What happened to my great, great grandfather after he landed at Ellis Island? #usa #lithuania #canada


Hi everyone –


Over the last 10 years I have been researching my father's family, together with other family members.  We have successfully tracked down all the descendants of my great, great grandfather and their spouses – both living and deceased – and have located the graves of (almost) all the deceased.  However, we have yet to discover what happened to my great, great grandfather and where he is buried.  Here we hit a classic 'brick wall' and would appreciate any help we can get to track him down.


Here are the facts we know about him:

1.      His name is Nissen Sagan, son of Wulf, from the town of Veliuona (Velon) in the Kaunas (Kovno) area of Lithuania.

2.      He left the port of Hamburg, Germany, on February 25, 1894 aboard the ship S.S. Scandia bound for NYC, with his declared destination being Montreal, Canada.

3.      He traveled with his son, Wulf Goldberg (my great grandfather) and his granddaughter Gittel (Esther Bella) Goldberg (my great aunt, and Wulf's daughter), and they all landed at Ellis Island on March 21, 1894. All the above is well documented both in the Ellis Island and Hamburg port documents.

4.      Wulf and Esther Bella both arrived in Montreal shortly thereafter, where they made their new home.  Esther Bella was married 5 years later in Montreal, raised her family there and both she and her father Wulf are buried in Montreal cemeteries.

5.      Nissen's other 2 children, Sarah and Moses, had already settled in Montreal (together with their respective families) during the six years prior to his arrival at Ellis Island.

6.      However, we couldn't find any documentation of what happened to Nissen Sagan after he landed at Ellis Island – a complete 'brick wall'.  We found absolutely no evidence of him ever being in Montreal – both living or deceased.  We scoured all cemeteries in the Montreal area at the time and enlisted the help of the JGS of Montreal as well – absolutely nothing. We also checked Jewish cemeteries on the way from NYC to Montreal (upper NY state).

7.      We know that he had passed away by June 1895 at the latest, since a grandson of his (Moses' son) was born that month in Montreal and named after him. 

So….what happened to him?

I can think of only 2 possibilities – assuming he never made it to Montreal:

(a)   He died shortly after his arrival in NYC – the most likely scenario being he was quarantined for whatever reason.  Unfortunately, we couldn't find any on-line information of those who died in quarantine at that time.

(b)   He returned to Europe.  He had left his wife and daughter-in-law (Wulf's wife) behind together with some other grandchildren (Wulf's children).  However, all – except his wife – arrived in Montreal (via Boston) in December 1894. We have no evidence of his wife ever having traveled from Europe to North America.  However, it makes no sense to us that he would travel all the way to NYC/Montreal and then return almost immediately to Europe since it is obvious that his entire family planned to resettle in Canada.

Can anyone help us solve this mystery?


Steve Goldberg

Jerusalem, Israel (formerly from Montreal)


David Ziants

Did you take into account that Nissen might have been Natan/נתן/Nathan/Nosson ? .

As you no doubt know, in ashkenazi pronunciation, the soft tav ת is pronounced "s", and so it is easy for the names Nissan (ניסן) and Natan to become convoluted with one and another.

David Ziants

Ma'aleh Adumim, Israel


His name was definitely Nissen (ניסן).  In the Lithuanian Revision Lists he also shows up as Nossel for some reason. :)
All his children's graves have his name inscribed as such (son/daughter of Nissen - ניסן).  Also, my father was named after him and his Hebrew name is Nissen (ניסן), even though his English name is Nathan. Same with Moses' son described above (born June 1895).
Of course, during our research we looked at all Jewish Sagans - especially those named Nathan/Nissen and similar.  Complete blank.

My main request is to know if there is any database or lists (on-line or off-line) of those who died soon after arrival at Ellis Island/NYC - whether in quarantine or not - and, if so, where they are buried.  Of course, any other ideas are welcome as well. :)

Steve Goldberg
Jerusalem, Israel.

Michele Lock

I also have an older man in my family tree, who came to the US in 1910, and then seemed to disappear. He said he was coming to see his daughter in Trenton NJ on the ship manifest, but he never showed up on a census list, or in a death index, or in any cemetery. It turns out that he went back to the old country, to Lida (now in Belarus), where I found him on a tax list in 1912. This man also left a wife behind in Lida, though the grand majority of the couple's children were in the US by then.

You don't say how old your Nissen was, but I take it he was 50+ years old. Perhaps he and/or his wife felt it was too much effort to start a new life over again in Montreal, and so it is a real possibility that he did go back. There aren't any outbound ship passenger lists from the US to Europe that you can check, nor are there any inbound ship lists for arrivals in Bremen or Hamburg (so unfortunate). You could try and check the New York City death records and indexes (via SteveMorse.org), to see if your Nissin shows up there. 

Hope this helps.
Michele Lock

Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock and Kalon/Kolon in Zagare/Joniskis/Gruzdziai, Lithuania
Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock in Plunge/Telsiai in Lithuania
Rabinowitz in Papile, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia
Trisinsky/Trushinsky/Sturisky and Leybman in Dotnuva, Lithuania
Olitsky in Alytus, Suwalki, Poland/Lithuania
Gutman/Goodman in Czestochowa, Poland
Lavine/Lev/Lew in Trenton, New Jersey and Lida/Vilna gub., Belarus