Names and Dates were Fungible: a case study of a 1902 NY immigrant from Galicia #names

Ittai Hershman

With the volume of messages about name changes, I was finally prompted to return after a hiatus to research my wife’s grandfather Nathan RICH né REICH, born 1885 in Rzeszów, died 1944 in Brooklyn, NY.

Almost a decade ago, I looked at his marriage and death records on microfilm at the NYC Municipal Archives and recorded the information, and I was also able to find Rzeszów census data that provided details of the large family into which he was born.  Through the record hunt, I even found, and met in real life, my wife’s 2nd cousin once removed in Israel.  But, I never chased down Nathan's immigration to the US beyond inferences from the marriage, death and census records.  Until now.

Using Ancestry, I now found the image of his Petition for Naturalization that was made in April 1923 and approved in May 1925, a few months before the date of the marriage record I had recorded some years back.  The listed (and only) name is Nathan RICH.  It records he was born 15 March 1885 in "Galicia Dzezzov Austria”, that he departed Anwerp on or about 1 October 1903 about the vessel called Switzerland, and that he disembarked in Philadelphia on 10 October 1903, and that he has been resident in the State of NY since 11 October 1903.

One of the two witnesses for his naturalization is the married name of Nathan’s sister (whose descendent I met); and the second has a surname of REICH.  So I felt confident this was he.  And I now had the recorded information for his arrival. My initial attempts failed, but then I found it.  Nathan ELLER, born 1885 from Rzeszów, arrived from Antwerp to Philadelphia on board the Switzerland which sailed on 12 November 1902, arriving 27 November 1902.  The relative he listed as intending to join was “brother-in-law” and the name of his sister’s husband.  Match.

I also recognized the surname ELLER, as that was listed as his mother’s maiden name on the 1925 NYC marriage record that I had seen on microfilm.  So, perhaps this was one of those cases of an “illegitimate” Galician religious marriage without a civil marriage that would have Nathan using his mother’s surname discussed on JewishGen many times.  I was dubious in this case given the census records I had seen, but one never knows.  Fortunately, since my last go-around JRI-Poland and the Polish Archives now have tighter integration.

The last stop on this story, then, is the Rzeszów birth record for Nathan REICH / ELLER whose image I was able to find and download.  He was born on 25 February 1885.  And, indeed, his mother’s maiden name was ELLER and his father REICH.

Conclusion: in 1923-5, while Congress was in the midst of highly restricting Jewish immigration, names and dates were fungible; and, even validating a referenced passenger list as part of the naturalization process was not done.  Nathan's naturalization records his invented name, his misremembered birth date, and the misremembered date of arrival to the US, or even that he entered the US under a different name.

Ittai Hershman
New York City

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