Re: Name Changes on Passenger Lists #general


Joel Weintraub
 

Were surnames changed at Ellis Island, either voluntarily or involuntarily by Immigration Authorities, and then used in the U.S. after going through that Immigration Station?  The current consensus is it didn't happen.  But lots of Jewish (and Italian, etc.) families have surnames different from their "old country" roots.  So what gives? Marian Smith came close in my opinion to the explanation for the legend by stating over two decades ago that the Ellis Island name change belief was an allegory of the immigrants felt experience in America which included pressures to adapt to their new culture, and outright discrimination and prejudice.  It actually started with the immigration process that weeded out immigrants that could not fit into the U.S. and could be “Likely Public Charges”.   That idea is called the "Ellis Island Experience".  But then why didn't those immigrants and their ancestors just say, we changed our name to fit in, and it wasn't an easy decision?  I think the answer may lie in a 2018 book by historian Kirsten Fermaglich:   "A Rosenberg By Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name Changing in America" where she documents a pushback of some Jews against the name changers.  In that climate it would be easier to blame the system including Ellis Island then to take responsibility for the surname change.   I'll address part of this controversy on the JewishGen Webinar series next month by looking at immigrant documents used during their transit from their European origins through Ellis Island.  And I'll end with this Fermaglich quote from my submitted 55 minute video for the August 2020 IAJGS Virtual Conference: "I hope this book will replace mythical images of Hollywood movie stars [with name changes] and hapless Ellis Island immigrants with more nuanced portraits of American-born Jewish families escaping antisemitism at midcentury." 

Joel Weintraub

Dana Point, CA




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Joel Weintraub
Dana Point, CA

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