my Family Tree Maker program Ilse would be a 6th cousin.

In December 2004, an article entitled About "Surinamers" Who Are Not from Suriname A Search from Shoe Box to Internet by Jetty G. de Miranda was published in Dutch in Wi Rutu, a publication of the Stichting voor Surinaamse Genealogie in The Netherlands. To read this article in English, please visit   Surinamers Who Are Not From Suriname.

Ever since I first began researching the Sur(i)namer genealogy some 10 or more years ago, I have longed to find certain papers that Philip A. Samson, a lawyer in Suriname, was supposed to have with the names of people who received once bequests from Gerrit Jacob’s plantation.
In the "Notes and Documents" Addendum to "The Name of the County Surinam as a Family Name" by Frederik Oudschans Dentz, the name of Advocate Philip A. Samson is mentioned twice, once as the source of the information that Gerrit Jacobs’ grave is "to be found on the Kwatteweg in the old Beth Chaim," as well as the person who showed Dentz some lists I would dearly love to look at if they still exist.

"Advocate Samson also allowed me to see two lists of shareholders in
the Fideicommis of Gerrit Jacobs. On the first list, dated November 30, 1898, 141 names of persons are listed of whom fifty-eight are foreigners. The largest share was 1/35th; the smallest. 1/2205th. There are nineteen shareholders with the name Surinamer. The second list of participants in the legacy, dated 1909, gives 217 names of whom sixty-five are in foreign countries. The highest share was now notes as 1/35th; the lowest as 1/13720th. At the time there were two participants in Surinam, namely the minor Celina [Selina] and Ahron Zoddich [Ahron Zoddeck] and twenty-one persons with the name Surinamer in foreign countries."

In an e-mail in early January of 2004, Iwan de Vries chanced to mention that as a small boy he had lived right next door to a man named Phil A. Samson! When I wrote Iwan asking if he might have any suggestions how I could locate these papers if they still existed, he replied: "And now about the lists you crave: I happen to know that Uncle Phili’s papers were donated to a small museum in Holland by Freddy." Iwan went on to explain this Freddy was Mr. Samson’s nephew, Freddy Bruyning. Moreover, Iwan remembered that the historian Peter Heere had once written to him that "he once did the job of catalogueing them." Now to start trying to contact people in Holland and try to locate where exactly Advocate Samson’s papers are archived, and how I can get a copy of the tantalizing papers I hunger for. Naturally these lists – if a copy still exists and can be found -- would be quite a catalog of the main branches of the Surinamer family in the years 1898 and 1909, and would be immensely helpful to Surinamer family research. And to think a casual mention of a person in an e-mail would lead to a new avenue for possibly finding them, not in Surinam, but in Holland. Ah the twists and turns of genealogical research, especially via the Internet in the 21st century!

Judi (second from left in blue) with some of her living genealogy, including her four grandchildren.

about the author
Judith Langer-Surnamer Caplan

Judith Shulamith Langer-Surnamer Caplan This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is the Editor of the LitvakSIG Online Journal. Judi, who has a BA in English from Brooklyn College, an MS in Mass Communications from Syracuse University, and has studied at Seminary College of JTS, taught English in the NYC high school system. Judi is also a poet and short story writer, and her articles on genealogy have appeared in AVOTAYNU and THE JEWISH STAR. 

Judi continues to research her extended mishpacha, especially her many Litvak connections: KAPLANS in Keidaniai or Kvedarna; COLUMBIS/KLOMPUS in Vieksniai or Sveksna, Lithuania; BOCHURS in Skaistkalne, Latvia, & Birzai, Lithuania; LEPARS in Zeimelis, Lithuania; and SURNAMERS and ZURINAMERS in Siauliai & Zagare, Lithuania, and Liepaja, Mitau, & Riga, Latvia, as well as Suriname, the Netherlands, Israel, South Africa, and England. The Surnamer family has been traced back to the mid 1600’s, to Esther Isaac HaCohen and Zadok Simon HaLevi Van Coerland. 

Judi has talked about "How to Read a Hebrew Tombstone Anywhere in the World" and "Creating and Publishing a Family Newsletter" at several IAJGS Jewish Genealogy Summer Conferences, including the 24th IAJGS Conference, July 2004, in Jerusalem. Judi is also the founder of UpRoots! Genealogy Research Services and does professional genealogical research in the metropolitan New York City area, including Long Island.