Tilsen Family History

Photo of Hirshel & Ḥaya Tilsen Family Reunion & Gertrude's Wedding (To Sam Reuben) 4 February 1923.  Click to see enlarged Photo

From Winograd to Wisconsin

Hirshel "Harry" Teplitszky (צבי הירשTsvi Hirsh, Yiddish for "Little Deer"; aka Hershel, Herschel, Haim Tsvi) was born between 1856 and 1862. His father's name was Shemuel (according to Hirshel's tombstone, but "Moses" according to his death certificate). One family tradition says he was a hotelier in their village in the southern Kiev district. He arrived in Milwaukee Wisconsin in 1906 (or possibly as early as 1903) where he worked as a rag peddler. He died there on 13 March 1940.

Ḥaya "Clara" "Chia" Cohen (חיה בת אברהם הכהן ורבקהḤaya bat Avraham HaKohen & Rivqa, Hebrew for "Lifeforce"), daughter of Abraham & Rebecca Cohen, was born on 20 January 1857 and died 4 May 1938.

Hirshel & Ḥaya came from Vynhorad (Виноград, Vinograd, Winograd, Winorad) (49° 15' N 30° 34' E), about 20 miles northwest of Zvenigorodka (Звенигородка) near Kiev, a Russian-speaking area in Ukraine, and spoke Yiddish at home. Their children all took the name Tilsen, and all came to Milwaukee, but not at the same time. They came to Milwaukee, apparently, because others from Winograd had already relocated there. Their oldest child, Tobel, was the first to arrive in America, with her husband Jacob Saichek. The Saichek family was also from Winograd. Tobel and Jacob gave birth to their oldest child in London, England in 1901; to their second in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1902; and to their third in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1904. One hundred years later, Hirshel & Ḥaya have at least two hundred descendents. We have no knowledge or record of any siblings or other relatives of Hirshel. Ḥaya had a nephew Morris Cohen who lived with them in January 1920 in Milwaukee (per 1920 census, age 23, born in Kiev Russia, immigrated 1914). Also living with them at that time was nephew Nathan Polsky [Ganapolsky], age 24, from Kiev, who immigrated in 1914.

For information on the development of the Jewish community in North Dakota and reflections on the immigrant experience, see Ken Tilsen's Quest for Data about North Dakota Jewish Community.

Hirshel & Ḥaya are buried in Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the names "Harry & Chia Teplitszky."

Photo of Hirshel & Ḥaya Tilsen Family Reunion & Gertrude's Wedding (To Sam Reuben) 4 February 1923.  Click to see enlarged Photo

At right is a photo of Hirshel & Ḥaya and their family at a Family Reunion and Gertrude's Wedding to Samuel Reuben 4 February 1923 in Milwaukee. The Tilsen Family and the Reuben Family have a special relationship. Click on the photo to see a larger image.

These are the names of the children of Hirshel & Ḥaya.

For information on their spouses and descendants, follow the links to the names above, and see Family Tree below. For information on the town Winograd, see Abraham P. Gannes, Childhood in a Shtetl (ISBN 1880365561).

Harry's Death Certificate
Chia's Death Certificate
Harry & Chia's Tombstone

Teplitszky becomes Tilsen

Our family began using the name "Tilsen" some time after coming to America in the first decade of the twentieth century. Before that, we used the name "Teplitszky," but probably only for a generation or two. The name "Teplitszky" suggests that they may have been descendents of Jewish families who had left Teplitz Czechoslovakia for the Kiev area in the early 18th century.

There were others who used the name "Tilsen" in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are almost certainly unrelated to us. There are also families who use the name Tilsen in Central and Western Europe (Germany, Denmark, Estonia) and elsewhere. We have no reason to believe any of them are related to us. There is even a town in Latvia called "Tilsen" (57° 15' N 22° 26' E) and a fish in Australia called the "Tilsen bass." The famous composer Michael Tilson Thomas often is honored by having his name misspelled "Tilsen Thomas." But none of them are related to us, at least no more closely related than anyone else by any name.

So how did we get the name "Tilsen"?

Hirshel & Ḥaya and all of their seven children took the name Tilsen sometime after their arrival in Milwaukee. According to legend, they received the name Tilsen from their Norwegian neighbors, with whom they enjoyed fine relations. The neighbors complained that the name Teplitszky was incomprehensible (and at any rate too hard to spell). They took the Teplitszkys down to the lake, threw them in, and announced that henceforth they will be considered Norwegians and will bear the name "Tilsen." This notwithstanding that the name "Tilsen" is not actually used in Norway.

Edward N. Tilsen himself was unable to explain how it was that they picked the name Tilsen. It was very common for immigrants of that era to adopt "American" names, and in their setting among many Scandinavians and Germans in Wisconsin the name "Tilsen" must have seemed truly American.

In her Autobiography, Jean Tilsen Brust (Ed & Esther's daughter) offers an alternative tradition for the derivation of the family name.

There is some speculation about the relationship of the Tilsen name to Tolchin. Harry & Chia's son Morris married Rebecca Tolchin sometime after coming to America. It seems that the Tolchin family came from the same region as the Tilsens and may well have been related. The name Tilsen could have come about as an attempt to use the name Tolchin.

We have no evidence whatever that they had any relatives already in America, either using the name Tilsen or any other name. All living American Tilsens, as far as we can tell, are cousins and bear no relation to any other Tilsens. The name spelled "Tilson" is fairly common and none using that name are related to our family.

There are several ways the name "Tilsen" has been represented in Hebrew in modern documents. Jon-Jay Tilsen uses the Hebraicized name Tal-Sinai: טל־סיני. This representation is a "sound-alike" name that is intelligible to the Hebrew speaker.

Family Trees

Family trees are available on request from jjtilsen@beki.org for the Tilsen, Reuben and Chaplik families.

For more information contact Jon-Jay Tilsen at jjtilsen@beki.org