"His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names

Peter Cohen

Smoke pours from the ears of veteran genealogists when they hear “his name was changed by the immigration authorities”. Numerous analyses of the experience of immigrants through Ellis Island and Castle Garden offer convincing evidence that US immigration authorities used ship’s manifests and the landing card pinned to the immigrant’s clothing to determine their name and did not change anyone’s name.


So, why is the “my grandfather told me his name was changed at Ellis Island” so widespread?  Either an entire generation of immigrants conspired to lie to their children about how their name changed, or SOMETHING actually happened.


Consider the case of my grandfather, who arrived via Castle Garden in 1891. All I know for sure is that his name was KEMAK on the 1891 manifest and COHEN on his 1895 marriage certificate. The story my uncle told me was “when they asked his name, he gave his full Hebrew name, including HaKohain and they wrote down Cohen.” My uncle would have heard this directly from his father, who was the actual immigrant. So where does the story come from?


A possibility:

The day he arrived, my grandfather was 19 years old, alone in a strange country, whose language and customs he did not know.  It seems likely to me that, when he left the immigration hall, tired and bewildered, he would have been relieved to find a helpful Yiddish speaker from an immigrant aid society (perhaps HIAS?) outside the building. That person would have given him advice and direction. Part of that advice might have been “no one here can pronounce your name, your name should be _______.” It could have been as simple as the aid society person writing down the immigrant’s name in Roman letters, so that the immigrant would know how to write it. (Note that the stories often say “they wrote down…”  Wrote down where? Apparently, immigrants left the customs hall with no documentation from the US government. So, if their name was written down and given to them, someone other than a government agent did the writing.)  In my grandfather's case, the name KEMAK was easy enough to pronounce, so that would not be a reason to change it.  I lean in the direction of someone writing his name in English, based on his Hebrew name and not his civil name. I do not know who that someone was, but it almost certainly was not a representative of the US government.

While we think of our grandparents as worldly and wise, at 19 years old, they would have been neither, and could easily make the false assumption that the HIAS person had some kind of government authority.

Searching KESSLER, Brooklyn, NY #usa


Searching (probably Brooklyn, NY) family of Beatrice (COHEN) KESSLER, husband: Harold KESSLER.  They have 1 (known) child: Stuart KESSLER, b. 1949.  Beatrice is one of two daughters of my grandmother’s brother, my great uncle, Julius COHEN, w: Clara (OFFMAN/HOFFMAN) COHEN. Any help appreciated.

Sandi Root, 


looking for an email address for Todd Knowles #general

Trudy Barch

Hi genners,


Recently I watched a webinar presented by Todd Knowles.   He gave his contact address at the end of his presentation and unfortunately, I can not find his address.


Does anyone have his email address?   Or can contact him and ask him to email me.     Thank you,


Trudy Barch,  Florida

Re: ViewMate translation request - Hungarian #hungary #translation

I have 2 remarks regarding the excellent translation posted on ViewMate:

jaras is district both Bator (Nyirbator) and and Nagykallo were districts in Szabolcs (and not Szabolc) county

The mother's birthplace is Bogat (Nyirbogat).

Jacob Shayzaf

Re: Seeking information on a village named Horodok, Vilna #lithuania

Shimona Kushner

My grandfather came from a village in the region near Gorodok.  The village was called Trellisey.  My brother and I visited the whole area (including Gorodok) in 2008.  My grandfather, Shimon Soloveichik, was a student in the Volozhin Yeshiva and when he contracted typhus during the epidemic there he was sent to live with his cousin, Rabbi Nissan Broide, who  was rabbi in the town and with whom he continued to study for two more years. Hope this adds a bit of information.

We remember that at the time of our visit we met a local man who spoke of a museum which existed but was closed.  He also took us to the site of the massacre of the Jewish residents of Gorodok in a field outside the town.

Re: Geography mystery: Did any part of Polish Russia became German between 1880 and 1900? Specifically where? #poland #germany

Anna Doggart

My grandfather whose family came from Minsk, now Belarus, was put as a Pole on a letter to British Home office applying to come to live and work in Britain in 1931. As far as we were concerned, he was Russian. He was born in 1876 we think in Minsk. He lived for a short time in Orsha, also now Belarus but at that time, like Minsk, part of the Russian Empire. He spoke Russian. His sons when they applied to come to Britain recorded themselves as Russian. My grandfather left Minsk in late 1918 or early 1919. We think maybe the Poles were there around that time and he got papers from them? Once he had left, he like other emigres would have lost his Russian citizenship under Lenin’s decree that all those who left would no longer be Russian and so he would be stateless and presumably unable to apply to come to Britain as a Russian. Of course he only left under duress as he was told that he was I on a death list and frightened of pogroms. He took his wife and children to Bad Kreuznach in Germany, hoping to return home when things settled down but that was impossible so he went to Berlin. By 1930 he was applying From Berlin to come to Britain. The Kew records office provided us with copies of his letters to and from the Home office. He gained permission for himself, his wife and one son in 1932. His other 4 children were left behind in Germany. We’d love to understand why he wrote himself down as a Pole so like you we want to know if and when Minsk was ruled by Poles and if they did issue identification papers to Minsk residents and if so, why. By the way his other 4 children all managed to get out during 1930s and survived.
Thanks Anna Doggart

Re: What is an "instrument"? #general

Chana Bonn

If this information is from a transcription, perhaps the word should have been transcribed "interment".

Re: Tombstone Translation #photographs #translation


I want to thank Debbie Lifshitz (and Leya Aronson of Toronto, who posted a reply separately) for bringing up a possible reading that had completely slipped my mind:  b'sayvah tovah, meaning that someone had died of a "ripe old age".

I have not looked at life expectancy for those days, but it seems to me -- based upon my own family tree and relatives who died back then -- that 62 may have been considered a "ripe old age" in 1912.  That being said, I have seen this abbreviation immediately before the date of death even on stones of those had died at a much younger age.

It seems to me that EITHER interpretation -- "with a good name" or "at a ripe old age" -- might be correct, and we will probably never know which was intended.
Fredel Fruhman
Brooklyn, New York, USA

Re: Seeking information on a village named Horodok, Vilna #lithuania

Alexander Sharon

This town was entered into JGFF database as:  Haradok, (near Molodechno), and there are 134 entries by the Genners for this location in the system.

Re: Tombstone Translation #photographs #translation

Dubin, David M. MD

Hi all,
As to the abbreviation (bet-)shin-tav (ש״ט) I have an ancestor who died at age thirty who had this abbreviation on his stone. Therefore it does not mean “b’seiva tova (in old age). It means “b’shem tov”, that is, with a good reputation. 
David Dubin
Teaneck, New Jersey 

Re: When was this picture taken? #photographs #germany

Jx. Gx.

I would also go with the late 1890s.  But I would also check out pictures in books and those posted online of people in Europe, especially in Germany, and compare the clothing they are wearing with the styles worn in this picture. A great place to start is with the women's dress sleeves and the men's ties and high collars. By the clothing being worn in this picture and the room furnishings, the people seem to be middle to upper-class. 

Jeffrey Geiger

Re: Logistics of emigration from Pale of Settlement to America #lithuania #poland

Emily Rosenberg

I visited Suwalki in 2016 and by lucky chance, went to the railroad station, which was the likely departure place for our ancestors in 1886. There were no trains scheduled when I was there so I stood in the tracks and looked in the distance, imagining what my family and seen and felt  as they went to their new life.  Our fabulous guide explained that today’s sturdy brick station was probably a re placement for the one of my grandfathers era but the track was the same, going to the same places. I have a photo of the station which I am happy to share, just p.m. me if you would like it.

Re: Holocaust Survivors located in Holland #holocaust

Barbara Mannlein <bsmannlein@...>

On Jun 25, 2020, at 6:17 AM, Carolynne Veffer <carolynne.veffer@...> wrote:

The link gave me an error.

Re: Bielsko-Biala and Kamesznica, Zywiec, Poland; JRI-Poland records #poland

Stanley Diamond

JRI-Poland has recently scanned all available vital records from Bielsko and Biala,
Volunteers have started working on data entry of these records.  Serious volunteers
to help advance the large project are invited to contact volunteer@....
The records of Kamesznica were kept in the books of Zywiec/Zablockie. JRI-Poland
both online data for these towns.
To inquire about records of interest for towns in Poland, write to [townname]
Stanley Diamond, M.S.M.  (Montreal, 514-484-0100)
Executive Director, Jewish Records Indexing - Poland, Inc.
Samuel Unger Family from Bielsko-Biala and Kamesznica, Zywiec, Poland #poland #galicia
From: Joyce Eastman
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 2020 08:15:21 EDT

I am seeking information regarding the spouse and children of Samuel Unger.
Any assistance you can provide regarding the parentage of Augusta and Fani would be most appreciated.

Joyce Eastman

BLUMENTHAL - family relations #germany #usa #general

David Selig

Hi Jewishgenners

I live in Paris.

I am interested in tracing relationships beween -

my grandfather, Erich Blumenthal, born 24.08.1893 in Koenigsberg
(Prussia, Germany)
FATHER - Salomon Blumenthal, born Prussia 1866?
Erich Iived in Germany until 1939, then Australia
died 1946

Daniel (Danny) Blumenthal, born 1910 Koenigsberg

Bn. 23.03.1910 Koenigsberg
Died 1993 (possibly 3rd March) in Germany (reported to US Embassy, Hamburg)
Lived - Bremen... later Cincinatti

Arrived Dec 19th 1946 from Santiago Chile, in NYCity

I woudl particularly like to find his birth certificate.

Thanks for any help
Best wishes to all

Paris, France

Re: Cohanim and Levites #dna

Eva Lawrence

Statements like Michael Tobias's do need a time-frame  and a place marker. Clerks fluent in passengers' languages have to emigrate too at an earlier date,  and not all ports would install such resources at the same time.  I have first-hand evidence of no formal immigration controls in New Orleans in 1852, for instance,  and lax exit control in Antwerp for the same voyage.  In fact, does he mean immigration to America or is he including Britain, where immigration controls were very haphazard.?.   . 
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.  

Re: Cohanim and Levites #dna

Eva Lawrence

What's more, has Michael Tobias never failed  to make out a surname on a manuscript passenger list?  When typed lists came in his statement  becomes more credible.
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

Re: Seeking information on a village named Horodok, Vilna #lithuania


I am referring  to the Horodok listed below - I believe that Horodok is the Hebrew name and Gorodok s Russian. I have been corresponding with this group for many years.  They have a wonderful group of teens and older people who have rebuilt the Horokok Cemetery.  
our grandmother said they were from Horodok, Vilna Gubernya but I have never found anything about the family there.  Names of Sepsenwol, Shepsenvol, Schiff, Shiff, 
are maiden names of the women in the family.  
Haradok, Belarus
54°09' N 26°55' E
32 miles WNW of Minsk
Vilejka District
Vilna Province

Bette Greenfield

Spinka Rebbe Kahana in Beit Shemesh #general

Neil Rosenstein

Trying to make contact with the family Rav Avraham Kahana and his wife Rochel Perl Leifer. A phone number for them ending in 9256 does not work.

Re: Geography mystery: Did any part of Polish Russia became German between 1880 and 1900? Specifically where? #poland #germany


If I were you, I would read up on the town Königsberg, presently Russia, once Prussia etc. Its location is quetched in between north-east Poland and south-west Lithuania. It has changed country owners more times than characters in its name, see:

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