New Find Raises Questions about Family Name: #poland #names

Gail H. Marcus

The Grossman branch of my family came from Lomza, Poland.  All U.S. records show the name Grossman.  But we never found immigration records.  Recently, an immigration record (attached) was discovered for a family that arrived about the right time (1895) to the right port (NY), consisting of a mother and 6 children, ALL 7 with names and birth order that match the Grossman family and ages that are consistent with the Grossman family.  Seems like more than chance.  BUT the family name shown looks like Penesuch!  I know that some people came over on false papers and some people changed their names here.  But which is it?  I thought if I could find any birth or other records under either surname in Poland, I could figure it out, but I'm having trouble finding anything at all.  I don't have much experience with the JRI-Poland records, so I wonder if I'm missing something.  Can anyone suggest anything that might help?

In addition to what is on the manifest, there are U.S. records that indicate that the oldest child (Wolf here, William in the U.S.) said  he was born in Ostraleka, and that the 3 youngest children said they were born in Lomza (and the youngest is actually Perl, not Berl).  The mother (Feige) and father (who traveled separately) were buried by the Wizner Society, which I know isn't absolute proof of place of birth.  U.S. records that give DOBs vary (of course!), but most are within a couple of years of the DOBs that the ages in this manifest suggest.  The other possibly useful pieces of information are that the father's Yiddish name was Beryl Leib (Dov Arieh in Hebrew, and usually Barnett in the U.S.), and Feige's maiden name was Schneider (possibly spelled Sznajder in Poland).  This manifest was for the ship "State of California," arriving from Glasgow on Aug. 27, 1895.

I'd really appreciate any help or suggestions to solve this mystery.

Gail Marcus


I believe the name in Poland was PENDZIUCH though it was spelled several ways.  The name appears in several Lomza area towns but I cannot see records for your family at this time.

You will not find Wolf in Ostroleka as records for that period do not exist.

If you found their Ship manifest on Ancestry then also look at the UK outgoing manifest. I think the writing is a little clearer though less information is provided.

Michael Tobias
Glasgow, Scotland
(Not too far from where they sailed from to the USA)

Paula J. Freedman

Could Penesuch be the mother's maiden name, or the father's mother's maiden name? I had a similar situation trying to locate my great grandparents' arrival record. Although GGF was known as Sam Padwe both in Ukraine and in the U.S., his legal name according to his military papers was Samuel Padwe r. Klinghoffer, because his parents' marriage wasn't recognized by the civil authorities in Ukraine. Sure enough, they traveled under the names Sam and Ida Klinghoffer, then promptly went back to Padwe in the U.S. 

An anecdote, but possibly helpful.

Paula Freedman

Lee Jaffe

In answer to one of your questions, I'd guess (yes, it's a guess) that they adopted the name Grossman in the US as part of the general trend towards assimilation.  I've heard repeatedly from the librarians at CJH that German-sounding names were preferred because they were deemed higher status, as well as easier to pronounce and spell.  (My version only makes sense, however, until you discover your family was indeed named Grossman before emigrating.)

Also, as well as looking at UK Outward Passenger lists, you might want to see if your family appears on records of departing Hamburg passengers, which may have more information.  That is possibly the first leg of their journey and you know about when they got to Glasgow, which may help narrow your search. They may also be traveling under the same names -- approximately -- as found on the Glasgow to NY leg.

Your question raises another that has intrigued me: What paperwork did US Immigration issue to arriving passengers?  I've never seen -- or heard of -- a copy of any documents carried away by new immigrants.  The myth of name changes at Ellis Island presumes that people walked away with a piece of official paper with their new name assignment: otherwise, what compelled people to adopt the new name?  And it is hard to imagine in our day that someone could cross a border, much less immigrate to a new country without receiving paperwork to prove to arrived and took up residence legally.  Yet, for all the naturalization records I've reviewed -- many with arrival information left blank -- and all of the discussions about passenger records, I've never come across any indication of papers issued to new immigrants.   Can anyone on the list clarify what paperwork was produced during the arrival?  Thanks.

Lee Jaffe
whose ggf Mendel SZTEJNSAPIR travelled Hamburg to Hull and Liverpool to NYC as Mendel SAPIER and became an upstanding US citizen named Mendel STEIN.  My ggm Ella followed with 2 children, listed on the manifest as STEINSAPPER.

Joel Weintraub

"What paperwork did US Immigration issue to arriving passengers?"

I can think of a few documents that immigrants could have possessed after they came through Ellis Island. The first two were not issued by US Immigration authorities.  The first was the "Inspection Card" issued by the shipping company which showed the immigrant had been vaccinated (stamped on the back), and the ship surgeon had seen the immigrant during the voyage.  It shows on the back "Keep this Card to avoid detention at Quarantine and on Railroads in the United States".  It is stamped on the front by a U.S. Public Health Service official at the port of disembarkment, and again by a US Public Service official at Ellis Island (or perhaps aboard the ship in NY Harbor when they were preliminary/first inspected).  The Inspection Card shows the name of the immigrant, ship/shipping company, manifest page and line number, and port the ship left from and the date of the voyage.  The second document was the landing tag or "ticket" as it was initially called that showed the immigrant's name, ship, arrival date, and manifest sheet and line number of the immigrant which they were required to pin to their clothing  Those were rarely saved and I've seen only a few examples of the tags... I have some in my collection.  Inspection cards are more common and often are sold on online auction sites.   Once US Consulates abroad starting in the 1920s took over some of the functions of the US Immigration stations, an immigrant may have gone to the consulate and filled out a "Declaration" in order to get a visa.  They might also have had to provide the consulate with a "Affidavit in Support of Application for Visa" by someone in the U.S. who promised to support the individual.  I have in my collection a Declaration and an Affidavit in Support so these may have been retained by immigrants and were notarized/stamped/show postage-like stamps that indicated fees were paid.  Other than these, the ship manifest provided some proof of arrival although of course the immigrant didn't get a copy of it for future documentation of their entry into the U.S.but they could have gotten a "Certificate of Arrival" during their naturalization process in the U.S.  An Ellis Island list created at Ellis Island was the detention lists and special inquiry lists that again, were not given to the immigrants to keep.  I once saw some sort of tag on an auction site from Ellis Island that facillitated movement of immigrants between stations and identified their status within the island, but I was outbid on that early material which went for a high price.  If others have other documents (aside from passports and visas, I would like to know about them.
Joel Weintraub
Dana Point, CA

Lee Jaffe


Thanks so much.  I think your thorough description of the different kinds of paperwork used to process incoming passengers should help put to rest the notion that their ancestors had their names changed by an official at Ellis Island. I'd accepted such statements on face value until I began to think logically about the immigration process and wondered by what mechanism such a change could be enforced.  Unless immigrants were issued identity papers they would need for all transactions -- getting a job, for instance -- with their new name, what would prevent someone from reverting to their old name as soon as they hit the streets?

I don't mean to hijack the original question about the Grossman family name, but I think it is worth clarifying that they could have called themselves whatever name they liked.  Why they chose Grossman may be lost in the mists of time, but it wasn't something forced on them.

According to the CJH librarians again, the persistence of the Ellis Island name change may be due to folks not wanting to admit they changed their own name: it was easier to blame some faceless official.  

Lee Jaffe

Sarah L Meyer

I would NOT change surnames based on a passenger record.  For one reason or another people traveled under different names.  I have a family that traveled under my Perlstadt (ultra rare) surname and the naturalization records show the surname as Schindel.  I had actually tried to add them to my tree.  BUT another researcher found the birth record for the oldest child who was born in England - and his surname was Schindel, just as the people that I had contacted because of a DNA match said.  Their surname was always Schindel.  How and why they traveled under the Perlstadt surname I don't know.  But your Grossman's family may have always been Grossman.  I suggest seeing if you can find a naturalization record and then any records in the old country.
Sarah L Meyer
Georgetown TX
BIRGARDOVSKY, EDELBERG, HITE (CHAIT), PERCHIK Russia (southern Ukraine) and some Latvia or Lithuania

Phil Goldfarb

One other caveat to this issue. There could be a difference between what is actually written on the ship manifest and what someone who transcribed the manifest has written. An example is my great grandparents and their three sons arrived into Ellis Island in October, 1904. Same last name on the ship manifest for all five. However the transcriber who did it for whatever entity, spelled their surname three different ways for the five individuals!  

Phil Goldfarb
Tulsa, OK

David Harrison <djh_119@...>

I tried to reply yesterday but the server was down for more than an hour and this may be the wrong e-address.

My grandfather from Russian Poland came to England from Poland via Berlin and Paris and whose documentation is a story of myth and invention all devised because of a belief in the power of a state Police Force.  Therefore I might suggest that a person going through Ellis Island might feel unable to argue with or change any name written oon a paper in a foreign language.  In these cases not only was the language different, but so was the character set.  Do not forget that in Czarist times (before 1917) Jewish men were leaving because they wanted to avoid 25 years in the Army. Some of them could escape, but most of the non-Jewish population were Serfs, not much better than slaves and in the Army as the quota from their owner.  I think that this far away in time some of you are forgetting the effective system at that time or any other time and do not use present day values,  I am 

aged 89 and remember well that because I passed an exam aged10, I did not leave school and start work aged 14 as had my parents.  But also I was allowed to come home alone from Boarding School into the London Blitz aged 10, the 60 miles in one train, cross London by Underground  (Railway) and then take another train 10 miles, before walking a mile home;  It would not be allowed today.   Later, aged 16 I travelled to France alone to visit a pen -friend and he later came over to me.

David Harrison, Birmingham, England 


Phil Karlin

I have the exact situation in the Yaffe branch of my family. I had from a naturalization the month and year of arrival. I could not find any Yaffe's who arrived at that time, so I just brute force starting going through manifests, and I found a family named Preiskel, perfect analogs in first names and ages. They were headed to brother in law A. Hurwitz in New Haven, which clinched it for me. A JewishGen search of Lithuanian records brought up a 6 birth records and 3 death records, with town of origin and other info. It had been their name for at least 20 years at time of arrival.
My question is whether my GGF had always been a Preiskel, or if it had been the re-adoption of the Yaffe name, from childhood or a prior generation.

I have that situation in a more distant branch of the tree. My 3GGF Karlin had a brother who changed his name to Verebyofsky, possibly to avoid the draft. His grandchildren came to America and changed their names back to Karlin.

3rd version in my tree: a cousin in the Apter branch who came to Hartford, where there were already lots of Apters. His mother had been an Apter. He came as Menasche Rapp, and became Max Apter. The better to fit in and take advantage of family connections, I think.

Phil Karlin
Hartford, CT USA