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  • Writer's pictureBill Raines

Guest Column: Judah, Judy, Tschudi – What’s in a name? A reflection in genealogy

Guest Column to Lawrence County Zephyr - February 2, 2023 - Judah, Judy, Tschudi – What’s in a name? A reflection in genealogy!

Family names are fascinating to me. The search for my own patronym has taken me on a three-decade Homerian Odyssey, probably more akin to “O brother Where Art Thou?” than anything.

Growing up, I knew little about my paternal line. My father passed away when I was 18 and I never knew my grandfather, who passed when I was still in diapers. My granny was a colorful character who often talked about her life in Judah, although she pronounced it “Judy” and I would venture to say there are still a few old timers around (like me) who would pronounce Judah the same way she did.

Young me, the college kid, thought that poor old granny’s southern Indiana roots had gotten the best of her, but it turns out she was probably right about the pronunciation. Relying on records in the Bedford Public Library and the Lawrence County and Monroe County Health Departments, I was able to obtain death certificates of my father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather, William Jackson Jerrell.

In 1868, Jackson married Elizabeth Judah, who came from a very large local family who had settled in northern Lawrence County. I like to call him Jackson because that’s how his parents listed him in early census records when he was a child. Jackson’s death certificate shows that he was a southerner from North Carolina. Parents of the deceased and the location of birth are usually listed on a death certificate, which was invaluable information in my journey. Further research in Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina revealed a whole slew of my family members about whom I knew nothing.

Older census records often contain misspellings of surnames, usually due to low literacy rates, especially in the early 1800s. Family names are often spelled phonetically. There are a lot of short-statured, freckled, gingers in my family, so we always knew we had Irish roots. My DNA test showed lineage from Scandinavia to the British Isles, to America. Tracing my name, Jerrells shows up in the records with various spellings including Jerrell, Jarrell, Jerold, Garrell, Fitz Gerrell, Fits Gerald, and Fitzgerald, which is clearly an Irish surname. As it turns out, there were name changes for the Judah family as well.

My local research revealed that the Judah family emigrated from Switzerland in the 1600s, around the time when the Huguenots were being persecuted in France for following the teachings of John Calvin.

What a tumultuous time in central Europe that must have been – post-reformation Christianity. The family name, however, was spelled Tschudi. The “Americanized” version eventually became Judah, and I use quotes because the United States of America per se did not exist when the Tschudis migrated across the Atlantic Ocean. A proper pronunciation of “Tschudi” would phonetically sound like “Judy” – especially to rural Hoosiers, who after-all butchered the French city name of Narbonne into Gnaw Bone, and Valparaiso (Valpo) from the Portuguese phrase “Val Paraiso” meaning Paradise Valley.

Who can even say definitively where the word “Hoosier” came from or what it means? Boy, would I like to know a documented answer to that question from the time it was first used. “Judy” is, therefore, not a stretch in pronunciation at all for Judah.

Anyone conducting genealogical research should expect surprises. Missing records destroyed census records, and missing information in existing records are common problems.

The surprises in my record, however, were more existential and moralistic. Jackson and his older brother Samuel were conscripted to fight on the confederate side of the Civil War. My maternal line is full of abolitionists, so there might be a few of my ancestors on either side who are still turning in their graves at the union of the two families. Both brothers were taken as prisoners of war and transported to Indiana. Samuel is buried at Linthicum Cemetery, just a few miles from Judah.

Research on Samuel’s line shows that he had to take a loyalty oath to be released from capture after the war. Loyalty oaths were common on both sides of the Civil War, a tradition reflected in our modern day Pledge of Allegiance and constitutional oaths of office.

I can only assume that Jackson was subject to the same loyalty oath. Samuel, according to his progeny, had no allegiance to slavery and neither brother returned to their ancestral North Carolina home.

Another surprise led me to one William Fitzgerald, a Revolutionary War patriot who is buried in Winchester, Randolph County, Indiana, just north of Richmond. It is interesting how many of the Randolph County North Carolinians settled in Randolph County Indiana. My research, linked through a fortuitous recordation of birth records in a family bible in North Carolina, creates a paternal link to William. Although I am not a Son of the American Revolution, I do intend to apply someday. Amazingly, there is a plethora of records showing William’s movements during different Revolutionary War campaigns.

William died in 1851 at the ripe young age of 105 after falling from a hay wagon. My sister and I visited Mt. Zion cemetery one warm summer day when the grounds crew just happened to be mowing and trimming.

The caretaker asked who we were trying to find, and if we were looking for someone famous.

I responded: “Not really, but he is famous to us.” The caretaker replied: “Well, if you’re looking for Jim Jones, he’s buried in an unmarked grave over by his parents.” Could it be that Jim Jones, architect of the Jonestown, Guyana mass suicide, was in fact buried in the same cemetery as my Revolutionary War ancestor? Jones and his parents were actually from the Winchester area and, so the caretaker’s tale goes, Jones’ parents reclaimed his remains after the investigation was completed. Jones was allegedly buried under cover of night in an unmarked grave with no fanfare.

One contemporary report in the New York Times, however, states that Jones was cremated and that his remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side of the cemetery from Jones’ parents, William’s headstone is simply inscribed as “W.F. Jerrels” and there are markers noting his Revolutionary War service to our country.

Like many family histories, mine is an interesting tale that started with very little information. I am fortunate that so many of my family members settled and remained in the area and that there are so many records documenting my family history. Sadly, others, especially African Americans and minorities, are not so lucky with older public records. Jackson’s and Elizabeth’s death certificates note that both are buried at Judah. Jackson’s grave is unmarked, and any tombstone or marker is likely buried in the earth and lost to the ravages of time. Nonetheless it gives me comfort to know they are all there together, resting in peace.

With my apologies to Johnny Tillotson, Goober from Mayberry, Larry Storch,

Cary Grant, Judy Garland, and anyone else associated with the name – however it may be pronounced – “Judah, Judy, Tschudi” I love you.

Joby D. Jerrells is a graduate of BNL High school, a practicing attorney, and the 5th generation of his family to reside in Lawrence County. He may be reached at

Note: Lawrence County Zephyr welcomes guest columns and opinion features by subscribers or interested readers. Keep in mind the Lawrence County Zephyr reserves the right to reject any written feature by guest writers for any reason. We like the Lawrence County Zephyr to be an engaging venue for everyone.

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