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Two mysteries for immigrant Abraham Shechter

Reader Martha Forsyth is puzzled by two mysteries in the immigration and naturalization records for her grandfather, Abraham Shechter, who emigrated to the United States in 1905.

Shechters & Golds in 1910

First, Abraham’s entry in the manifest of the S.S. Merion, sailing from Liverpool on 21 June 1905, shows that his contact in the United States was his “brother-in-law Simon Gold, 340 League St., Philadelphia.”1

Martha doesn’t know anything about any Gold relations, and can only find that a “Samuel” Gold and family lived next door to her grandparents in the 1910 census.2 So… how to “follow the clue” in the records?

Second, in Abraham’s naturalization records, the judge authorized a change of name to “Samuel Salinski.”3 Her question as to that is, in her words, “‘Huh???!’ no one still living in the family seems to have ever heard that name!”

Let’s start with your Simon / “Samuel” Gold mystery.

The law of the day gives us a little hint here. Starting in 1893, and through the time Abraham came to the United States, the ship manifest forms had a column for whether the immigrant was “going to join a relative or friend, and if so, what relative or friend, and his name and complete address.”4 While you didn’t have to be joining a relative, you weren’t likely to be admitted to the country without listing somebody in the United States. Not having a friend or relative nearby was often the reason why the person was held for a special inquiry, as Abraham was here.5 So listing Simon certainly meant that Abraham thought the claim of a relationship could be verified and, at the least, that Simon would vouch for him. But that’s all the law here can really tell us; it won’t tell us exactly how Simon is related to your family.

So the answer you’re really looking for here is going to come only from plain ol’ ordinary shoe-leather-type paper trail research. But you have a TON of clues here, and you need to identify them one by one and then follow them up one by one.

Your first clue, of course, is the Gold family next door to your grandparents in the 1910 census. Start there and tear that record apart. I know Ancestry indexes the head of the Gold household as Samuel, but I don’t read the entry that way. To me it looks like Shmuel. And that could be what Simon was called, no?

This Shmuel came to America in 1904, a year before your grandfather. So he’s certainly a candidate to be Abraham’s American “relative or friend.” The two men were close in age, both tailors, both Russian, both Yiddish speakers and both with a child born in England only a year apart. There isn’t anything in that record that says this couldn’t be Simon.

And there’s nothing in that record that says this couldn’t be a brother-in-law. Don’t let the fact that you don’t know of Gold relatives throw you. Remember: though the technical meaning was and is a wife’s brother or a sister’s husband,6 in the Russian language there is a co-brother-in-law (meaning either a spouse’s brother-in-law or a sibling’s spouse’s brother).7

Now I’m not going to do your research for you here — the chase is about 99.98% of the fun of genealogy as far as I’m concerned. But I’ll give you a BIG hint: your “Samuel/Shmuel” Gold living next door was Simon Gold. His naturalization papers are online at Ancestry.com.8 And look for Simon in the 1920 and 1930 census as well. He’s there.

What do you do next? Hit the research bricks. Find out everything you can about your grandfather and Simon Gold and their families. Then spread out to information about the people they both knew and associated with — what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN club9 for both men: Friends, Associates, Neighbors.

    • Look at birth records. On the 1910 census, you have at least four Pennsylvania-born children: Jacob Shechter and Samuel, Max and Rebecca Gold. What do their birth records show? Philadelphia birth records starting in 1904 included the mother’s maiden name and occupation, if any, and the age and place of birth of both parents.10 Look particularly at the maiden names of the mothers and the birth places of all four parents.

    • Look at death records. Philadelphia death records starting in 1906 had the parents’ names and their places of birth.11

    • Look at census records. Follow both families forward in time. You’ll need these to find later children and to help find marriage records for those children so you can find the death records. And while you’re looking at those census records, look at other families that stayed near one or both of your target families. (Remember: Friends, Associates, Neighbors.)

    • Look at local business records. Both heads of household were tailors. Did they work together? Join a union? Pay a business tax of some kind?

    • Look at religious and school records. The Shechters and the Golds were both Jewish families who spoke Yiddish. Did they attend the same synagogue, send their kids to the same schools (religious or public)?

    • Look at immigration and naturalization records for both families. You want to check every name and place and date that appears in those records to see where you can put them together and where they differ.

    • Look at city directories to place the families in time. They’re available at the Philadelphia City Archives for the period 1785-1930 and 1935.12 They’re also online at the subscription site Fold3 (and there’s a beta City Directories database online at Ancestry as well). And don’t forget maps to help learn about the neighborhoods they lived in. There’s a great resource, the Philadelphia Public Library’s map collection. And the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network has some wonderful online resources too.

And just as a few other suggestions, make sure you look at:

        • Court records
        • Diaries or letters
        • Newspaper articles, including obituaries
        • Tombstones, cemetery records, and funeral home records
        • Voter registration records
        • Wills and probate records

As you can see, you’ve got a lot of work ahead! Figuring out exactly where Simon fits into your family ought to be a ton of fun.

Now… as to your real corker… the authorization of the name change to “Samuel Salinski” in your grandfather’s naturalization on 8 Apr 1915.

There’s nothing in the law — federal, state or local — at the time to suggest a reason why your grandfather would have wanted to change his name. Although the Immigration Act of 1903 did exclude anarchists13 and you think your grandfather may have been involved politically before leaving Russia, the fact is that he used Abraham Shechter on the ship in 1905, and in his naturalization papers five and 10 years later, so he clearly wasn’t worried about having that name get him into any legal trouble.

And there certainly isn’t anything in the records that says your grandfather wanted to change his name. He’s still using his own name in 192014 and 1930.15

So to find the answer here, I suspect you’re going to have to look not at the man whose name change was authorized but rather at the man who authorized it. Because, I suspect, that entry in the records will turn out to be a judicial ooooops.

The federal Judge who signed that document was John Bayard McPherson. Born in 1846, he became a federal District Court judge in 1899 and was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1912. He was still serving as a Circuit Judge when he died, 20 Jan 1919.16 McPherson was nearly 70 when your grandfather was naturalized. Somebody — most likely a clerk from the Court Clerk’s office or in his own office (called his chambers) — put a stack of papers in front of him and told him to sign them. One of them was supposed to have a name change.

I’d be willing to bet that if you were to review all of the naturalizations authorized by Judge McPherson on that day, you’d find the person who really did want his name changed. Not an easy task, for sure, since naturalizations aren’t usually indexed by date (though you might double check that with the National Archives at Philadelphia and other repositories that have copies of the Circuit Court naturalizations). In your shoes I might start by finding all the Samuel Salinskis in the Pennsylvania records after 1915 to see if you can work backwards.

Let us know when you find the answer!!


SOURCES

  1. Manifest, S.S. Merion, 3 July 1905, List E (penned), line 3, Abraham Shechter; “Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T840, roll 49.
  2. 1910 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1024, p. 248(B) (stamped), sheet 14B, dwelling 216, family 238, Abraham Shechter household, and dwelling 217, family 239, Shmuel Gold household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1410.
  3. Abraham Shechter, petition for naturalization no. 16211 (1915), Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1795-1930; “Selected U.S. Naturalization Records – Original Documents, 1790-1974,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M1522, roll 113.
  4. It’s column 16 on the manifest for Abraham’s ship. Manifest, S.S. Merion, 3 July 1905.
  5. Marian L. Smith, “INS – U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service History,” U.S. Citizenship.info (http://www.uscitizenship.info/ins-usimmigration-insoverview.html : accessed 13 Feb 2012.)
  6. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 156, “brother-in-law.”
  7. See Wiktionary, (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/) “co-brother-in-law,” rev. 4 Jul 2011.
  8. Simon Gold, petition for naturalization no. 6811 (1912), Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1795-1930; “Pennsylvania, U.S. Naturalization Originals, 1795-1930,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M1522, roll 86.
  9. See Family Search Wiki, (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page) “Elizabeth Shown Mills,” rev. 29 Dec 2011.
  10. Genealogical Resources at the Philadelphia City Archives,” City of Philadelphia website (http://www.phila.gov/phils/docs/inventor/genealgy.htm : accessed 12 Feb 2012).
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Act of 3 March 1903, 32 Stat. 1213, chap. 1012.
  14. 1920 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 474, p. 42A (stamped), sheet 7A, dwelling 110, family 141, Abraham Schecter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1617.
  15. 1930 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 51-956, p. 27A (stamped), sheet 9A, dwelling 152, family 162, Abraham Schecter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2118.
  16. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “John_Bayard_McPherson,” rev. 14 Feb 2011.
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