Does your Yiddish-speaking, seemingly Ashkenazi family have an oral tradition of a Sephardic origin?
My research into the Talalay family has turned up indications of some 20 families of Sephardic origin in Mogilev, Belarus, among them Abravanel, Don Yakhia, Pines, Abugof/Aboaf and Talalay. Spelling variations are many.
"This was our name when we left Spain" was my family's longtime explanation for the unusual name. While people may have thought we were kidding, research on our family name has produced a document dated 1353 from Lerida, Spain, mentioning Mosse (Moshe) Talalaya, a kosher winemaker. There are six additional family mentions and we’re attempting to track down supporting documents.
Dr. Dan Laby (de Cavalleria), a Harvard pediatric opthamalogist and avid genealogist, recently came across his earliest document yet, dated 1204, also from Lerida. We share the same researcher and I was there when his document was found.
So how did Sephardim end up in Eastern Europe?
Dr. Rose Lerer Cohen, formerly of South Africa and now Jerusalem, offered a fascinating ICJG talk on this. Her interest began when she met a man who called himself a “litvishe frank,” a Litvak Sephardi.
In 1388, says Cohen, area Jews received permission to live in Brest, joined by others from Italy, Crimea, Germany. In 1391, anti-Jewish riots in Spanish cities encouraged migration north and east.
Jews from Spain went to Holland and Germany and continued east (Russian Jewish Encyclopedia), while Sephardim settled Zamosc, Poland, with King Casimir’s permission in 1588 (Encyclopedia Judaica).
Cohen presented maps, subscription lists and books, including a Sephardic community list naming places in Belarus, Lithuania, Hungary and others. Sephardim be eretz lita (Sephardim in Lithuania) by Shlomo Katzav, lists Sephardic synagogues and minyans across the region.
Her search of “Where Once We Walked” (www.avotaynu.com) by Alexander Beider, produced Sephardic names as Maimon, Frank, Shub, Di Leon and others. Krakow Sephardim, says Cohen, included Hispanus, Kalhora (Calahorra), Wolchowicz Szafardi, Fortis di Lima and Rosanes.
Bottom line: Never discount family oral tradition, but do the research to support it.