Immigration

Records, Not Revenue

In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.USCIS Genealogy Program Fee Hikes final v4

If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file.  The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing.  If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.

Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.

You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:

Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here. There’s a summary available at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin. 

Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 16 DECEMBER 2019 to

    • Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
    • Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!

Sign up to stay informed on this effort and learn more at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and every family historian and researcher you know!

The Eastern European Mutt is going to…

IAJGS-2019-Banner-Website resize

…Cleveland! I’ll be speaking at the 39th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 28 – August 2, 2019.*

My talk, titled Why Cleveland? Finding Answers in the Industrial Removal Office Records starts with the question many of us ask. Why did our immigrant ancestor chose to live in Cleveland over Pittsburgh? Little Rock over Los Angeles? Memphis over Miami? The answers might lie in the records of the Industrial Removal Office, a scary name for a good organization. The IRO, founded in 1901, assisted immigrants in finding employment and better living conditions, and helped assimilate them into American society. IRO agents, often working in partnership with B’nai B’rith or other Jewish fraternal groups, spread around the USA securing jobs, and then immigrants would be sent to those locations to establish a new life.

The session will examine the records of the IRO, housed at the American Jewish Historical Society, including ledger books, case files and correspondence, as well as reports by local agents on the newly settled immigrants. Using case studies, the presentation will demonstrate how to use the online index, and how to navigate to find immigrant case files, correspondence, and reports. The talk builds off a previous blog post, New York Minute.

I’ll also have a few minutes during the LatviaSIG meeting to speak about the records of the U.S. Consulate in Riga, housed at the National Archives in College Park.

Will I see you in Cleveland? Early Bird Registration ends 30 April 2019.

Of St. Louis and Bread Memories

I was born in St. Louis. My parents are from St. Louis – born, raised, married there. My great-grandparents chose St. Louis when they immigrated, some arriving in the 1890s, and all settled there by 1908.

My bread memories of St. Louis don’t have bagels in them. My bread memories are of oblong sourdough rye loaves, in a thick coat of crispy cornmeal. Tzitzel bread made by Pratzel’s, a bakery founded in 1913.[1] After we moved away from St. Louis, we’d return home from a visit with a trunk full of rye bread, thinking it might somehow be enough to last until the next trip.

1962 Carl 2 Cents Plain Post Card cropped 2My family also knows a few things about the delis of St. Louis. My dad’s uncle Louis and cousins Jack, Charlie and Bill ran delis. Not just delis, famous St. Louis delis. Delis with pastrami, corned beef and barrels of dill pickles. Delis with tradition.

When the story of “bread-sliced bagels” as a St. Louis “tradition” broke the news cycle this week, I thought about Jack and Bill. In their retired years, I got to know Jack and his brother Bill a little bit. They aided me in the oral history of the Carl family, and Jack, in particular, seemed like an encyclopedia of St. Louis, lost when he died in 2015. I wondered what would happen if someone walked into Carl’s Deli and asked for a “bread-sliced bagel.” Bill, always putting the customer first, would have obliged, but would have wondered why. If the same order happened at Jack’s 2¢ Plain, Jack, the Soup Nazi long before there was a Soup Nazi, would have berated the customer.

Where did this “tradition” come from? Was it really a St. Louis thing? Panera’s parents were a Boston-bred cookie company, founded in 1980, and the St. Louis Bread Company, founded in 1987. Their union resulted in Panera’s birth in the 1990s. Panera is a millennial. It’s not a St. Louis tradition.[2]

Cities change. 2¢ Plain is gone now. Bill sold Carl’s Deli to an employee, and you can still get a real pastrami sandwich there. After baking tzitzel bread for nearly 100 years, Pratzel’s closed. We mourned the loss of the beloved bread, but a few years later, my cousin Melissa discovered that Mike Pratzel, of the St. Louis Pratzel’s, had a bakery in Madison, Wisconsin, and made tzitzel bread with the same sourdough starter that began his family’s bread legacy.  With the magic that is overnight delivery, we can order tzitzel bread from Manna Bakery in Madison. Maybe next time I’ll ask them to cut it like a bagel.

[1] http://www.losttables.com/pratzels/pratzels.htm accessed 28 March 2019

[2] https://www.panerabread.com/en-us/company/about-panera/our-history.html accessed 28 March 2019

 

The Name Change Myth

2016 was the year of Fake News. Let’s make 2017 the year that one of those fake stories finally goes away.

Your family’s surname was not changed at Ellis Island.[1]

You know the story. It goes something like this:

  • Carl? That’s not Russian.
  • The clerk at Ellis Island named your family after his son.
  • It was “German Day” at Ellis Island and that’s how your ancestors were called Carl.
  • The name was too long and ended in –sky or –itz or something and the clerk shortened it to make it easier to write.

There are hundreds of variations of this story. None of them are true.

Nope. No. Nein. Nem. Nu. Nie. Нет. קיין .
[2]

Language plays an important role in this myth. Many of the people who purport the story of the name change have ancestors who emigrated from a country that used a different alphabet, or had different letters, or used diacritical marks to distinguish pronunciation. An immigrant from the Russian Empire might know how to spell their surname using Cyrillic or Hebrew letters, and that name had to be transliterated into the Latin alphabet. A Pole with the letter Ł in a name would expect a “W” sound, not “L.” Umlauts and other diacritic marks from German, Hungarian, Czech and other languages do not neatly transliterate.

The creation of the ship’s manifests, or passenger lists, took place in Europe. The clerk was at the ticket agency. A copy of that list was sent with the ship’s captain to be presented at the port of entry. Sometimes a copy of that list remained at the port of embarkation.

On 29 May 1900, the Lake Huron set sail for North America from Liverpool, bound for the Port of Quebec in Montreal. An “Outwards Passenger List” was cre1900-jankel-karol-border-crossingated, and kept in England. A similar version of the list went with the ship, and can be found in the Library Archives Canada collections. Both lists have the same version of the surname of an immigrant from Russia: KAROL.

Wait. Montreal? That raises another big factor in the myth. Did the family arrive at Ellis Island? What about its precursor, Castle Garden? Or Montreal? Or Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans or Galveston?

The final destination of this passenger was Boston, not Montreal, so another list is associated with the travel – on a form required by the US Government. Called a List or Manifest of Alien Immigrants for the Commissioner of Immigration, it too, was created prior to arrival. The fine print on the document illustrates that point:

Required by the regulations of the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, under Act of Congress approved March 3, 1893, to be delivered to the Commissioner of Immigration by the Commanding officer of any vessel having such passengers on board upon arrival at….

In this case, the list was used when the passengers prepared to cross the border from Canada to the United States. Again, the surname of the passenger was spelled KAROL.

After a few years of living with his sister-in-law’s family in Boston, this immigrant moved to St. Louis. He earned enough money to pay for the passage of his wife and children. They boarded the Pennsylvania in Hamburg and traveled to the Port of New York, arriving at Ellis Island on 22 Jan 1905. The surname on the manifest read CARROL.1905-jankel-carrol

I can hear the myth-lovers: “that’s it – it was Irish day at Ellis Island, and that is why they changed KAROL to CARROL.”

No. Nope. Nein. Nem. Nu. Nie. Нет. קיין. Or as the Irish might say, Ní féidir.

Like the UK Outwards Passenger List, immigrants leaving from Hamburg were noted on passenger lists; lists stored at the Staatsarchiv Hamburg in Germany. The Hamburg lists match the Ellis Island passenger manifest, surname spelled CARROL.

Sometime between arriving in Boston in 1900 and moving to St. Louis about 1904, Jankel KAROL changed the spelling of his name to Jankel CARROL. When he purchased the steamship tickets for his family, the manifest listed his name and address as: Jankel CARROL, 814 Biddle Street in St. Louis, nearly an exact match to the listing in the City Directory for Jacob CARROL at 814 Biddle Street. Jankel is the Yiddish nickname for Yaacov, the Hebrew version of Jacob. It’s not just surnames that change as families Americanized.1906-fold3_carroll_jacob_p_317_city_directories_for_st_louis_missouri

The surname CARROL changed one additional time, to CARL, before 1910, in St. Louis, some 950 miles from Ellis Island. Why? That cannot be answered. Som1911-jacob-carl-petition-for-naturalizatione educated guesses could be made, but those guesses become stories, and those stories run the danger of feeding the myth.

Let’s recap:

  • Passenger lists and manifests were created by ticket agents in Europe;
  • Alphabets and pronunciation play a role in spelling;
  • Some ports of departure kept copies of passenger lists and the names from those lists match the names on lists at the port of entry; and
  • Not all immigrants arrived at Ellis Island!

Still not convinced? Here are some additional resources discussing the myth of the Ellis Island name change:

Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was)
Philip Sutton, Librarian, New York Public Library

American Names: Declaring Independence and Examples of Name Changes from the National Archives
Marian L. Smith, Senior Historian, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

The Name Remains the Same
Robin Meltzer, Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington

[1]If only Snopes was on the case.
[2] English slang, Italian & Spanish, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Russian, Yiddish.

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.

Liberty Enlightening the World

liberty-resized

On a grey, cold day in October, I boarded a ferry outside the gates of Castle Garden, at the tip of Manhattan.  Looking out the ferry window, my parents and I could see a misty Statue of Liberty. From this vantage, the scene would have looked similar to one more than 100 years ago when three of my four grandparents[1]  arrived in the United States via Ellis Island.

The St. Paul, the Pennsylvania and the Kroonland carried my ancestors through the Narrows and within sight of the famous statue. After the ships passed quarantine inspection, they docked at the Hudson River piers and citizens and most 1st and 2nd class passengers disembarked. Immigrant steerage passengers passed through customs and then boarded ferries, taking them to Ellis Island for medical and legal inspection. They entered the main floor past stacks of luggage, and climbed stairs to the Inspection Room [2].

ellis-island-registry-room

Across this floor and through these lines walked

  • my maternal great-grandparents, my great-grandmother four months pregnant with her first child, my grandfather.
  • my paternal great-grandmother, shepherding four children under the age of 10, including my five-year old grandfather.
  • my maternal grandmother, three months old and bundled in the arms of her mother, along with her father and older half-sisters.

My maternal great-grandparents passed through inspection, and with $10 and a dream, headed into the cacophony of Suffolk Street and a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

My paternal great-grandmother and her children already had train tickets to their final destination of St. Louis, and after passing inspection would have taken a ferry to the railroad, probably out of New Jersey.

My infant grandmother, her parents and half-sisters also had train tickets to their final destination, however they were detained for several hours over concern that the group might be L.P.C., or Likely Public Charge. They ate dinner (lunch) in the detention cafeteria before it was determined that the group had not $10 but actually $45 dollars and the capacity to continue the journey by train to St. Louis.

parents-in-registry-room

My parents in the Ellis Island Registry Room.

The visit to Ellis Island brought me and my parents back to the beginning of our immediate family’s life in the United States. Our Ellis Island immigrants comprised just 12 of the more than 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island during its years of operation (1892-1954).

What is your immigrant story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Including my maternal grandfather in utero.
  2. Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. Inspection room, Ellis Island, New York. [between 1910 and 1920] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994018383/PP/. (Accessed November 03, 2016.)

Stay Up All Night to Get Lucky

If you’re like me, the ear-worm music of Daft Punk is back in your head after their recent Grammy win. Which has me thinking about genealogists and researchers who say, “I got lucky” when a document emerges that helps things fall into place. I’m certainly guilty as well, so I have to remind myself that it’s not luck. With so many records online, one clue can lead to another, and another, then a search query tweaked and – voila. That “fall into place,” however, can be at the expense of dinner, or a bedtime, or any number of other responsibilities. Genealogists stay up all night, but it’s not about getting lucky.

Sometimes, though, ancestors were in the right place at the right time. Here’s an example I’ve been researching: the client knew Anna Jenkins’ and Wolf Fagen’s approximate birthdates; that they were born in Russia; and lived in both Worcester, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of the goals of the project was to determine where in Russia Anna and Wolf were originally from, so I started looking for their ship manifest, a document that bridges the Old and New World.

I located a 1907 manifest for Wolf and Annie Fagen. The ages matched what was known, and their final destination was Philadelphia. I noted that while their birthplace was listed as “Wilna,” their last permanent residence wasn’t somewhere in “Russia,” but Liverpool, England. Those were clues I decided to investigate at another time.

Next up was to determine how long Anna and Wolf lived in Philadelphia. That meant looking for the 1910 US Census, which would show how long they had been married; if they had any children; and their date of arrival in the US. I looked for them without any results, even looking at the address where they had first lived with an uncle. I expanded the search to Massachusetts, still no hits. I reviewed what I knew, and decided to try a “friends and family” approach by looking for possible relatives of Anna and Wolf in Liverpool in the 1911 England Census.

What I found was unexpected: Anna and Wolf Fagen living in Liverpool in 1911! They had two children, one born in Philadelphia, and one born in Liverpool. That narrowed the time frame down to when the Fagens returned to England from the US.

But there were children known to be born in Massachusetts, which meant at least one more trip across the pond. I returned to examining ship manifests, and found that the Fagens, now with three children, one born in Philadelphia and the two younger ones born in Liverpool, traveling to Boston in 1912. Their final destination: Worcester, to the home of Anna’s father.

I have a lot more work to do in researching and writing this family’s history, but I’ve already learned a lot, and I’m grateful they were in the right place (England) at the right time (1911), so an enumerator could capture their demographic details.