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"His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names


bobmalakoff@...
 

The name change idea was perpetuated in the Godfather movie.  Vito says to the immigration agent "I am Vito Andolini from Corleone" and the agent writes down Vito Corleone.  Many families changed their name on the own.  My maternal great grandfather came over as Morris Shimishelovitz.  Within his lifetime the name became Similovitz and then they said the heck with it, it's Simmons.
Bob Malakoff


YaleZuss@...
 

Tom, 

If your comment was addressed to me, please be advised that the absence of any legislation addressing this issue, pro or con, guarantees that there won't be any written documentary evidence of the kind you appear to want.  Any claim that this result must be interpreted to mean that no such involuntary changes took place is the result of a logical error known as an "argument from ignorance;" you may be familiar with this kind of error in the form "The absence of evidence is evidence of absence." 
 
Before the absence of a certain kind of evidence can be meaningful, there must be a reason why it should exist if the phenomenon it documents took place.  The absence of legislation requiring such documentation means there is no reason to expect to find any, regardless of whether the phenomenon exists, so the mere absence of the documents you want proves nothing whatsoever.
 
In the absence of any actual case establishing why involuntary name-changes could not have happened, the best evidence on this are the various family narratives asserting that it did.  The "No involuntary name-changes" meme has undoubtedly already caused large numbers of these narratives to be abandoned, taking with them whatever genealogical information they contained, some of it quite possibly not available anywhere else.
 
In this context, your little old lady would be holding an ice-cream cone, and her "Where's the beef?" would be incomprehensible.  
 
Yale Zussman


Jules Levin
 

Tom, I think the Ellis Island meme now is recognized as false for how it
is usually understood--a US official caused the name change.  Before I
started my research in my own family, all my older cousins explained our
change as "Ellis Island", even though all the family was in the US by
1891--before Ellis Island was up and running.  By this they
meant--involuntary change by the government.  What else could they have
been thinking.  But now those trying to save the honor of their
grandparents are reinterpreting the meme as any kind of change--advice
by a fellow immigrant, a slip of the pen, any port of entry in any
year--as the deep meaning of "Ellis Island".  Basically, it means we
have won the argument--no changes were made at Ellis Island by the
government!

Jules Levin


On 7/27/2020 8:19 AM, tom wrote:
your arguments are wonderful, but like the little old lady said in the
fast food ad, "show me the beef".
please provide us with just one single properly documented case, out
of all the millions of immigrants who landed at ellis island, where an
american official changed the immigrant's name.  it shouldn't be
difficult.
....... tom klein, toronto
At 3:07 -0700 19/7/20, main@... wrote:

8a.

*Re: "His name was changed at Ellis Island"* #names
From: YaleZuss@...
<mailto:YaleZuss@...?subject=Re:%20%22His%20name%20was%20changed%20at%20Ellis%20Island%22>
Date: Sat, 18 Jul 2020 23:56:48 EDT

Karen Silver and Philip Trauring, who writes the blog where Avivah
Pinski found another claim against involuntary name changes
(https://bloodandfrogs.com/2011/05/name-changes-at-ellis-island.html),

[snip!]

your ancestors, you don't discard anything they tell you unless
and until you have actual proof that what they told you is wrong.
NINC appears to have originated to motivate the wholesale
discarding of family narratives, which would destroy whatever data
they include; it's conceptually not that different from burning
down an archive.

Yale Zussman


tom
 

your arguments are wonderful, but like the little old lady said in the fast food ad, "show me the beef".
 
please provide us with just one single properly documented case, out of all the millions of immigrants who landed at ellis island, where an american official changed the immigrant's name.  it shouldn't be difficult.
 
 
....... tom klein, toronto
 
 

At 3:07 -0700 19/7/20, main@... wrote:
8a.
Re: "His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names
From: YaleZuss@...
Date: Sat, 18 Jul 2020 23:56:48 EDT
Karen Silver and Philip Trauring, who writes the blog where Avivah Pinski found another claim against involuntary name changes (https://bloodandfrogs.com/2011/05/name-changes-at-ellis-island.html),
 
[snip!]
 
your ancestors, you don't discard anything they tell you unless and until you have actual proof that what they told you is wrong. NINC appears to have originated to motivate the wholesale discarding of family narratives, which would destroy whatever data they include; it's conceptually not that different from burning down an archive.
 
Yale Zussman


susiekrumholz@...
 

My grandfather's last name was "Yellen" but his family that came at different times were named "Levin"!  Think we might be related????


polly.goldberg@...
 

Yes, ignorance of American law is exactly why my great-grandfather believed that he was stuck with "Berg" when his name was "Bershadsky." By the time he was made aware of the fact that he could have kept his Russian surname, he figured it would be too much of a headache to go back to it. I'm still trying to find sth with his original name on it (that would be relevant), but what I have of his papers is inadequate. So far.


MARC M COHEN
 

Shel,
 
Thanks for those two great name change chronologies (Bercovici & Goldstein).
 
I have a couple of similar surname mutation sequences — all self-administered, we believe — although without your level of detail:
 
Iacovici >> Janucci >> Jacobson (from Frumasica, Romania)
 
Haimovici >> Haimowitz (from Iase, Romania).
 
Cheers,
 
Marc

--
Marc M. Cohen, Los Gatos, California, USA

BARAK/CANTORCZY: Khotin, Bessarabia; Strorozhinets, Bukovina, Ukraine
CHOMITZ/HAMETZ: Ionina (Janina), Greece; Ignatovka, Ukraine; Kiev Gubernia, Ukraine
COHEN: Dinovitsi (Dunayevtsy) Ukraine; Roman/Tirgu Frumos, Romania
KORNITZKY: Kiev Gubernia, Stepnitz/Stepantsy, Ukraine
RÎBNER: Storozhinetz, Costesti (Costyntsi), Drachinets, Cabesti, Bukovina, Ukraine
ROSENBERG: Tirgu Frumos, Roman, Romania; ISRAEL
WEININGER: Cabesti, Costesti, Drachinets, Czernowitz, Bukovina, Ukraine


YaleZuss@...
 

Karen Silver and Philip Trauring, who writes the blog where Avivah Pinski found another claim against involuntary name changes (https://bloodandfrogs.com/2011/05/name-changes-at-ellis-island.html), make the same error, a logical error known as a hasty generalization. In both cases, what they prove is that someone has made a voluntary name change, but I doubt anyone has ever claimed that no voluntary name-changes occurred. Finding even a thousand such changes cannot disprove a claim about an involuntary name-change, so basing one's views on a single such case doesn't go very far.
 
Trauring's article notes the availability of "a book from the National Genealogical Society called Petitions for Name Changes in New York City 1848-1899 (on Amazon) which was published in 1984 and lists the name change petitions on file in the Hall of Records in New York City for the years 1848-1899." Note that this comes to 17-18 per year for what is now the Borough of Manhattan, and includes petitions for name changes from all applicants, and not just immigrants.
 
I went through legislation enacted from 1790-1940, looking for references to involuntary name-changes. I found none, neither positive, making such changes policy, nor negative, making them illegal. The first mention of name changes for people (legislation changing names for vessels and places is rather common) comes in 1867 when Congress, acting in its Constitutional capacity as the legislature for the District of Columbia, established a procedure for residents of the District to change their names, an issue elsewhere left to state legislatures; evidently, New York acted c.1848.
 
The other appearances of name-changes in legislation are in Section 6 of the Naturalization Act of 1906 and the Nationality Act of 1940, in both cases establishing a mechanism for voluntary name-changes at the time of naturalization that would produce documents.  Without such documentation, a claim about a post-1906 voluntary name-change is on the same evidentiary basis as claims about involuntary changes, except there is reason why such documentation should exist.  Given the number of petitions in Manhattan, don't hold your breath expecting to find documentation for a voluntary name-change after 1906 made possible by these acts.
 
The simple fact is that no-one knows where the "no involuntary name-changes" (NINC) notion comes from, including the historians at USCIS and those who claim it has been proven innumerable times. No-one can identify where to find an actual proof, and there are methodological reasons why such a proof cannot exist. In the absence of an actual proof, if you're serious about seeking the truth about your ancestors, you don't discard anything they tell you unless and until you have actual proof that what they told you is wrong. NINC appears to have originated to motivate the wholesale discarding of family narratives, which would destroy whatever data they include; it's conceptually not that different from burning down an archive.
 
Yale Zussman



avivahpinski@verizon.net
 

For an interesting article on name changes,  see  https://bloodandfrogs.com/2011/05/name-changes-at-ellis-island.html
We should really end this discussion, xince it has now been covered extensively.
Thanks

Avivah Pinski
near Philadelphia PA


--
Avivah R. Z. Pinski ,  near Philadelphia, USA


Shel
 

OK, I’ve just gotta do this: :-)

ITEM 1:
My father’s oldest brother’s (FOB) completely hand-written 1890 Romanian birth-cert, showed the surname as BERCOVICI.

4 children and 15 years later, my father’s own printed-form, hand-filled 1905 birth-cert. from the same town as above also showed the surname as BERCOVICI.

My GF’s and my FOB and 2 other sibs on their ship’s Passenger List (PL) of June 1907 showed the surname as BERKOWICZ.

5 MONTHS LATER (Nov. 1907), on 2008 version of “FindMyPast.com”, my GM & 4 children were shown _leaving the UK_ on a different ship, landing at a different PoE and showed the name BERCOVITCH.

Same month (Nov., 1907) the above ship’s PL showed the surname of my GM & 4 children as BERCOWITCH.

Oct., 1910, my father’s older (NOT oldest) brother shown on N.Am. death cert. (written by a local Official) as BERCOVITCH; Signed by his father as BERCOVICH.

Later, Census A – Family name written as BERKOVITCH.

Census B – Family name written as BERCOVITCH.

Census C – Family name written as BERCOVICH.

Census D – Family name written as BEREOVITCH (and was _that_ tough to find!!).

1930s my father marries with name BERCOVICH, which has held for all family members since then! (with a couple of exceptions!).

All of the above fall into place with Peter COHEN's "Fri, 17 Jul 2020 14:41:41 EDT" message, but there _are_ a lot of spelling changes!

ITEM 2:
Cousin’s GF lands Ellis Island early 20th c. named on PL as GOLDSTEIN

Cousin’s GF & family listed on 1920 U.S. Census as GOLDSTEN

At a later date, the cousin’s father’s name was changed from GOLDSTEIN to GONSALVES

At an even later date, the cousin’s father’s name was changed from GONSALVES to GORDON

The last 2 changes were consciously made!

Note: ITEM 2 names have been changed to protect the innocent.

NONE OF THE CHANGES IN THE ABOVE TWO SETS WAS MADE BY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS _AT_ THE PoE!

AND WE WON’T EVEN _TRY_ TO TRACK THE NAMES ON THE MATERNAL SIDE OF THE FAMILY (NO OFFICIAL GOV'T-MADE CHANGES THERE, EITHER) OR THE SPELLING OF THE GIVEN NAMES!!! :-)
Stay well, all!

Shel BERCOVICH


karen.silver@juno.com
 

Hi Peter,
 
Thank you for your input, but I think this discussion needs to come to an end.  Part of genealogy research is finding out the truth about your ancestors.  This search inevitably reveals information that was withheld from the descendants of the original immigrants.  My great grandparents and grandparents came between 1900 and 1905 and were very secretive.  I won't go into everything that I found out, but will assure you that both my parents, first generation Americans, were astounded by what they didn't know.
 
As for name changes, let the experience of my family serve as an example against making assumptions.  My maternal grandparents came in 1903-1905 under the name Pochinke and Poczinker and changed their name to Pachilkin and later to Pochilky.  They never told their children the original name and no it was not changed at Ellis Island.  I have found records confirming the original name on Jewishgen.org.  When my eldest uncle married in 1934, his wife objected to the name Pochilky.  She chose the name Perrin and everyone's name was legally changed in 1937.  Over the years I heard that the name came from Lee & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce.  It seemed logical since my uncle's wife's name was Lee.  Other people believed the name came from Perrineville, NJ where a relative lived.  The truth according to my Aunt Lee was neither.  She just liked the name.  I had the opportunity to ask Aunt Lee; most people today don't.  And because of that we must be careful not to over-generalize or make assumptions.


Bob Bloomberg
 

 
Peter Cohen--excellent analysis.  I especially found your comment "We have yet to see anyone come forward and say something along the lines of an uncle telling their niece or nephew "I know your father told you that they changed his name, but I was there and he made that decision himself."   especially telling.  As I've been trying to point out, no immigration official intentionally changed a name.  But there are too many independent "stories" for there not to be truth somewhere behind the "myths".
 
 


Peter Cohen
 

Thanks to Yale Zusman for an excellent analysis.  This has been an interesting discussion. It breaks down into certain groups:
Those who can only discuss name changes in terms of "the immigration officers at Ellis Island never changed anyone's name. Therefore all involuntary name change stories are false."
Those who equate spelling changes with name changes even though the names are essentially the same.
Those who would like to discuss it.

I agree that the preponderance of the evidence is that no official of the US government changed anyone's name. I do not agree that no immigrants ever underwent an involuntary name change. I just do not know the circumstances under which it happened.  As I understand it, many immigrants referred to the entire immigration experience as "Ellis Island", even things that did not happen there. New immigrants were referred to as "greenhorns" or "greeners", implying that they did not understand what was going on around them.  In such circumstances there could well of have been interactions with people that the immigrants mistakenly believed had some kind of authority.

I keep returning to the occurrence of the same two phrases in family stories: "He asked me my name" and "He wrote down".  That kind of interaction would not have happened at the Great Hall, but nothing precludes it from having happened somewhere else while the immigrant was still overwhelmed with the new experience. This line of thinking get attacked with "there is no evidence that anything like this happened". But, there is something else for which there is no evidence:  In order for this story to be a complete fabrication in every case, there would need to be a conspiracy of silence. That in itself seems unlikely.  We have yet to see anyone come forward and say something along the lines of an uncle telling their niece or nephew "I know your father told you that they changed his name, but I was there and he made that decision himself."   I do not think there is enough information to know what actually went on, and probably never will be.


C Chaykin
 

Hello דן, Dahn, Dani.... or (on U.S. documents) Dan, or Daniel,

As you noticed, we don't use the Hebrew alphabet in the U.S. 

As for the rest...
  • Your parents decided how to write your name on your U.S. certificate, not U.S. immigration officials or any other U.S. government officials
  • You have decided which name(s) you want to use in English (apparently Dahn and Dani), not U.S. immigration officials or any other U.S. government officials

This issue is not a name change issue, but a pronunciation / transliteration issue. 

In peace,
Carol Chaykin


Dahn Cukier
 

My name was changed by the US.

I was born in Israel, 1950. My birth certificate does not have
any information in English, not even my name.

8 months later, my parents took out a US Certificate of Birth,
as US citizens, this confirmed my US status.

The name on the US certificate does not have any Hebrew. My parents
put down the name as translated in the Bible, and my father's family
name as it was while he grew up in NYC.

The name my parents put down was also used when registering me for
school, where I had endless problem in public school. Dan is not
Daniel and דן is not Donald. Had I stayed in the US, I would have
probably changed my name or the spelling. So far I have yet
to find how to spell my name in NYC English so it sounds close to
my given name - my name was given me in Hebrew.

Dani

When you start to read readin,
how do you know the fellow that
wrote the readin,
wrote the readin right?

Festus Hagen
Long Branch Saloon
Dodge City, Kansas
(Gunsmoke)



Ittai Hershman
 

Just to note that the "proof" that "Immigration officials changed 'Frank Woodhull' to 'Mary Johnson' on the arrival document suffers from the fact that Frank/Mary was not an immigrant, but a resident alien returning to the US.

And, really, after 131 messages to which I am apologetically adding a 132nd, haven't we flogged this horse to death.  Like all generalizations, there is nuance than can be added; but, the basic truth remains that names were not changed by immigration officials at Ellis Island.  Can we move on?!?

Dayenu,
Ittai Hershman
NYC


eksilverman11@...
 

One thing that might help clarify the uncertainly and/or debate around name-changing at Ellis Island are clear, verifiable accounts of the document flows from ticketing agent to ship to Ellis Island (e.g., manifests, who wrote what, what was passed where, etc.) as well as the processing of individuals (and documents) upon arrival at Ellis Island. Should any of you know of verifiable sources and references (published, that stand up to scholarly rigor), please let us know. 

For what it's worth, every name change in my extended family that I've looked at was post-immigration...and, in at least one case, post-service during WWI by Harris Klinowski, born in the US, who became Harry Kline.

Thanks.


Bob Bloomberg
 

Yale--Thank you.  Well said, well analyzed.  My objection has been to the absolute position (never ever ever happened) of the no name change at Ellis Island advocates.  You have certainly raised enough questions, I hope, that will make them at least take another look


Barbara Mannlein <bsmannlein@...>
 

Bob,  You are beating a dead horse.   Names were NOT changed at Ellis Island.   Bureaucrats generate paper  -- that's how the justify their positions...If changes occurred at EI, there would be documentation.... but there is none.

If you go into Starbucks, and the barista writes Bahb on your cup, is there anything obligation on your part to use that as your name from then on?   Of course not.  So, if the  immigrant wais not given a legal binding order saying "This is you name from now on..."    

Barbara Mannlein
Tucson, AZ


YaleZuss@...
 

We should thank James Castellan for calling our attention to the Philip Sutton article (https://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island) since it plays a major role in propagating the meme that involuntary name-changes during immigration (there are similar narratives for other ports of entry) weren't possible. Some of the items on the list provided us by Barbara Mannlein a few weeks ago cite this article; others, not on her list, do as well. This is going to take some time, so bear with me.
 
There are several basic issues. Immigration procedures were even messier than Bob Bloomberg suggests. Congressional debate on HR 15442, which became the Naturalization Act of 1906, addresses actual fraud in the process involving agents of the Immigration Service. IS employees benefited from selling "duplicates" of immigration documents to an organization that then resold them, primarily in Italy. Other IS agents manipulated the naturalization process to enable immigrants who might vote for their party to become citizens faster. These were criminal acts, even then, so people who believe such agents would be meticulous about not changing immigrant names, which wasn't a violation of law at all, bear the burden of proving their beliefs. Anyone who wishes to check this out is free to start reading the Congressional Record.
 
The Sutton article raises key questions about the validity of the meme itself. He provides three "proofs," none of which can stand up to scrutiny:
 
Sutton's first "proof" begins with "Numerous blogs, essays, and books have proven" that involuntary name-changes could not have occurred. Such claims are standard in "proofs" of the meme, but while they invariably fail to specify where such a proof can be found, Sutton quotes at length from Vincent Cannato's American Passage: The History of Ellis Island including the statement "Nearly all ... name change stories are false." "Nearly all" implies that some such stories are true, which would disprove the "no involuntary name-changes" meme.
 
I read Cannato's book, which includes a statement of the meme and endnotes that identify his sources, but neither the book nor the references cited contains a proof. I then contacted him to learn whether "Nearly" meant what I had supposed. He responded that the conclusion that involuntary name-changes could not have occurred is based on what actually happened in the Great Hall at Ellis Island. He hadn't studied this issue in detail (his research was on the role operating Ellis Island played in establishing the American approach to bureaucracy); his "Nearly" was simply a hedge against the possibility that one or more cases might emerge where such a change did occur. Citing the meme, or citing a source that cites the meme, is hardly a proof.
 
Sutton's second "proof," involving the "One That Was," is a reference to the case of a Mary Johnson who chose to re-enter the United States dressed as a man and using the masculine name Frank Woodhull. Mary had adopted this name and identity after her initial entry from Canada, some thirty years earlier, when there were no federal immigration controls, because the job opportunities available to men were much greater than those open to women. Frank/Mary was referred for a medical inspection while re-entering, and recognizing that competent medical personnel would probably realize she was a woman, gave herself up. She went before a Board of Special Inquiry, which allowed her to enter. Immigration officials changed "Frank Woodhull" to "Mary Johnson" on the arrival document.
 
Contact with the Historian's Office at USCIS revealed that they believe Sutton has misunderstood or misrepresented what happened here: It was the listing for Mary that was changed rather than her name; she continued to live as Frank Woodhull. By virtue of having lived in the United States for thirty years, she appears to have known she was free to call herself whatever she wished. One of the arguments made to me when I first heard the meme was that Americans were free to do so. Making this a "proof" of the meme requires establishing that immigrants who had never been to America shared Mary/Frank's understanding of American law. Not likely.
 
Sutton's third "proof" is a claim that there was no contemporary discussion of name-changes, which is a form of the logical error known as an argument from ignorance (The best known of these is "Absence of evidence is evidence of absence," known to be false for centuries.) but then goes on to discuss an article he found in an entertainment column in The Washington Post from April 10, 1944, that does so. That article reports that a musician named Harry Friedman was reverting to his pre-immigration surname, Zarief. Sutton appears to have totally missed the context for this article: Mrs. Friedman/Zarief had just given birth to quadruplets and publicity was good for his career.
 
Sutton claims there are no other such items, but I found one, by sheer luck, dating to 1897. What would a comprehensive search of all media, including those in languages other than English, reveal? Sutton doesn't know, so this claim doesn't prove anything either.
 
The upshot is that the gold standard "proof" of the meme doesn't actually prove anything. It is built of claims that represent either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the evidence. The dozen or so other "proofs" of the meme I have found share this weakness, and some are credible only to true believers: One such adherent told me that whatever the law said, immigration officials would ignore it to do what genealogists would want a century later...
 
There is a mechanism that would lead immigrants to believe their names had been changed at Ellis Island, or other ports of entry.  This mechanism is included in an earlier abridged version of my study of this topic as "Involuntary Name Changes: The Real Story,"  in Avotaynu, Vol. 34, #1, Spring, 2018, p.~34. 
 
Contrary to Joel Weintraub, I believe the real issue here is whether the "No involuntary name-changes at Ellis Island" meme has led to the abandonment of narratives that contained genealogical information not available through any other means, and thus to its loss: You can't tell people that their narratives are fake without leading at least some of them to abandon them and thus prevent their transmission to a subsequent generation. Since stopping their transmission was the goal of advocates of the meme, they cannot now claim that there has been no such loss, unless they can prove that all the narratives are indeed false. But they haven't even tried to do that; instead, we have the meme. To make their point, they would also have to prove that narratives long-since abandoned were also false, but there's no obvious way to even identify them.
 
I note that there has been no systematic effort to disparage any other type of family narrative. Each narrative, including the name-change ones, should be checked out and not abandoned unless or until it has been proven individually to be false.
 
This meme has been effectively and aggressively marketed, which is fundamentally different from being proved, but that puts it on an equal footing with breakfast cereals. To the best of my knowledge, "involuntary name-changes on immigration" is the only area of intellectual discourse in which one side demands that the price of not being ridiculed is abandonment of the bulk of the evidence that proves that that side's beliefs are wrong.
 
What remains is to figure out why this meme emerged. I have requested a document from NARA that may contain, or point to, the answer, and as I suggested early in this thread, it would be wise to refrain from making additional unsupportable claims until it can be analyzed.
 
Yale Zussman