Topics

"His name was changed at Ellis Island" #names


Bob Bloomberg
 

It would be naive to think that every ship manifest was clearly readable.  And it would be naive to think that every immigration officer, translator and immigrant spent enough time and cared enough to ensure that every name was written down exactly as it should have been.  There are endless examples of name variations throughout the records, from one census to the next, from one document to the next.  That said, I don't think any names were intentionally changed


Barbara Ellman
 

I have to disagree with Eva Lawrence's characterization of the arriving immigrants as
"a ship full of excitable and exhausted immigrants, some suffering from cholera, perhaps, many of them filthy from the long voyage in a crowded steamship belching smoke and reliant only on sea-water for washing,  to realise that the situation at Ellis Island can't have been as orderly as some of you imagine it"

Immigrants that came to the US were fearful of being returned to Europe.  So they kept their best clothing for the arrival in the US lest they be judged as a public charge or as having disease.  If a family had a member that was ill, they would generally wait until the person was well to travel to avoid being returned to Europe. 

Also there were translators available to assist in communications with the arrivals.



--
Barbara Ellman
Secaucus NJ USA
HASSMAN, SONENTHAL, DAUERMAN, LUCHS - Drohobycz, Ukraine
HIRSCHHORN, GOLDSTEIN, BUCHWALD - Dolyna, Ukraine
ELLMAN, COIRA, MAIDMAN - Minkovtsy, Ukraine
KAGLE, FASS - Ulanow, Poland


YaleZuss@...
 

I am fascinated by the assumption in many of these responses that I haven't done my homework.  No-one, including in a flurry of personal contacts, has mentioned an item that I hadn't seen already in my study.  I read each of them and then back-checked it; how many of you who cite these items have done so?
 
Jules, have you ever actually bothered to look at the data or think about your claims?  Do you know anyone who can speak 40 languages?  Does any of them work for the amount paid the immigration inspectors?  Has it ever occurred to you that there might be errors in government documents?
 
I started my study looking for the reasoning behind the meme, not to reject it, but as one claim after another proved to be wrong, based on faulty logic, or on methodological errors, I started wondering how it came about.  Then I heard from the USCIS Historians' Office that they didn't know where the meme came from.  I'm still working on that.  

Unless there is an actual proof that involuntary name-changes weren't possible, you cannot reject the name-change narratives out of hand.  Given the number of potential cases, around 37 million, and what is known about the operation of the immigration stations (it's discussed in the Congressional Record), the notion that involuntary name-changes were impossible because the immigration process operated flawlessly is simply absurd.
 
--Yale Zussman 


Jane Foss
 

Sometimes a person bought someone elses ticket and travel documents..my great aunt Rose Lowenkron bought her sister s though she was much younger..she changed back to her legal mame on becoming a u.s citizen


David Slater
 

All evidence shows names were not changed at Ellis Island. My great- grandparents named KRAUZE from Bialystok were told by their fellow Landsman at The Bialystoker Synagogue on the Lower East Side of NY that in America people would think you were “crazy person” with a name pronounced Krauze. What’s a good, Yankee, American name they asked? GOLDSTEIN they were told. So GOLDSTEIN it was from then on. Why were Eastern European Jews more likely, perhaps more than other immigrant groups, willing to accept changed surnames? In the Russian experience, remember, surnames were ordered by the Czar in The Edicts of 1804 & 1835 and the loyal attachment to these surnames is questionable. After all, didn’t you also hear stories of how your ancestors tried to avoid the Russian military by changing their identities. Names being misspelled at the port of departure, suggestions from Landsman in America, American teachers, etc. seem more credible than “my name was changed at Ellis Island”.
David Slater
Atlanta, GA
Researching:
KRAUZE, WASILKOVSKY, JANOWSKY, SUSSEL, SCHAPIRO, FIXEL- Bialystok & Wasilkow, Poland
SCHLACHTER, YAFFE, SKODOWITZ, BARON - Kavarskas, Lithuania
SIMONSOHN/SIMSON - Riga, Latvia
DEUTSCH/DAJCZ,
MOSHKOVSKY, MONTE, KUZINETZ - Slonim, Belarus
DROBIS - Anyksciai, Lithuania


Barbara Mannlein <bsmannlein@...>
 

Have you ever known a government employee who didn’t generate paper?   

There is only 1 file backing up (sort of) the “name was changed at Ellis Island claim”  and that was of a woman traveling as a man.  The manifest was corrected  But she continued to use the male name after being admitted to the US.  If names were changed at ports of entry, wouldn’t you expect to see paper evidence?

The US gov’t also denies the story.  (see last item on list below.)


Names were NEVER changed at Ellis Island. Passenger manifests were created from the ticket registers containing the names used when tickets were bought. Names were checked off as passengers boarded. The departure manifest was then given to the Ellis Island officials who used it to create the arrival manifests copying **exactly** what was on the departure manifest.

Each passenger WORE A TAG giving his ship's name, manifest page # and line # (and hence his name). All the clerks did was to check the name off a manifest. The clerks did not write anything down at Ellis, they simply checked off the manifest.

It wasn't like a bus full of strangers arrived and officials asked what their name was. There was already a paper trail. EI clerks spoke 2-3 languages each. There was no reason to ask questions in English.

As for w or v, in Polish there is no "v":  "w" is pronounced "V".   My mom's maiden name was Weiser; pronounced Veiser in Polish.  Halpern is spelled Galpern in  Russian but pronounced Halpern.

As another researcher pointed out a few years ago, "if the Starbucks barista spells your name wrong on the cup, they aren't  forcing a "name change" on you, since there is no mechanism of enforcement."


1. "Ellis Island Isn’t to Blame for Your Family’s Name Change"

2. "They Changed Our Name at Ellis Island"

     https://ancestralfindings.com/changed-name-ellis-island/


3.  "The Myth of Ellis Island and Other Tales of Origin"

4. "American Names / Declaring Independence"
      by Marian Smith, Immigration & Nationalization Svc Historian

5. "Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island…. "

 6.  "Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island"

      


 7. "The Ellis Island Name Change Myth"

 8.  "Jewish Americans changed their names, but not at Ellis Island"

 9. "Just How Were Passenger Manifests Created?"      (2009)
    [senior INS archivist Marion Smith, British genealogists Saul Issrof and Nick Evans.] 

 

10. "The “Ellis Island changed our name” myth" 

 11.   From the US GOVT:   (2013)

     “Immigrant Name Changes”



Barbara Mannlein
Tucson, AZ


On Jun 26, 2020, at 8:24 AM, YaleZuss via groups.jewishgen.org <YaleZuss=aol.com@...> wrote:

I am fascinated by the assumption in many of these responses that I haven't done my homework.  No-one, including in a flurry of personal contacts, has mentioned an item that I hadn't seen already in my study.  I read each of them and then back-checked it; how many of you who cite these items have done so?
 
Jules, have you ever actually bothered to look at the data or think about your claims?  Do you know anyone who can speak 40 languages?  Does any of them work for the amount paid the immigration inspectors?  Has it ever occurred to you that there might be errors in government documents?
 
I started my study looking for the reasoning behind the meme, not to reject it, but as one claim after another proved to be wrong, based on faulty logic, or on methodological errors, I started wondering how it came about.  Then I heard from the USCIS Historians' Office that they didn't know where the meme came from.  I'm still working on that.  

Unless there is an actual proof that involuntary name-changes weren't possible, you cannot reject the name-change narratives out of hand.  Given the number of potential cases, around 37 million, and what is known about the operation of the immigration stations (it's discussed in the Congressional Record), the notion that involuntary name-changes were impossible because the immigration process operated flawlessly is simply absurd.
 
--Yale Zussman 
_._,_._,_


Hank Lobbenberg
 

JoAnne:
Your Gedmatch cannot be M131535 as indicated in Jewish Gen. I have a number of names in your listing.
Can you give me the Ancestry or Family Tree Maker ID
Henry Lobbenberg
Toronto, ON
Gedcom: 9842111 


JoAnne Goldberg
 

About "changing the spelling" -- the manifests I've seen have all been
written in English or German, in any case, using our Latin alphabet.
Whereas many of our ancestors would have written their names in Russian
or Yiddish, totally different alphabets. The name on the manifest might
have been an undecipherable scribble to them (assuming they were
literate at all)

Also, there was a comment yesterday about names beginning with G or H.
The Russian (Cyrllic) alphabet has a guttural H, like the beginning of
Khrushchev, but a soft H is rendered with a G, hence, the Shakespearean
play Gamlet or Hirsch spelled as Girsh. I am guessing these names were
pronounced correctly, but written in the Russian alphabet with an
initial G, which of course looks nothing like an English/German G.

Curious if anyone has more information on these -- could be helpful in
understanding the name-change stories that so many of us have.
--
JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535
BLOCH, SEGAL, FRIDMAN, KAMINSKY, PLOTNIK/KIN -- LIthuania
GOLDSCHMIDT, HAMMERSCHLAG,HEILBRUNN, REIS(S), EDELMUTH, ROTHSCHILD, SPEI(Y)ER -- Hesse, Germany
COHEN, KAMP, HARFF, FLECK, FRÖHLICH, HAUSMANN,  DANIEL  -- Rhineland, Germany

 


Bob Roudman
 

I may also be naive to think that the immigrant would not be asked to
pronounce their names if the clerk/officer could not read it. These
folks were not mute.


Jules Levin
 

I will answer Yale point by point:

On 6/26/2020 8:24 AM, YaleZuss via groups.jewishgen.org wrote:
I am fascinated by the assumption in many of these responses that I
haven't done my homework.  No-one, including in a flurry of personal
contacts, has mentioned an item that I hadn't seen already in my
study.  I read each of them and then back-checked it; how many of you
who cite these items have done so?
Jules, have you ever actually bothered to look at the data or think
about your claims? Do you know anyone who can speak 40 languages? 
Does any of them work for the amount paid the immigration inspectors?
Has it ever occurred to you that there might be errors in government
documents?
This second paragraph is ironic coming after your affirmation of your
careful reading.  I think almost everyone understood that I did not say
there was someone there who spoke 40 languages.  An averagely careful
reader understood correctly that among the many immigration inspectors
over 40 languages were spoken.  Someone in this discussion who has also
studied the issue claims many more than 40.  This is not surprising,
since I think that America was a more polyglot country in the 19th
Century than now--but this is a different issue.

I also have the impression that one of the beliefs underlying the "meme"
is a middle-class urban Jewish attitude vis-a-vis the presumed
native-born Wasps from the sticks who they assume were the officials
engaged in silly frivolous name changes.  Consider this as a factor.

Another factor I hope you will explore is /cui bono/, which Russians
especially like (komy pol'za)--who benefits?  Why did these frazzled
hungry (to go home to dine) officials stand to gain by arbitrarily
changing names?  And what did the second generation immigrants gain by
telling their 3rd gen children "it was changed at Ellis Island..."   I
think the 2nd question is easier to answer.  It was embarrassing to tell
their children that their grandparents wanted to seem less "Jewish",
more American.  Clearly the officials had nothing to gain by deviating
from procedures.

I started my study looking for the reasoning behind the meme, not to
reject it, but as one claim after another proved to be wrong, based on
faulty logic, or on methodological errors, I started wondering how it
came about.  Then I heard from the USCIS Historians' Office that they
didn't know where the meme came from.  I'm still working on that.

Unless there is an actual proof that involuntary name-changes weren't
possible, you cannot reject the name-change narratives out of hand. 
Given the number of potential cases, around 37 million, and what is
known about the operation of the immigration stations (it's discussed
in the Congressional Record), the notion that involuntary name-changes
were impossible because the immigration process operated flawlessly is
simply absurd.
The immigration process did not have to operate flawlessly to guard
against involuntary name changing.  This is a red herring. Are migrants
today having their names changed by gov officials when they enter the
country?  Of course not, but no one would claim the current system
operates flawlessly.

Let me propose a way of teasing out factors within the Jewish community
that might explain what was going on--why some Horowitzes changed the
name, and others did not.  {sidebar: Yiddish joke I heard from my
father--remember Sadie Horowitz from the old neighborhood.  When she
came to America she changed her name.  In the old country it was
Kurvawitz.}  Here's my idea: find 100 families with no name change, and
100 that did.  Makr economic, social, and religious tradition profiles
on each 3 or 4 generational family.  I predict that the name-changers
would be more socially mobile, less religious, more exogamous, etc.,
etc. None of these differences could have influenced immigration officials.

Good luck with your research,

Jules Levin


--Yale Zussman


C Chaykin
 

Dear Yale, It sounds most likely, given the paucity of documentary proof, that most of these stories originated out of embarrassment about having chosen another surname. Perhaps some wanted to hide the original name, due to its obvious origin (an undesirable" country of merely just foreign) or ethnicity. In any case the new surname was the preferred surname. Someone who preferred his/her original surname could have changed it back, so that was not the case.  And there it stands. 
Good luck in your search.


Joe & Carolyn Hoelscher
 

My great grandfather left Vistinetz (Vistytis) via Hamburg, Germany for the USA in 1867 aboard the ship Bavaria.  The ship record says he was from Wystetten, Russisch Polen.  His name on board the ship was Reuben Lauchtenstein (family members have always said his last name was Lichtenstein), and every record I have been able to find in the USA has his last name as Jacobs.  I think he changed his last name to Jacobs because he apparently had a couple of brothers who had come to the USA already, as well as a cousin named Jacob Purvin.  I did not really know about these brothers who arrived before Reuben until I started researching the family.  The brothers who came before Reuben chose to change the name to Jacobs, maybe because of the cousin’s name, and Reuben followed suit.  But the reason for choosing Jacobs is not really known.  I had heard of Jacob Purvin before doing research, but I didn’t know anything about him.  So I guess people were changing their names on their own, probably forever!

 

Carolyn Hoelscher

San Antonio


Jules Levin
 

On 6/26/2020 9:44 AM, JoAnne Goldberg wrote:
About "changing the spelling" -- the manifests I've seen have all been
written in English or German, in any case, using our Latin alphabet.
Whereas many of our ancestors would have written their names in Russian
or Yiddish, totally different alphabets. The name on the manifest might
have been an undecipherable scribble to them (assuming they were
literate at all)
Jews in the Pale of Settlement (Poland, Lithuania) and nearby areas
would have been at least as familiar with the Roman alphabet as with the
Cyrillic.  Very few Jews were completely monolingual in Yiddish.  Most
people, even many Russian serfs, could hock a chainik in more than one
language.  By the 1890's most Jews had at least a couple years school,
and both Cyrillic and Roman were taught in all grammar schools, and Jews
in Yeshiva picked up enough.   In the 19th Century the first 2 years of
school everywhere were better than 6 grades today.  Remember, Lincoln
had no more than a year and a half of school.  When you think of your
grandparents arriving in the US, don't think of the elderly people you
remember--think of the young bright eager to work and to learn people
they were.

Jules Levin







Also, there was a comment yesterday about names beginning with G or H.
The Russian (Cyrllic) alphabet has a guttural H, like the beginning of
Khrushchev, but a soft H is rendered with a G, hence, the Shakespearean
play Gamlet or Hirsch spelled as Girsh. I am guessing these names were
pronounced correctly, but written in the Russian alphabet with an
initial G, which of course looks nothing like an English/German G.

Curious if anyone has more information on these -- could be helpful in
understanding the name-change stories that so many of us have.
--
JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535
BLOCH, SEGAL, FRIDMAN, KAMINSKY, PLOTNIK/KIN -- LIthuania
GOLDSCHMIDT, HAMMERSCHLAG,HEILBRUNN, REIS(S), EDELMUTH, ROTHSCHILD,
SPEI(Y)ER -- Hesse, Germany
COHEN, KAMP, HARFF, FLECK, FRÖHLICH, HAUSMANN,  DANIEL  -- Rhineland,
Germany


Roger Lustig
 

Yale Zussman writes:

"Unless there is an actual proof that involuntary name-changes weren't
possible, you cannot reject the name-change narratives out of hand. 
Given the number of potential cases, around 37 million, and what is
known about the operation of the immigration stations (it's discussed in
the Congressional Record), the notion that involuntary name-changes were
impossible because the immigration process operated flawlessly is simply
absurd."

The actual proof is in the facts:

--that no documentary evidence of a name-change by an immigration
official has been found;

--that there is no evidence that a procedure existed for doing such a
thing;

--that no form on which a name-change would be entered has been known to
exist;

--that no regulation regarding name-changes at the port of entry has
ever been found;

--that someone who purportedly received such treatment would either have
had to memorize the new name instantly or receive it written down in an
alphabet they might not even have been able to read;

--that there was no such thing as a database of people's names to which
such an event might be reported;

--and on and on.

For that matter, the first thing to keep in mind is that the immigration
officers didn't even write down the vast majority of the names of people
who passed by them. They compared the names on the passenger list to
those on the steamship tickets, made check-marks and the occasional
rubber-stamp, and that was generally it.

The immigration process did not operate flawlessly, but since we've
never found a way that an immigration officer *could* have changed a
name with any expectation that it would stick for more than 5 minutes,
how could a "flaw" lead to a name change? A flaw in what?

Oh, and the immigration officers spoke 40 languages in aggregate. They
were assigned to ships according to the languages expected to be found
among the passengers, and could in a pinch call on colleagues to help.

Roger Lustig

Princeton, NJ USA


a.eatroff@...
 

This became oddly contentious.

Like many others, I'd heard to stories about Ellis Island name changes and later learned that this would not have happened. My own tree shows numerous name changes, both in Europe and in the USA. In some cases, this came down to differing opinions about how to transliterate a Russian or Yiddish name or even a shift from a Romanian to a Yiddish variant of the same name. A couple of times, it looks like whoever wrote the name down in Europe misheard the name entirely. Usually, it was a matter of simple desire to assimilate.

So, for example, Talpalariu became Feller (Romanian and Yiddish for the same profession). Leibovici became Leibowtiz and, later, Lee (Romanian to Yiddish to Anglicized). Itrov was misspelled as Eatroff in the US and we stuck with it. Wittrof ended up on a a passenger manifest, but was so wildly off, it never appeared on another document. Faivush became Philip and Mikael became Max to sound more "American." All of those sorts of changes are extremely commonplace.

The most amusing story about assigning surnames in my family was a tall tale from the mid-19th century when the Austro-Hungarian Empire decided Jews should have surnames. Usually, those names would be based on an occupation or patronymic or a location, but one of my ancestors was said to have been so amused by the "ridiculous" names people took, he laughed out loud and an official saddled him with the name Lacher, meaning "laugher." That's too good to be true, but it's more fun than "they changed it at Ellis Island."


Bob Bloomberg
 

I think we are getting very defensive.  I haven't seen anyone who claims that names were intentionally, willfully changed. I don't believe they were.  What I think many are saying is that the system, and the people in it, were not perfect.  Add to the imperfections the fact that orthography was still in flux, and that most names could be spelled many different ways,by the same person, and you have the opportunity for name changes (I have seen different spellings of the same name on different documents signed by the same person.).


Peter Cohen
 

Thank you, Bob for injecting some sanity...In case it was not obvious, my original post stipulated from the outset that it was not a government official that changed anyone's name. What I am saying is that the stories are too widespread for all of them to be completely without some basis. The only other alternative is a widespread deliberate lie from parents to children. I am attempting to deconstruct the immigrant experience beyond their interaction with actual officials, to find out what might have led to stories of being instructed to use a different name.  The example someone posted about being advised to change their name by people at their synagogue is a perfectly plausible example of a voluntary name change. However, it does not address the widespread incidence of stories that include the phrases "he asked my name" and "he wrote down_____".  Since there is no evidence that the US government actually gave immigrants any documents to take with them, it was certainly not a government official who "wrote down" the new name.

Someone contacted me implying that it could not have been HIAS because HIAS did not establish an office at Ellis Island until 1905.  Checking hias.org, I learned the following:
HIAS was established in 1881.
"HIAS established a bureau on Ellis Island in 1904 providing translation services, guiding immigrants through medical screenings, arguing before the Boards of Special Inquiry to prevent deportations, and obtaining bonds to guarantee employable status. We lent some the $25 landing fee and sold railroad tickets at reduced rates to those headed for other cities."
So, not only was HIAS operating during the entire period of name change stories, beginning in 1904, it seems like they were actually embedded in the immigration process inside the Ellis Island facility (as opposed to meeting people outside the hall, as I had imagined.)  IF HIAS people were the ones who were telling immigrants to use a different name, and IF they were actually doing it inside the Great Hall, it is easy to see why an unsophisticated immigrant could mistakenly think that someone with authority was changing their name.

Again, these are only theories. I am not planting a stake and insisting this is what happened.  Something in writing may yet surface where a volunteer recorded their role in these name changes, but so far, none are known. I think it is well established that no one with government authority changed anyone's name. But to simply fold one's arms and insist that every name change was done at the instigation of the immigrant does not pass the sniff test.  Where there's smoke there's fire.


C Chaykin
 

Amazing. No sooner than the "community" discards the canard that immigration officials changes people's names, another canard that name changes were effected by HIAS officials. Wow. That is even more imaginative and less plausible. 

Here's what happened, again and again: immigrants adopted new names, willingly and deliberately. The reasons for doing so varied – some names were in foreign alphabets (e.g. Cyrillic), some name spellings were not pronounced properly in English (e.g., Romanian -vici  suffix sounds like "English' -witz), some names were deemed too long to be practical, etc., etc., etc. But no reason was needed to use a new spelling or a new name. And in many (most?) instances, no government official or other representative was required to sanction the name change. Google the history of name changes in the U.S., and that is what you will find.

It was also possible to effect a name change at the time of naturalization, but again, this was done willingly and deliberately by the person being naturalized. 

Were mistakes made, in misspellings, or later imputed to bad handwriting? Sure, but again, I believe these errors did not become "memorialized" unless the immigrant adopted the mistakes or misspellings, willingly and deliberately.

BTW HIAS is still around, and available for inquiries. Good luck chasing down this new theory.


Sherri Bobish
 


Hello fellow 'genners,

Has a study ever been conducted as to the percentage of immigrants to the U.S. that did, or did not, at some point make the personal choice to alter their surname?

None of my four immigrant grandparents, who all came through Ellis Island, changed their surnames. 

I don't believe that names were changed at the point of immigration.

However, some immigrants did choose, at some point in their lives, to alter their surnames to varying degrees.

Coming to America meant being able to re-invent oneself.  Sometimes part of that personal journey was the voluntary choice of changing the first and/or surname.

Regards,

Sherri Bobish
Princeton, NJ


JPmiaou@...
 

Jules Levin asked:
Do Italian-Americans, Greek-Americans,
German-Americans, Polish-Americans, etc, etc., have the same stories of
name changing?
Oh, yes. In spades. _Everyone_ believes it, totally without regard to specific origins. I've heard the "name changed at Ellis Island" myth from Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Catholics, whites, blacks, and everyone in between.

It's enough for a family story to include the phrases "name change" and "Ellis Island" for people to jump straight to the myth. Even if the family story is specifically that the name _wasn't_ changed at Ellis Island, what the genealogical neophyte comes away with is the exact opposite. Confirmation bias, I think it's called.

Julia Szent-Györgyi
/\ /\
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