A surprise email from a professional genealogist opened a new window on my grandmother Justyna Davidovich, my maternal grandmother. She died two years before I was born. I knew very little about her, with little hope I’d ever learn more. What I did know, I added to the family history website I created to share my research with my extended family.
A few years after I put the website up, I received an email message from a professional genealogist who must have found my webpage saying she had been hired to work on the Maslo family line and she thought she had my grandmother’s immigration record from Ellis Island and wondered if I would like a copy of it. I knew Maslo was the married name of her sister. I, of course, sent an enthusiastic reply.
She sent me the digital image of a page from a Manifest of Alien Passengers Immigrating to the United States in 1913, and there she was!
From the top of the document I saw where, when and on what ship she arrived.
Here is the line of information about my grandmother including:
- her last name
- first name
- if she could read
- if she could write
- the country and town she had last resided in
- name and address of nearest relative
On the other side of the page appears:
- her destination city and state
- if she had a ticket there
- who paid for the ticket
- how much money in her possession
- if she had been to the US before
- who she was going to join in the US and their address
- whether she’d been to prison
- was a polygamist
- was an anarchist
- had some other affiliation
- the condition of her health
- physical defects
- hair color
- eye color
- ID marks
- country and city of birth
This was more information than I had ever known about my grandmother! I was thrilled!
I began looking up information about her listed ethnicity and where she was from. I looked up information about the ship and got a photo of it so I might imagine what her voyage had been like. I did a Google maps search of her birth place and then switched to satellite view and zoomed in as close as I could to get a feel for the place where she had grown up, which, by the way, doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last 100 years.
I imagined her on that ship, not speaking English, not able to read or write at all. How did she even pass on the information recorded? She must have had a letter from her sister with the needed information about who was meeting her and where she was headed that she could show to the receiving clerk, and probably money to pay her fare.
My grandmother left her home in the Ukraine in 1913 at the age of 18. Her sister Anna and brother-in-law Nick were waiting for her in America. She must have hung on to that fact in order to see her through such a strange and alien experience. She had perhaps never left her little village before. To make her way to Liverpool and to get herself on the right ship – to steam across the boundless Atlantic Ocean with people she did not know nor even understand or speak to; this must have been terribly frightening and maybe a little exciting!
I happened to watch the film version of Fiddler on the Roof not long after this. My grandmother’s home was very much like Anatevka. At the end of the film, as the townspeople were all loading their carts to leave the only home they had ever known to go to far distant lands they couldn’t even conceive of – I realized that the timing was very much the same as my grandmother’s exodus. The reasons Tevye and his neighbors were leaving may have been similar to why my grandmother left her village, country and family.
I may never know much more than this. But I do know more now than I ever hoped to know before, because of this immigration record from Ellis Island. The brief facts and a little research allow me to fill in many blanks and paint a picture of my grandmother that I never could have otherwise, and to understand her in a whole new way.