I do not know whether this question (in history of math) is proper for MathOverflow, but I know no other places where it can be asked with a hope to obtain an answer.

Reading the biography of Henry Maurice Sheffer (a famous logician whose name is attributed to the "Sheffer stroke", one of two binary operations that generate all other logical operations) in Wikipedia I learned that ``Sheffer was a Polish Jew born in the western Ukraine''. The same information is repeated in JewAge. On the other hand, MacTutor claims that Sheffer was born 1 September 1882 in Odessa, that time it was in Russian Empire, and not in western Ukraine at all (those times the western Ukraine was under Austrian Empire). The paper "The known and unknown H.M. Sheffer" of M.Scanland writes simply that Sheffer was born in Ukraine in 1883.

So, what is the truth? Sheffer was born in Odessa (the south of Ukraine) or in the western Ukraine. If in the western Ukraine, then at which town or village? And what is the year of his birth? 1882 or 1883? Who can know this information?

  • $\begingroup$ Scanlan’s paper notes that he took his details (Ukraine, 1883) from Sheffer’s death certificate, supplied by Sheffer’s granddaughter — so these are at least well based on a primary source, though certainly not infallible (Scanlan himself later notes an error in Adele Sheffer’s death certificate!) $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ Another good source is Langer’s brief obituary in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 25, no. 2 (1964): 305– 7, freely available here with a little more context, “Donald Dryden on Sheffer's Influence on Langer”. Langer writes that Sheffer “…was born in Southern Russia in 1883. His early childhood was spent there, amid the great Ukrainian wheat fields.” The obituary doesn’t cite sources, but Langer was a close student of Sheffer, so this presumably came directly from him or his family. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ You mention where else to ask a question in history of math—why not the History of Math StackExchange? $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Mar 20 at 11:37

1 Answer 1


The confusion on the year of birth can be traced back to official records. The 1918 draft registration card of Henry Maurice Sheffer states September 1, 1883 as date of birth. However, the 1904 naturalization record states September 1, 1882. In one more document, a passport application from 1910, Henry Sheffer "solemnly swears" that he was born on September 1, 1882. I would consider that the most authoritative official source (even though it is at odds with the inscription on the tomb stone).

  • $\begingroup$ And what about the place of his birth? Odessa or western Ukraine. Taking into account that Sheffer himself wrote that he emigrated from Russia, a more probable birthplace would be Odessa and not western Ukraine. Right? But he could also be born in western Ukraine and aftrewards move to Odessa and finally emigrated to USA. It is interesting what was the truth. And why many sources wrote that he was a Polish Jew? Are there any evidences that he or his parents spoke Polish? $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ the birth place of his parents is listed as Russia in the census records; I don't know of a reliable source for the Polish ancestry. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ Just for curiosity, how did you obtain all this info? $\endgroup$
    – Dabed
    Mar 21 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ these are all public sources that are made available for genealogy research purposes $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 7:14

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