Updated 2 July 2007
by Nora J. Probasco
There are many theories about the origin of the Probasco surname which will be listed below. However, there is no documentation to prove a nationality with any of these theories.
One observation in documenting the Probasco Family to date is that they were a very active family and not afraid of moving on or adapting to their environment. With their entrance into America at New Netherland in the 1600's, they have fanned out across the United States. By 1930 Probascos had migrated to most of the states.
ORIGINS IN SPAIN
This theory portrays the Probasco family origin in Spain. This is the most prominent theory accepted and the most widely published. The Probasco family resided in Spain during the time of the Inquisition and it is believed they were of the Protestant faith. In 1492, because of religious persecution and fear of death, the family left Spain and migrated north. Some believe they went to Holland/The Netherlands because their known history has been linked very closely with the Dutch in America. It is known that they were in Pernambuco, Brazil in the 1650's from baptismal records of the immigrant ancestor's children (Juriaen Probatski (Probasco)), where the Dutch traded in sugar and slaves. In 1654, the Portuguese reclaimed their territory in South America from the Dutch, expelling Dutch citizens. Most of the Dutch either returned to Holland or migrated to America/New Netherland. It has been represented that Juriaen Probatski (Probasco) migrated to America from Brazil aboard the ship with the Rev. Theodore Polhemus in 1654. However, this has been found to be untrue, as proof shows Juriaen returned to Holland from Brazil, then migrated to New Netherland.
Another theory presents the Probasco family as Basque, citing a literal interpretation of Probasco as "for the Basque". Additionally, a researcher who works at a college, whose counterpart is Spanish says Probasco means "friendly to the Basque". Curiously, in my research, I discovered that the Basque Country in Spain is known as "Pais Vasco" in Spanish, which to my understanding, would be pronouced Pas basco.
ORIGINS IN POLAND
This theory portrays the Probasco family origin in Poland. It is based on two pieces of information. That Juriaen went by the name of Probatski in Brazil and New Netherland, and that he shows up on the log of the "Peartree" as Juriaen Probatski from Breslau. Breslau has been interpreted as Polish because it is now called Wroclaw, Poland by those supporting this theory. Thanks to Bryce Stevens, following is the article in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record, volume 125 n 4, dated Oct. 1994 on page 204 supporting this theory:
JURIAEN PROBASCO'S PLACE OF ORIGIN
Juriaen Probasco arrived in New Netherlands in 1654, having previously lived in the Dutch colony in Brazil. As he sometimes appears on record as Probatski (and similar spellings), it has been suspected that he might have been of Polish origin. Now his place of origin has been identified, using "Noord America Chronologie", the abstracts of Amsterdam notarial archives available on microfilm in the NYG&BS Library. On 17 June 1654, the files of notary Hendrick Schaef (Not. Arch. 1329/39v, Gemeente Archief Amsterdam) show that Jurrien Probatski, from Breslau, going to New Netherlands as an adelborst on the ship "Peartree" in the service of the West India Company, owes 130 carols guilders to Henrick Otten, distiller, for his outfit, and will pay it back from his wages.
Breslau, in Silesia, was Polish until the 14th century and then came under Bohemian, Austrian, and eventually Prussian control. The population became German-speaking though Slavic names survived. In 1945 Breslau was transferred from Germany to Poland and is now known as Wroclaw.
-Harry Macy, Jr.
This theory portrays the Probasco family origin from Jews who migrated to Spain in the time of the Phoenicians. It is believed they were in Castile and were allowed religious freedom until the Inquisition, when they were forced to flee.
Many cultures were an important influence on Spanish and Portuguese society at this time, including the Roman and Islamic culture. There was continuous conflict between Christian Spain and Islam.
A company who traces family crests, Holmes-Corey, Ltd., gave a list of documents in Spain that they claim show the Probascos were in Spain around the 11th century:
- Julio Atienza, Baron de Corbos de Belchite: Nobilare Espaniol, published in Madrid in 1959. (This documented source gives details on some of the earliest Spanish Pedigrees and family associations.)
- Guerio's Dictionary Etimologico de Nomes e Sobrenomes, compiled and published in 1949. (This document enumerates the many surnames of Portugal and Spain giving their original form and root sources.)
According to Holmes-Corey, Ltd., it was when Islamic imperialism clashed with Christian imperialism, that the surname first appeared during these battles. At this time, these additions to the baptismal name were simple identifications and had not as yet solidified into what we now consider our hereditary surname. This was during the 11th century. The surname as we know it today evolved during the 11th through 13th century. Some of the resulting spellings appear to be an amalgam of Arabic-Spanish phonetics and spellings.
Initially I believed that there was an element of truth in all of the above theories for the following reasons. Surnames evolved from descriptive identification which was once recorded in various accounts of taxation, fines, church registers and other accepted documents of the period from the 11th through 15th centuries. These documents were the earliest available accounts of a name. However, surnames were not considered hereditary until sometime after the 14th century.
Also, territorial boundaries during this early period were in constant change. The development of the hereditary surname was a result of the influence of conquest and cultural infusion of victorious armies who settled the conquered territories, bringing with them the customs, language and phonetics of their native language.
It was not unusual for people to migrate to other countries and lands to attain religious freedom or begin a new life. In observing the Probasco migration in America since 1654, most Probasco families remained ever the pioneer, moving on to better themselves. I have also observed through tracing the genealogy of many of the early Probasco families that the Probasco family heritage was tied very closely with the Dutch. Most of the early Probasco families married Dutch families and were involved with the Dutch Reformed Church.
Breslau was a part of Silesia during the time Juriaen Probatski (Probasco) was there which was under Germanic rule by the Hapsburgs. Calvinism (which the Dutch Reformed Church is part of) was active in that area during this time. As an example, a major influence in the Dutch Reformed Church in America in the 1700's was Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, born in Wolfenbuettel, Ostfriesland, Germany, who was sent by the Classis of Amsterdam to serve the Raritan (New Jersey) churches. Many Dutch influenced areas became havens for those fleeing religious persecution.
So a document showing that Juriaen was from Breslau only shows where he was from at that time and not necessarily what his nationality was. Also, adopting different forms of a surname to fit into your current environment was common. Those who came from other countries retained their original surnames with modifications or translated them into ethnic derivatives for the area they were in. Using the spelling derivation of Probatski while in Breslau would make him fit into that culture. It should be noted that his son changed the name to Probasco upon entering America. It was not unusual in Polish/Slavic areas for someone to adopt his surname either from his profession or from the village which has this profession in its root. Could Probatski be a Polish (Slavic) translation of "Pais Vasco" which would have been pronounced Pasbasco in Spanish? Could his family have been either Jewish or Moorish who were expelled from Spain? Or could one or both of Juriaen's parents have been of Polish nobility?
It is known that the suffix "ski" used in the time frame Juriaen was in Breslau was usually proof of noble heritage in the 17th century. It is also known that Polish noble families within a clan used a surname derived from the name of the village they owned. When a family moved, it was usual to change the surname as well. Could there have been a village called Probat? In the 17th century the surnames of the noble families became fixed and were inherited by following generations. It is perhaps interesting to note that the family has retained the same surname form since Juriaen, with the only variation from Probatski to Probasco.
However, the results of the Probasco DNA Study have changed some of my thoughts. The DNA results prove that we are not Jewish. If the Probascos were at any time practicing the Jewish religion, they did so as converts. The DNA results do point to possible origins in both Poland and Spain, as our unique DNA haplotype did show up in a European DNA database in both countries. The largest populatiion of our DNA haplotype was in Poland, so there is a strong possibility that Jurriaen probably was born in Breslau.
It will require more research in Wroclaw (Breslau), Poland where any possible records may exist, and more investigation of the records of the Dutch West India Company, especially in Brazil during the 1640's and 1650's. Most of the inhabitants of Brazil at this time were employees of the Dutch West India Company, either as sailors, artisans or plantation owners. Also, in the 1800's several Probasco families migrated to America from Germany and Prussia per the federal census. Where did these families come from? Could they have come from the original Probasco ancestor, or did Probascos return to Europe from America at some time?
Whatever the outcome, the Probasco family should be proud of its heritage. We came to this country in its early years and have maintained a presence for over 350 years. Our ancestor, Juriaen, was definitely an adventurer and pioneer which is proven by his migration to Brazil and New Netherland. Juriaen's only son, Christoffel (Christopher), was involved with the growth and administrative activities of New Netherland/New York. He and several others were able to buy approximately 10,000 acres of land in New Jersey and were part of the early settlement of this state as well. Christoffel's descendants were also active in the American Revolution fighting alongside the patriots for our freedom. Many major battles fought in New Jersey were fought in areas where they lived, so they would not only have been involved in the fighting but also providing food and services to the patriots.
I think it is exciting to belong to a family that has a over 350 year heritage of being Americans. It should also be exciting to see what research efforts uncover in Europe!
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