Re: Ellis Island name change myth #general

Allen Kurtz

I've been following the discussion re: name changes as I've been
traveling with great interest and now that I am home, I thought that
I'd throw my two cents into the discussion. Sometimes I think that we
all tend to complicate the process and underestimate the abilities of
circa early 20th Century businesses to function. Many of the shipping
companies that brought our ancestors here were the multinationals of
their day and were highly efficient. They had processes in place for
handling large numbers of 3rd class passengers. As they were
financially responsible for returning passengers who did not pass
muster at Ellis Island, it was essential that they got the process
correct. Certainly there was an element of chaos involved, but I think
much less than we all sometimes imagine.

Though I could be wrong, it seems to me that the process went
something like this: passengers obtained tickets in one of three ways;
from family in America, purchased at the local (cities and larger
towns) near their homes, or perhaps at the port of embarkation.
Tickets were not for a particular ship, but for a particular steamship
line, particular port, and particular route. I'm sure many of you have
seen examples of such tickets at Once they
had made their way to the port of departure, our ancestors went to the
offices of the steamship line, and were assigned passage on a
particular ship. The ship may have already been in port and they
boarded fairly quickly, or, if a ship was not in port, they would need
to wait for one to arrive.In some places they were forced to wait
until their baggage could be fumigated and they passed a medical
screening. Once assigned to a ship, their names were written onto the
official manifest by employees of the shipping line. If their names
were written on their tickets, perhaps purchased at the local offices
of the line, it was simply copied >from the ticket to the manifest.
Whether the names inscribed on the ticket was written correctly adds a
whole other layer of conversation to the discussion. If their names
were not written on the ticket, the shipping line clerk wrote it as
best he could. Some were certainly better than others at understanding
what the passenger was saying. It was at this point that many a change
may have been made largely dependent on how well (or not) the
passenger and the clerk communicated. I've often felt that a key
factor was the dominant language of the clerk. A French speaking clerk
at Le Havre might interpret names one way, a Dutch speaker from
Rotterdam another, and a German speaker in Hamburg yet another. I
wonder whether anyone has undertaken a study comparing the names of
immigrants >from port to port. This point of contact between immigrant
and shipping line clerk is one of endless mystery and fascination.

When departure day arrived, passengers were checked off on the
manifest prior to boarding. They were certainly given a receipt or
some sort of paper (sort of like a boarding pass) to hold with them.
None of these have survived in my family; if any of you are lucky
enough to have those of your ancestors, I'd love to seen them. I find
it hard to believe that lists were compiled by the purser after
boarding. I think we've all seen manifests with names crossed off, an
indication that for whatever reason, sickness, somehow simply missing
the ship, etc, the passenger did not board. In my wife's family her
GGM was crossed off a manifest, obviously missing her ship, but was
later listed on another manifest two weeks later. That is a clear
indication that manifests were prepared before sailing. When ships
arrived at Ellis Island, the manifests were transfered to immigration
officials and immigrants were matched, in the Registry Room/Great
Hall, to the manifest before either being admitted or held for further
questioning. I think we've all seem photographs of the long lines
winding their way to the desk where the officials examined the
original manifests.

Personally, I don't think that we will ever exhaust this topic.

Allen Kurtz
Mahopac, New York

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