Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mathematical Curiosity - Coincidence?

My 2nd great grandfather, Moshe Leyb Cruvant, was born on June 12, 1858, according to Lithuanian records.

His St. Louis, Missouri death certificate states he was born on July 1. A difference of 19 days.

Family researchers have always figured that it was close enough that the individual in the Lithuanian records had to be the same. However, is it possible to explain the difference by the fact that he was born in Lithuania between 1800-1918? (See my post Saturday on Julian and Gregorian dates in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the Russian Empire)

Julian to Gregorian conversion covers only 12 of those days - leaving 7 days to explain.


My great grandfather, Barney Newmark, said he was born on March 25th, 1886 on his Petition of Naturalization, and said April 14th on his Draft Registration.

He was born in Warka, Poland - during the time of Russian control of the area.

There are 20 days between March 25 and April 14 - leaving 8 days to explain after calendar conversion.


Moshe Leyb's son, Arkan-Ber was born on Dec 11, 1882 according to Lithuanian records.

Moshe Leyb's son Benjamin, according to St. Louis records, was born on January 3, 1883. A difference of 22 days. 10 Days after conversion.

Family researchers have figured these are the same individuals as well. The Yiddish name Ber (meaning 'Bear') commonly got changed to Benjamin in America. Furthermore, his tombstone says his Hebrew name was Ahron Dov. Dov is Hebrew for Bear, so this is a match. As far as I can tell, Arkan isn't a Hebrew name, but Ahron (Aaron) most definitely is.


The 7, 8 and 10 day differences are pretty close to each other. We'd have to assume this was a coincidence, unless there was something that happened around 7-10 days after a child was born that could possibly be observed annually.

Since all three individuals were Jewish boys, there is - a Brit Milah. Though I've never heard of a tradition of observing this anniversary, like a baptismal date for those of the Christian faith, it is a date that might be recorded by the family.

According to Jewish Law, a Brit Milah can't occur before 8 days have elapsed, so this isn't a perfect explanation for Moshe Leyb Cruvant. But being off one day could be attributed to mathematical error in conversion, clerical error in the Lithuanian records, or several other factors.

Brit Milahs are supposed to occur on the 8th day, and not be postponed, even for Shabbat or any other holiday. However, they can be postponed for health reasons, or in order to find an appropriate Mohel (the Hebrew word for the person who performs the circumcision.) Either of these may have been the case for Arkan-Ber/Benjamin Cruvant.


Or, of course, this could all be coincidence. Slight differences in birth dates between records isn't uncommon. Just because the difference falls roughly the same for all three of these kin doesn't mean it's for the same reason. But still, it's a very intriguing possibility.


I'll also note that my great grandfather, Barney, celebrated his birthday on March 17th. (He also claimed at times to have been born in Ireland, instead of Poland. There was a significant Irish community in St. Louis, and he may have thought it to be more advantageous to be Irish and born on St. Patrick's Day than Polish.) To my knowledge, he never wrote this date down on an official document, though. Which suggests to me he knew that it wasn't his official date of birth. However, some family members have grown attached emotionally to the date and seek evidence that it might be the correct date.

If we ignore the Draft Registration, and note that Poland seems to have used both calendars simultaneously while under Russian control, so Julian-Gregorian conversion might not have been necessary - there are 8 days between March 17th and March 25th.


Finally - an old joke:

Jacob's watch broke while traveling in a small Eastern European town. He saw a shop with watches and clocks hanging in the window, so he opened the door.
"Can I help you?" asked the man behind the counter.
"My watch is broken, can you fix it?" Jacob asked, relieved the guy spoke some English.
"No, sorry, we don't fix watches," the proprietor responded.
"Do you sell watches?" Jacob asked.
"Clocks! You must sell clocks!"
"No, we don't sell clocks."
Jacob was getting confused. "You don't sell watches, and you don't sell clocks?"
"No, I’m a mohel," replied the man.
"But the clocks and watches in your window?"
"If you were a mohel, tell me, what would you put in your window?"

[Note: The watch and clocks in this post are from Prague. You can read more about them here and here.]

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