Listening to my Own Advice

Greetings, marhaba, and welcome.

When doing genealogy research, one of the first things I focus on is not making assumptions. This week, I was soundly reminded to listen to my own words.

While conducting an interview for an Arab American client’s family history, I made some of those assumptions and was proven wrong – twice[1].

The first assumption was that the family name had been changed because of a problem similar to many immigrants – a confusion when the immigration record was created. It turns out, according to the interviewee, that Michael Yousef Yacoub Abdallah, the immigrant great grandfather, legally changed his name to Michael Joseph Jacobs, because he opened a family business. The story goes that he was constantly confused with another Abdallah family business. To avoid confusion, he changed his surname to Jacobs, the English translation of Yacoub (Jacob).

Now, of course, I will need to corroborate this story.  However, hearing the story made me realize that I need to remember that although many times trends and patterns can help us discover why things happened, it is not always the case. It is important to be detailed in research.

The second assumption was that “Turk’s Restaurant,” owned by the son of the renamed Michael Joseph Jacobs, was given this name as a nod to their home in Lebanon being formerly under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Again, I was told I was grossly mistaken. The story was that the son was nicknamed “The Turk” because when he was in high school, he participated in a competition to grow the best tomatoes. To help his tomatoes along, he used turkey manure as fertilizer and won the contest. Hereinafter referred to as “The Turk,” he named his restaurant “Turk’s Restaurant.”

The moral of the story, as they say, is to not make assumptions without corroboration. Genealogy standards require us to do “thoroughly exhaustive research,” which in turn leads us to a broader and deeper understanding of our ancestor’s stories.[2]

[1] Jack Jacobs, (Stockton, California), interview by Reem Awad-Rashmawi and Christine Totah, 26 March 2021; video and transcript privately held by interviewer, Davis, California.

[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd edition (Nashville, TN: Ancestry, 2019), 1.

Published by Reem Awad-Rashmawi

Photographs & Memories by Reem

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