Topics

"His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names


Bob Bloomberg
 

According to the Philip Sutton article, immigration officials asked questions of immigrants--something that almost all of the posts here deny.  The Philip Sutton article does not mention name tags, which most posters here say is one of the main reasons why mistakes couldn't be made.
 
And, the article concedes mistakes could have been made on the ship manifest at point of origin for a number of reasons, but it insists, despite questions being asked, no name tags, language difficulties, and a constant stream of immigrants leaving little time for accuracy, NO mistakes (well, one, sort of) were ever made.  Bravo!


Jules Levin
 

On 7/15/2020 2:48 PM, Bob Bloomberg wrote:
According to the Philip Sutton article, immigration officials asked
questions of immigrants--something that almost all of the posts here
deny.  The Philip Sutton article does not mention name tags, which
most posters here say is one of the main reasons why mistakes couldn't
be made.
And, the article concedes mistakes could have been made on the ship
manifest at point of origin for a number of reasons, but it insists,
despite questions being asked, no name tags, language difficulties,
and a constant stream of immigrants leaving little time for accuracy,
NO mistakes (well, one, sort of) were ever made.  Bravo!


Susan&David
 



On 7/10/2020 4:21 PM, Bob Bloomberg wrote:
If the name on the manifest is the name they used--ALWAYS--then help me out please.  I've looked at literally hundreds of ship manifests.  I can decipher some, but nowhere near all, the names.  And I have all the time I need.  I have access to experts in languages.  I don't have hundreds of people waiting in line for me to make my decision.  Just like the immigration officials, I don't ask the immigrant, so I must use my best judgment as to what the name is, and how it's spelled.Butthe names were NeVER changed.  Please explain


Jules Levin
 

This is my answer to Bob Bloomberg.  I think Mary&David had the same
problem I had; at least their message contains nothing but a repeat of
the Bloomberg message.  His stars must have aligned...

Jules Levin

All the photos of arriving immigrants to Ellis Island show them with
name tags. (By the way, my greatgrandmother travelled cabin-class with
parents and siblings, and such arrivals did not have to go thru the
process at all--there must have been separate manifests for steerage
.)    I can imagine language difficulties with   immigrants with speech
impediments, but hardly language difficulties with the languages spoken
by Jewish immigrants.   You keep throwing in that red herring--all
it        does is lower your credibility.  What is your problem?  Do you
not want to face that many young assimilating immigrants were
embarrassed by their too Jewish names?  My theory:  if you were to
divide all Jewish immigrants into those whose 2nd generation remained
Orthodox in America, and those who "americanized", you would find the
latter strongly correlated with name changing.  Certainly true in my
family.


On 7/15/2020 3:27 PM, Susan&David wrote:


On 7/10/2020 4:21 PM, Bob Bloomberg wrote:
If the name on the manifest is the name they used--ALWAYS--then help
me out please.  I've looked at literally hundreds of ship manifests. 
I can decipher some, but nowhere near all, the names.  And I have all
the time I need.  I have access to experts in languages.  I don't
have hundreds of people waiting in line for me to make my decision. 
Just like the immigration officials, I don't ask the immigrant, so I
must use my best judgment as to what the name is, and how it's
spelled.Butthe names were NeVER changed.  Please explain


karen.silver@juno.com
 

Of course mistakes were made at the point of departure.  The NYPL article makes that clear.  My ancestors' names were badly mangled at the various port of departures.  No one should dispute this.  Also, just because we never mentioned that immigrants were questioned as part of their immigration doesn't mean that we were unaware of that.  Those of us responding to the question about name changes at Ellis Island limited our answers to the pertinent facts. 
 
As for the handwriting issue mentioned, there are many sources that modern readers of manifests and other documents can use to decipher the cursive script style of the day.  I have to believe that the immigration inspectors at Ellis Island and all the other ports were familiar with the cursive styles of their times.  And don't forget that we are looking at the digitized copies of the manifests that were microfilmed in the 1930's.  Deterioration of the originals is also a factor.
 
Karen Silver


C Chaykin
 

RE: "If the name on the manifest is the name they used..."
That is not the gist of what has been said... The name on the manifest was the copied from the name on the embarkation manifest. 

RE: "I can decipher some, but nowhere near all, the names."
There are instances of poor penmanship. But no matter how bad the penmanship of someone who transcribes it, I still know my name. The same was true for each immigrant.

RE: "But the names were never changed." 
There are instances of immigrants who changed their names, but the ship manifests were not the place where the changes happened... although in some cases, an immigrant may have decided to adopt an inadvertent misspelling. 


Bob Bloomberg
 

Exactly my point: "There are instances of immigrants who changed their names, but the ship manifests were not the place where the changes happened... [then where?]  Ellis?] although in some cases, an immigrant may have decided to adopt an inadvertent misspelling. [emphasis added]


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



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


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


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.


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


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)



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


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.


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".
 
 


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.


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


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


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