Skip to main content

The other Rebelskys

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, short

For most of my life, I thought we were the only Rebelskys. Our name had started out as Novagrebelsky [1,2] but became Rebelsky upon arrival at Ellis Island [3]. And we were the only Rebelskys we could find. There were a few other folks who we knew were related, but they had changed their name from Rebelsky to blend in better [4]. And that’s where things stood for the first thirty or so years of my life.

Then came the InterWeb and Iowa. Suddenly, Rebelskys were popping up. There’s a Leon Rebelsky who friended me on Facebook. I don’t think we have any familial connection; he appears to be Russian and, as I said, the Rebelsky started at Ellis Island. Stunningly, there are Rebelskys elsewhere in Iowa. Just a few weeks ago, someone asked me if I’m related to Steve Rebelsky in Des Moines. We’ve never met, but I think the answer is nope.

Why don’t I think I’m related to the other Iowa Rebelskys? There are a few reasons. The first is that the Rebelskys who came over together kept track of each other [5]. But I also got a Facebook message from someone trying to trace their Iowa Rebelsky ancestry. They had Rebelskys in Iowa dating back to the 1800’s and with clear German roots. We’re Russian (or, more precisely, Russian Jews). That makes a connection unlikely.

While it would be nice to have a more extended Rebelsky clan, I’m pretty happy with the Rebelsky clan I have. Three awesome young men, one wonderful wife [6], and one curmudgeon make a pretty good group.

But I should get in contact with some of the no-longer-Rebelsky Rebelskys, both the ones who changed their names and the ones whose names changed by marriage. My kids would appreciate knowing more of the stories of the old days in the US, from my grandparents’ common-law marriage and their hobo-like trip across the US to the days in the Stelton, NJ commune. Oh well, those are tasks and musings for another day.

[1] Spelling approximate.

[2] Where does Novagrebelsky come from? I’ve heard two stories. One is that it means new bridge, with no further explanation. The other is a bit more involved. It goes something like this.

It was a small enough town that Jews in the area didn’t usually bother with last names. But the Russians called our family Novagrebelsky after a local count Grebelsky; it would be like referring to a recent immigrant as New Rockefeller.

The older I get, the less believable that story seems. But it’s a good story.

[3] I’m told that the other side of the family was Gildenpfennig and they were given the option of Gould or Gold. My great grandfather responded with "The first one.

[4] Ah, the joys of assimilation.

[5] Unfortunately, I’m doing a less good job of keeping track of the family than my mom did. (Yeah, mom kept track of both sides of the family. And lots of other people’s families, come to think of it.)

[6] Michelle is a Rebelsky by marriage. It’s close enough.

Version 1.0 released 2018-07-09.

Version 1.1 of 2018-07-11.