Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Schipp Surname Issue

Since I began family history research in 1999 there has always been an issue with the surname Schipp. It was very frustrating for several years. My mother’s maternal grandfather – my great grandfather - was Michael Schipp.

My research began at the NARA (National Archives) branch in Denver; then moved to The Minnesota Historical Society and to St. Adalbert Roman Catholic church in St. Paul, MN.

At NARA I pored over microfilms finding federal census records for my ancestors on both sides.  I traveled to Minnesota and found a wealth of information in state census records, city directories and newspapers. All of this data corroborated and hugely expanded information I had from my parents.

Then I went to the church.  Both my paternal and maternal families attended St. Adalbert which was one of two parishes serving the Polish community in St. Paul, Minnesota.  That’s where the Schipp surname became an issue.

Michael Schipp and his family emigrated from Poland in the 1880s. Schipp is not really a Polish name.  The priests at St. Adalbert who recorded baptisms, marriages and deaths apparently decided to “correct” the spelling to what they thought it would be in Poland. Variations include Szyp, Szypinski, and Sipinski. Szyp was the most common.

Civil records at the same time, all read: Schipp.  So when the priests were presented with birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, etc. in the name Schipp, they chose to apply their own ethnic bias and record it as they thought it should be.

Over time, as more and more data collections became available online, I searched for Schipp. I found the passenger list that showed Michael’s arrival; and also the passenger manifest listing the later arrival of his wife, Elizabeth, and their children.  These confirmed, in my mind, the accuracy of the surname.

Unfortunately, when I searched records from Poland, I found a very few instances of the name, but none that I could connect with my ancestors. But more Polish records continue to come online; and I’ve become more adept at using the Polish web sites.

Thanks to the flexibility of The Poznan Project web site, I finally found people and dates that matched my family.  But the surname was Sip. On that site I found Michael’s marriage and also that of his brother Stanislaus.

After reviewing many LDS microfilms of church records from Poland, I was able to determine where they lived: Grabow nad Prosna. On these films I found Baptism records for Michael and Elizabeth’s children born in Poland.

How did Sip become Schipp?  Here’s my theory.

In the 19th century, the Province of Poznan was in the Prussian partition of Poland. There was a concerted effort to erase Polish culture and impose German language and culture. Civil authority was German and all civil records were in German. Schools taught only the German language and classes were in German.

In Polish the name Sip would be pronounced: ship or szip. 

My current thinking is that the German civil authorities wrote the name as it was pronounced.  The family were farmers in the boondocks of a relatively small city. I have no idea whether they were at all literate at the time.  Did they not understand that the spelling had changed?  Did they simply submit to the authorities rather than make a fuss?  I’ll never know.

I do hope to eventually find civil records for this family to prove or disprove my assumption.

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