Every family has its secrets: little things that are never discussed or lied about until the last knowledgeable person takes it to the grave. My family is no different. In my case, this little thing seems to not be quite so little.
My maternal great-grandfather had a secret: his name wasn’t George. Yet he was adamant: the family was Schultz and were good Germans end of story. About ten years ago the last of his sisters fell ill, and her children discovered, that wasn’t the end of the story. When they questioned her about a pile of birth certificates with strange names they learned that in the past the entire family changed their name to Schultz from Wischnewski. It expanded beyond that with many even changing their first names. G.grandpa George was really Walter. My family went from flabbergasted to angry to joking. But I’m a curious person and I need to know more.
I took the few names I knew and started hitting the records. For years I searched with no real luck. Nothing about the name, no dates to work off of. Then I game across a few family photos with names of brothers and sisters and a gravestone for the parents. This led me to… (ta da!) the census!
1900: the Wischnewski family is living in Milwaukee, WI after immigrating from Germany in 1890. 8 of 10 children are listed as living.
1910: the Wischnewski family is still living in Milwaukee, WI. 10 of 15 children are listed as living.
1920: after the patriarch dies in 1917, only the matriarch and youngest son George are listed under the last name Wischnewski. All of the other children have adopted the last name of Schultz
1930: the matriarch died in 1925. George has adopted the last name of Schultz and has taken a wife.
While this certainly doesn’t answer the question of why, it brings up some interesting points and leads to a few different possibilities. My top two thoughts are that there was a rift surrounding the patriarch or something happened in Germany either before the family moved or with one of the children that remained behind. My curiosity has only grown, and I’m going to continue to search into this little mystery. Sorry grandpa George, no secret is safe in genealogy!