A couple of years ago I posted about my great-great grandfather Henry Wildman, and the complications I had in attempting to find the real Henry Wildman caused such a headache that I turned my attention away to other things. However, Henry’s marriage has captured my attention in terms of the potential of a Jewish connection.
As far as I am aware, the Wildman family is not attached to a particular religion. My immediate family and the generations living are probably best defined as mostly irreligious, although I couldn’t say with certainty about the generations that have passed away. Of course, religion was a heavy feature in everyone’s lives throughout the centuries, due to the presence of the Church in so many important functions: baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Furthermore, there is the presence of religion in education; I went to a Church of England primary school back in the 1980s. However, none of this means that religion was a defining feature of life, in which people rigidly defined themselves by. As such, I find the connection to a particular faith – whether it be Judaism, Methodism, or Catholicism – quite fascinating.
Many years ago I worked alongside my cousin in a rather tedious data entry job and a co-worker there asked us if we were Jewish; we answered that we didn’t know of any link, but she insisted that we were. I’m not entirely sure on what criteria she was using for this insisting: stereotypical physical features or our surname? The surname itself is shared by many Jewish people (with many variations, including ‘Wildmann’ and ‘Feldman’), but the origins of the name is bogged in great mystery (as I have previously outlined). Therefore, there is no clear link in simply tracing the surname.
However, first names provide something of a hint.
My attention was initially diverted down this route when reading the entire name of my great-grandfather (who I have discussed on the blog previously): Sidney Levi Wildman. The uncovering of the middle-name – Levi – was interesting, because it is the same middle-name as my dad’s, thereby connecting these two together. Wikipedia notes the following:
Levi is a masculine given name. It is the name of the priestly Levite tribe of ancient Judah. An etymology is given in the bible in connection with the story of the birth of the tribes’ founders.
The Levites were Jewish males who claim descent from this original tribe. The tribe itself appears to have served ‘particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political and educational responsibilities as well’. Interestingly, Levites remain a noted group with Jewish communities, with the percentage judged – by Wikipedia – to stand at 4%.
As for Sidney, Wikipedia notes that it is:
an English given name deriving from the surname, itself of two different derivations depending on the origins of the family. In some cases a place name, itself from Old English, meaning “wide water meadow”, and in others from the French place name “St. Denis”.
However, there are claims of Sidney being a Jewish name. One website states that it is a ‘Hebrew Girl name’, and other sites note that it translates to ‘enticer’; however, none of these sites offer particularly convincing points. But yet Sidney was a very popular name at the turn of the twentieth century and appears to have been used by many Jewish families; one internet forum offered the following reasons behind this:
The explanation I have heard is that these were common “American” names around the peak of European Jewish immigration to the U.S. Jews gave those names to their children so they would fit in, and later they became known as Jewish name. Ira’s popularity peaked in the 1880s and Sidney and Irving were both at the peak of their popularity in the 1910s. I think that fits into that explanation.
Of course, there are a few major limitations to this explanation; my great-grandfather wasn’t born in the USA and nor was his family immigrants entering the United States. However, it does suggest that the name was very popular, and it became attached to Jewish families during the period. This, possibly then, may have made it more common in Britain and the wider western world.
But to what extent do these names provide proof of a Jewish link? Well, they do not. However, they do suggest that one of Sidney’s parents may have been Jewish. Enter Harriet Sinfeld.
I have yet to delve into Harriet Sinfeld, but the surname raises more questions. Sinfeld – and its other variations such as Seinfeld – is strongly associated with Jewish families and communities. This, then, may provide the explanation behind the name of Sidney Levi Wildman. My next step is to research further into Harriet to find out more about her and her family; hopefully a clear Jewish connection can be found.