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Jul222011

* How do you spell that? Understanding Lithuanian Surnames

about.com Ufuk Zivana © 2006Are you searching for a Lithuanian ancestor? A goal of mine is to learn more about my mom's Lithuanian roots. I've been researching my maternal great grandparents who emigrated from Lithuania to the US in the early 1900's. Without any knowledge of the Lithuanian language, I have been limited to the variations of their names as found in US records. The spellings are all over the place and I didn't know where to turn for information.

I posted a query on a Lithuanian genealogy forum shared by the Lithuanian Global Genealogical Society and Lithuanian Global Resources "Little Lithuania" to see if anyone could help me in my pursuit. Not only did I get helpful information to understand how Lithuania surnames are constructed, contributors were able to locate my ancestors! Within 24 hours I was lead to a ton of matching records- I still feel like I'm dreaming!

John Peters first responded to my post with a thorough introduction to understanding the in's and out's of how Lithuanian surnames are constructed and pronounced. In Lithuania, the suffix of the surname is modified to fit the gender role (male, single female, married female).

I found his breakdown very helpful and, with his permission, I want to share it with you!

To better understand the examples: My great grandfather's first name was either Laurentius, Lauros, or Roland; the English version of his last name was Alishusky. My great grandmother's first name was either Helen or Alexandra and her last name was something along the lines of Akamavicuis or Acamaviche.

"The surname is spelled today either as Alasauskas (pronounced ah-lah-SOWS-kahs) because the "s" has no marks over it.  The "sh" sound is represented by the letter "s^" ("s" with a little birdie over it, typed "s^" on non-Lithuanian keyboards).  There are several listings in the online phone book for Alasauskas but none for Alas^auskas.  It is possible that over the years, the "s^" has been simplified among Lithuanians to "s" without the mark.  Or it is spelled Olis^auskas and pronounced aw-lih-SHAUS-kahs.  So this may be the spelling of the surname you are looking for.

The letter "c" with no marks over it is pronounced "ts" as in the English word "bits", but never pronounced like the English "c" in "cave."  That "k" sound is represented in Lithuanian by the letter "k".  So the other surname is Akamavic^ius.  The ending "-uis" is an incorrect version of the common Lithuanian ending "-ius".  The letter "c^" is pronounced "ch" as in the English word "church."

As you may or may not know, the endings to these surnames are changed for women, depending on their marital status.  The ending "-iene" is used for a woman married to a man named Akamavic^ius (Mrs. Akamavic^iene).  Their unmarried daughter would be Miss Akamavic^iute.  Likewise, the wife of Mr. Alasauskas would be Mrs. Alasauskiene and their unmarried daughter would be Miss Alasauskaite.  Likewise, the wife of Mr. Olis^auskas would be Mrs. Olis^auskiene and their unmarried daughter would be Miss Olis^auskaite.

The given name for Catherine in Lithuanian is Katarina, Katryna, or Katre, sometimes Kotryna or Kotre. Lawrence or Laurence in Lithuanian is Laurencijus, Laurentas, Laurentinas or Laurynas. It is possible that at one time the short form might have been Lauras. Again, no "-uis" ending, but "-ius" or in this case "-ijus", pronounced virtually the same way.

Lithuanian doesn't use the letter "x" but "ks", so the male name Alexander is Aleksandras and the female version (Alexandra) is Aleksandra.

Helen is Elena, pronounced AH-leh-nah. Peter is Petras; Anthony is Antanas; Martha is Morta; and Cecilia is Cecile or Cecilija (pronounced tseh-TSIH-leeah)."

The different spellings I've found associated with my great grandparents surnames:

His...Alishusky...Anashowkoo...Alishepki...Alishauskas...Aliszankas...Osalishinsky...

Hers...Acamaviche...Akamavicuis...Akamowicz...Akamavicuis...Akanaviche...Akanovicia

It might seem impossible to find ancestors with foreign or commonly misspelled names, but it can be done! You can learn SO MUCH by connecting with other researchers and genealogy communities. When I asked John Peters permission to share his response on my blog, he informed me of his "mission" to help others with genealogy research. He was inspired by the support and guidance he found in fellow researchers through his own personal search. I couldn't agree more! This blog is my way of sharing my "mission" to inspire and help YOU with your genealogy pursuits.

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    * How do you spell that? Understanding Lithuanian Surnames - Genealogy and Historical Pursuits - Genealogy & History with a modern twist!

Reader Comments (2)

In Genealogy there are a lot of spelling mistakes, nicknames and spelling abreviations. When trying to find your ancestor you need to be aware of these. You may also need to know how to find them in an index when this occurs. Check out the blog about names and genealogy. It offers a number of suggestions on how to perform some searches when this happens.

Jan 22, 2012 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJim Sanders

I have to what I believe to be Lithuanian ancestors. The Kiermalowicz family line has given me nothing but road blocks. Any suggestions?

Apr 20, 2013 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeather

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