Lithuanian Roman Catholic (RC) Ancestor Search Information

Lithuanian RC Ancestor Search Process

1. Collect Birth Data of U.S. Immigrant Lithuanian Ancestor and Any Immigrant Relatives

Find Lithuanian Name (of U.S. immigrant Lithuanian ancestor / relatives)

  • Overview
  • How Lithuanian Immigrants Typically "Americanized" Their Surnames in the U.S.
  • How Lithuanian Immigrants Typically "Americanized" Their Given Names in the U.S.
  • About Variations of "Americanized" Surnames in U.S. Records
  • Potential Sources of the Ancestor's Lithuanian Name
  • Potential Sources of Maiden Names
  • Example: Maiden Names That I Have Found For My Maternal Grandmother Stella Chepulis Miknis


After arrival in the U.S., Lithuanian immigrants typically changed their names to "sound more American". [Contrary to the beliefs of some people, such name changes were not made at Ellis Island.]  In order to search for the ancestor's birth record in Lithuania, you need to know the ancestor's "original" Lithuanian name. You may already know it from family sources. If the ancestor didn't change the name significantly, it may be possible for you or a Lithuanian genealogy researcher to "guess" the Lithuanian name from the U.S. name. If you don't know the Lithuanian surname, and the surname change was significant, nobody can make a good guess, so it would be critically important to find at least the surname in a record.

How Lithuanian Immigrants Typically "Americanized" Their Surnames in the U.S.

  • If the surname was a short uncomplicated one, it probably remained the same: Gudas would remain Gudas; Rudis would remain Rudis.
  • the Lithuanian vowels ė and ū would drop the diacritical marks and become e and u
  • The Lithuanian consonants having diacritical marks (č, š, ž) would be replaced either by their unmarked English counterparts (c, s, z) or else the equivalent-sounding letters (ch, sh, zh). They had to decide if they wanted to change the spelling so the name would sound the same or leave the spelling unchanged and the name would sound different: Gudavičius would typically become Gudavicius but sometimes became something like Gudavich or GudavageČepulis would become Cepulis or Chepulis or possibly Polonized CzepulisMažeika would typically become Mazeika. The č could be Americanized to cch and sometimes cz.  The š could be Americanized to ssh, or sometimes sz.  The ž could be Americanized to z or zh. The cz and sz variations were Polonized spellings and may have been initially used, but they still looked "foreign" and would have probably changed to something else later. The zh (as in "Dr. Zhivago") just wasn't familiar to Americans and, if initially used, would probably have been relatively quickly changed.  For the case of the Lithuanian č in the common suffix -avičius or -evičius, these were often Americanized to -avicius or -evicius
  • If the surname was a long one, an immigrant might change the ending to make it shorter: Gudavičius might become Gudas.
  • If the surname was a patronymic one [-avičius; -evičius; -aitis] that had a U.S. "sort-of-equivalent" surname, the immigrant might use that approach: Petravičius or Petraitis (which both mean son of Petras [Peter]) might become Peterson.
  • Some Lithuanian immigrants might have Polonized their names if they lived in a Polish community: Gudavičius might become Godowicz]
  • Some Lithuanian immigrants with long complicated names may have made an extreme change to a short American-sounding name.
  • Unmarried women typically changed to the American practice of having the same surnames as their fathers: Gudavičiūtė became Miss Gudavicius;  Čepulytė became Miss Chepulis; Mažeikaitė became Miss Mazeika.
  • Married women typically changed to the American practice of having the same surnames as their husbands: Gudavičienė became Mrs. Gudavicius.

How Lithuanian Immigrants Typically "Americanized" Their Given Names in the U.S.

Most Lithuanian immigrants typically adopted the English equivalent of their given names [e.g., Jonas became John; Viktoras became Victor; Barbora became Barbara; Paulina became Pauline].  There are lists of equivalent names given in books such as the Polish volume of the "In Their Words" books by Shea & Hoffman (Reference 1). 

Many Lithuanian immigrants did not adopt the English equivalent of their given names. This usually occurred in cases where there was no English equivalent or else there was an English equivalent but it wasn't a commonly used name in the U.S.   Some examples of this are:

  • the Lithuanian name Bronislovas could be Bronislaus in the U.S., but typically became Bruno.
  • the Lithuanian name Jadvyga could be Hedwig in the U.S., but often became Hattie [this was originally the case for my grandmother Jadvyga , but she later changed it to Jenny and then later to Harriet; my grand-aunt Jadvyga became Edith].
  • the Lithuanian name Jokūbas could be Jacob, but this is also the Lithuanian name for the apostle we call James.
  • the Lithuanian name Stanislava had no real U.S equivalent, but typically became Stella [this was the case for my grandmother Stanislava]
  • the Lithuanian name Stanislovas could be Stanislaus in the U.S. but typically became Stanley  [this was the case for my grand-uncle Stanislovas].
  • the Lithuanian name Vaclovas often became Walter in the U.S.
  • the Lithuanian name Vincentas could be Vincent in the U.S. but for some unknown reason often became William.
  • the Lithuanian name Vladislovas could be Vladislaus in the U.S. but often became Walter.

About Variations of "Americanized" Surnames in U.S. Records

There are additional considerations about names.  In order to search U.S. records of your ancestor, you have to first locate them, and records are almost always found by using indexes of names.  Even if your ancestor used the same name throughout his/ her life in the U.S., you will probably find many variations of the name, and it seems that the number of variations increases as you go back in time.  These variations are caused by misspellings and corrupted spellings by persons preparing the records and/or indexing them, and by the use of "nicknames", and also by actual changes made by the ancestor in attempts to "Americanize" the name. In some cases, where the "Americanized" name evolved over time, the versions of the name in earlier U.S. records might be a clue to the original Lithuanian surname.

With respect to names in the pre-1926 Latin-language birth, marriage, and death registers of ethnic Lithuanian RC parishes in Chicago, I have encountered: various spellings by priests trying to "Latinize" the name, various suffix endings to indicate the maiden names of females, and questions about whether the ancestor was actually at that time calling himself/ herself by the Lithuanian version of his/ her name as entered in the register.

Potential Sources of the Ancestor's Lithuanian Name

  • "Family Recollection".
  • Family Papers.
  • U.S. records that ask for names of the ancestor's parents (see Find Parents' Names) [but these names are typically "Americanized"].
  • Applications for U.S. citizenship (Declarations of Intent; Petitions for Naturalization).
  • U.S. Alien Registration Forms.
  • Church records, especially earlier records.  If your ancestor was in an ethnic Lithuanian RC parish, there is a good possibility that the priest wrote down his/ her Lithuanian name rather than his/ her Americanized name in a baptism, marriage or funeral record.  To make such a search, you need to know the date of the event.
  • Cemetery Headstones [for burials in ethnic Lithuanian cemeteries]
  • Cemetery Interment Records [for burials in ethnic Lithuanian cemeteries]

Potential Sources of Maiden Names

If you don't know the maiden name of a female ancestor, but you know her married name, the U.S. records in which her maiden name might be found are:

  • Marriage license (if you know when and where she was married).
  • Church marriage record (if you know when and where she was married).
  • Church baptism record of her child (if you know when and where her child was baptized).
  • Church death/funeral record of her child (if you know when her child died and her parish)
  • Birth certificate of her child (if you know when and where the child was born).
  • Application for Social Security (Form SS-5) (it helps greatly, but isn't necessary, to know her Social Security Number)
  • Applications for U.S. citizenship (Declarations of Intent; Petitions for Naturalization) [but most Lithuanian immigrant women didn't submit these].

Example: Maiden Names That I Have Found for My Maternal Grandmother Stella Chepulis Miknis.

  • [For reference, her actual name in Lithuania was "Čepulytė" (pronounced "Chepull-ee-teh"), with family name "Čepulis" (pronounced "Chepullis").] 
  • 1913 ship passenger list: Czepules (and the name of her female cousin on the same page of the list is spelled "Czepulisk").
  • marriage license; pre-marriage portion (Dec 1914): Chepulite.
  • marriage license; post-marriage portion (Jan 1915): Chepulaite. 
  • 1915 All Saints Church marriage record: Čiapulyte.
  • 1916 birth certificate of her daughter: Chepulis.
  • 1916 baptism record of her daughter: Čepulaite.
  • 1920 baptism record of her daughter: Čepulaitė.
  • 1982 Obituary: Miknis nee Chepulis.

Copyright © All rights reserved.