How do I find out why my great-grandfather emigrated from Lithuania under an assumed name? #lithuania

Perry Shorris

My great-grandfather, born Mordkhel Eliash Shores, emigrated from Kovno to America in 1898 under the name “Jossel Flink” (the name on the ship’s manifest and referenced in his naturalization records).  There are several theories as to why he might have sailed under this name: (1) he used another person’s passport to leave Lithuania; (2) he used a ticket for the ship that was issued under the name Jossel Flink; (3) he was escaping some kind of danger; etc.  On the ship’s manifest, he indicated that he would be joining his “cousin” Sam Shores in Chicago, but Sam was actually his brother.  In March, I sent in an application to the United States Citzenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on the offhand chance that his file includes a letter or affidavit explaining the name discrepancy (the Declaration of Intention and Petition do not contain any explanation).  I have not received a response yet, and based on the posts of many people who have gone through this process, do not expect to get a response anytime soon.  Does anyone have any other suggestions as to how I might find some evidence as to why he used an assume name, which he had never used in Lithuania and immediately ditched when he arrived in America?
Perry M. Shorris


I had an uncle who came under a different name. I was told that he bought the
papers of someone who had already gone through the process, and that this was known to happen.                                                 Frayda  Zelman NY

JoAnne Goldberg

Thanks for bringing this up, Perry. I have wondered the same for years,
and still don't have a good explanation for the name changes.

In my case, multiple family members traveled from Lithuania to the US in
the 1880s after apparently buying papers that allowed them to change
their surnames. So my questions:

* What kind of documents did someone need to leave Lithuania in the late
* Who was able to get these documents? And why was it apparently so hard
for people to procure documents in their own  name?
*What happened to the sellers of these documents? Without papers, were
they stuck in their home towns for the rest of their lives?

JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535


Judith Singer

"It is no easy thing for a family to get a passport. If for any reason the birth of any child has not been properly entered upon the records of the community, and this happens quite frequently in the case of females, or if by accident an official has omitted a name in the records that he prepares from time to time, or there is a member of the family eligible to military duty, or perchance one of the family who has died would, if alive, be eligible to such duty and his name has not been stricken from the records, there ensue complications that involve expense and loss of time." (Philip Cowen, Philip. “Immigration from Russia”, 1906 report to U.S. Commissioner General of Immigration, NARA Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.



Some young men were able to obtain another man’s military papers in order to get an exit permit; (b) some emigrants used permits that had been forged or altered (usually by a shipping company agent) by adding an unrelated person to a family’s permit, using that family’s last name; (c) occasionally a family was able to use the permit of another family who had changed their mind about leaving after obtaining a permit, and so crossed the border under someone else’s name; and (d) those unable or unwilling to obtain even fraudulent documents avoided the border guards by leaving the train on the Russian side of the border and being smuggled through the forest.

In a family named Charny from Kavarskas, Lithuania, there are ship manifests and NY and US census records showing the apparent emigration of one branch of the family to NYC, including parents and several offspring, yet a Charny family with the same given names of not only the parents but all the children also appears in Lithuanian records, such as Internal Passport Applications, at times they were shown to be living in the US. The only explanation that has occurred to me is that the true Charny family remained had obtained exit permits yet chose to remain behind and was able to sell its permits to another family with children of the appropriate sex and age. A shipping company agent might have been employed in finding a suitable family to sell or buy the exit permits. These agents kept close eyes on which of the families in their sales area might or might not be interested in emigrating. 

Once a Russian exit permit was obtained, remaining documentation including train tickets and ship tickets had to be issued in the same name. and the list that showed the immigrants names to US immigrant officials was prepared by the shipping company officers, so the name on the purchased, forged, or altered visa became the name under which the immigrant entered the US. 


Judith Singer

researching Charney and variations in Lithuania

Phil Karlin

I was surprised to find my my great grandparents on the manifest with a different surname. Then I searched the name on JewishGen for Lithuanian records and found them in multiple birth & death records. It seems they adopted a new name on arrival. 

Phil Karlin
Hartford, CT USA

Perry Shorris

Thanks for the detailed and useful information.  One other wrinkle in the story is that my great-grandfather Max Shorris (“Jossel Flink”) came in 1898, and his wife and two daughters came in 1901.  According to Lithuanian records, they had a son born in 1893, but the son did not come with either of my great-grandparents to America.  Sadly, the apparent son (who went on to marry and have five children) died at the hands of the Nazis in 1941.  I have no evidence that my grandfather (born later in America) or anyone else in the family knew of this additional sibling.  It makes me wonder if there is some sort of connection between Max using an assumed name and the son that was being left behind.

Perry M. Shorris