American Jewish Historical Society

New York Minute

Family history told me that my great-grandparents arrived in the US and went to Little Rock, Arkansas, before making their way to St. Louis, Missouri. We all asked the same question: Why did a shoemaker from Daugavpils, Latvia move to Little Rock, Arkansas? Amazingly, I found records that give the answer.

My maternal great-grandparents, Solomon and Anna Ketcher[1] reached New York on 3 July 1904, and headed to a relative’s tenement flat at 102 Suffolk Street, in the heart of the Lower East Side.

102-suffolk-st

102 Suffolk St.

By the time my great-grandmother’s sister, Tilly, arrived on 18 Dec 1904, they had moved to 532 Avenue A in Bayonne, NJ. The day after Tilly arrived, Solomon and Anna’s first child, Robert, was born.

The Ketchers lived with Jacob and Rosa Silk in Bayonne, the same family that previously sheltered them at 102 Suffolk Street. At the time, the Silks had six children between the ages of 2 and 13, so one can imagine that three adults (soon to be four) plus an infant created a problem.

Enter the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) – a scary name for a good organization. The IRO, founded in 1901, was created as part of the Jewish Agricultural Society to assimilate immigrants into American society, both economically and culturally. Originally focused on Romanian refugees, it expanded to assist all Jewish immigrants in finding employment. IRO agents spread around the country worked to secure jobs in communities, and then immigrants would be sent to those locations to establish a new life.

On 10 March 1905, my great-grandfather’s name was entered into the ledger book of the IRO, along with his wife “Annie,” and three others, unnamed but identified by age: 11-week old infant (Robert), and two adults, ages 19 (Tilly) and 25 (Tilly’s fiancé Hyman Atkin). A shoemaker was needed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Solomon was assigned.

The IRO records include the ledger books, case files and correspondence, as well as reports of local agents. In the case of my family, the records included a copy of the telegram sent to Rabbi Louis Wolsey of Little Rock: “Shoemaker family, five persons, arrive Monday morning nine fifty-five via Iron Mountain Road. Three workers.” [2]

1905-telegram

My family lived in New York for just a few months – a “New York Minute” – but that brief footprint was embedded in records, now housed at the American Jewish Historical Society, in the Center for Jewish History in New York.

  1. Ketcher underwent multiple spelling changes, appearing previously Katscher and Katcher.
  2. Image used with permission from the collection of the US Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY and Boston, MA.
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