Immigration – Deportation – Immigration: A Story Pieced Together Through Ship Manifests

Have you ever had one of those moments in your family research when you uncover something that completely discredits a story that you had known and believed for years? Suddenly you feel blind-sided, while thinking, how did this misinformation take center stage in my ancestor’s narrative?

One of those moments is vividly etched in my mind. Although the finding wasn’t an outrageously juicy deep dark secret, it was still a bit of a let down. A few years ago, newly discovered information conflicted with a family story revealing how my grandfather successfully boarded a ship and made it to the shores of America as a stowaway.

Everyone in the family knew this tale and it remained an interesting part of my young adventurous grandfather’s life until ship manifests became readily available. So how did this family legend begin? No one knows.

When ship manifests originally went online through the Ellis Island website, I could not find a record for my grandfather, Samuel. I set the search aside but came back to it a few years later. After purchasing a membership to, new doors opened up. Based upon my grandfather’s census reports and naturalization papers, I learned that he immigrated to the United States in 1914. Following this discovery, I narrowed the search parameters and found his record. The previous attempt to locate his manifest was unsuccessful because the search was performed using his surname. However, he emigrated from Austria using his mother’s maiden name, Bernfeld instead. I will explain why he used her name in a future post.

When I finally found my grandfather’s ship manifest, I uncovered some additional surprises. There were other records indicating that he didn’t just immigrate to America one time but he did it twice. During his first attempt, he was deported. A variety of additional documents such as the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry and the Record of Detained Aliens provided the essential clues needed to understand why he was deported.

The first time my grandfather tried to immigrate to America was on November 1, 1911. He left the port of Hamburg on the SS Amerika and arrived in New York eleven days later.

Immigrants aboard the SS Amerika in 1907 Courtesy Library of Congress

Immigrants aboard the SS Amerika in 1907
Courtesy Library of Congress

Stowaways, if found on board, were added to the last page of the passenger list. The fact that Samuel’s name is written on page 25 out of 42, indicates that he was not a stowaway after all. [1]

My grandfather, Samuel Bernfeld -Line 5

Samuel Bernfeld – Line 5

If an immigrant was required to have someone meet him at the port, he was not permitted to leave until that precondition was fulfilled. No one arrived to meet my grandfather, resulting in his detainment, as shown in the following document on line 19.

Record of Detained Aliens

While reviewing my grandfather’s original ship manifest once again, I focused on a few of the mistakes. Although most of the issues were minor, such as the fact that Jakob Bernfeld was Samuel’s grandfather and not his father, there was one item that, had it been correct, might have prevented Samuel’s deportation. He provided an incorrect address for Jakob.

Contrary to the original ship manifest, the Record of Detained Aliens does not include an address for Jakob Bernfeld. An Ellis Island authority might have verified that Jacob did not live at the address originally provided.

There are a variety of reasons why Jakob may not have shown up. Perhaps my grandfather accidentally gave an incorrect address, maybe he provided an arbitrary street name on his manifest not realizing it might be needed, or the incorrect entry could have been a case of human error. Maybe Jakob was never informed that he needed to meet his grandson at the port. In addition, perhaps he didn’t know when Samuel would be arriving and there was no way to contact him due to an incorrect address.

Once it became apparent that Jakob was not going to show up, my grandfather’s name was added to the Board of Special Inquiry list.

Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry

Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry

Without family support, immigration officers declared him a Likely Public Charge (LPC). This means that he was considered a risk if permitted to stay. The wave of mass immigration sparked a fear of government dependence. As a teenager with only $4 in his pocket and the assumption on the part of the authorities that he did not have family to go to, he was required to have a board hearing. His meeting was held on November 13 at 1:00 p.m. and he had a second hearing the next day.

Restored Ellis Island Board of Special Inquiry Room Courtesy National Park Service

Restored Ellis Island Board of Special Inquiry Room
Courtesy National Park Service

Based upon the correspondence I had with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIC), it does not look like my grandfather appealed the decision. Had he made an appeal, his stay in Ellis Island would have been much longer than five days and there would have been additional files available about his case. The files that were stored at Ellis Island were destroyed years ago when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) made the decision to dispose of them. The surviving Board of Special Inquiry files are those from people who appealed the board’s decision at the INS headquarters in Washington, DC. In those cases, most of the retired files can be found at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

During the re-hearing, it was determined that my grandfather would be deported. He left Ellis Island on November 17 aboard the SS President Grant. My grandfather returned to Austria but never went back home to Stanislawow. Instead, he lived in Vienna for two years, making costumes for the theatre industry.

My grandfather’s next attempt to immigrate was in 1914. This time, several of his family members planned the trip together but traveled separately from one another. Samuel, his parents and two of his siblings emigrated from Austria on separate ships during a three and a half month time span. The first person to arrive through the port of Ellis Island, New York came on December 20, 1913 followed by four additional family members on January 12, 1914, March 7, 1914, April 4, 1914 and April 6, 1914.

No one knows why they traveled separately but it is possible that it was due to my grandfather’s deportation experience. Perhaps they thought if they traveled separately, at least some of them might be able to successfully enter the United States. Fortunately, each family member arrived and was permitted to stay.

[1] Sharon Carmack, The Family Tree Guide to Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors (Family Tree Books, 2005), 5.

Mystery Lady


This beautiful lady is one of my favorite semi-mystery photos. She immigrated to the United States from Poland and was a business partner with my grandmother. They had a dressmaking shop in 1923 on 13th Avenue in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, New York.

After enlarging the picture, I was able to read the handwritten message on the front. It says, Beatrice & Selma 21 Feb. 1925.

I don’t know if the lady in the photo is Beatrice or if she gave one of these pictures to a woman named Beatrice and one to my grandmother, Selma.

I once came across the business card that my grandmother and this lady used during their partnership. Perhaps it holds the answer to who this mystery lady is. I hope to come across that card again one day.


My Visit to the National Library of Israel – An Unexpected Family Resource

Yesterday I took my first trip to the National Library of Israel, located on the beautiful campus of The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I didn’t realize the size of their collection of books, documents, manuscripts and other holdings from all over the world until last week when I wrote about a different archive in this area. That archive is called the Central Archive for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) and you can read more about it here.

In addition to Jewish resources, they have large collections of internationally recognized material related to Christianity, Islam, Middle Eastern studies, science, history and more.

I searched the online catalog at the top of their home page to see if they had anything worth looking at in person and found a number of potentially useful things.

One of the folders that I wanted to see contains some of my cousin, Simon Bernfeld’s hand written letters and manuscripts. I found pictures of him in another folder. A few of his writings are also part of the library’s online digital collection.

Hand drawn portrait Simon Bernfeld c. 1920's

Hand drawn portrait
Simon Bernfeld c. 1920’s

This is the first photo I have seen of Simon Bernfeld in his earlier years.

This is the first photo that I have seen of Simon Bernfeld in his earlier years.

Some of his letters were written in Hebrew and others were in German. They have not been translated yet.

This Hebrew letter written in 1883 was the oldest item in the folder.

This Hebrew letter written in 1883 was the oldest item in the folder.

Letter written in German from Berlin

Letter written in German from Berlin

The envelope attached with the letter provided some additional clues.

The envelope attached with a letter written in 1895 provided some useful details.

There were a few addresses in the folder including the one in the photo above. I searched for the name on the envelope, Dr. Joseph Chazanowicz, a physician from Bialystok and learned that he was one of the co-founders of this library.

The last photo in this group is an edited manuscript. There were additional manuscripts, perhaps one of them was the final copy of this text.



The other two items that I requested were very old hand written books relating to births in one of my ancestral towns. As I walked to the floor where they were located, I passed stained glass windows created by artist Mordecai Ardon. They were made in the 1980’s and are dedicated to the prophet Isaiah’s vision of eternal peace.

A brief description from the library’s website states that the left panel depicts the roads taken by the nations on their way up to Jerusalem. The central panel focuses on Jerusalem. In the lower section the city wall [the wall that surrounds the old city of Jerusalem] is represented as the Dead Sea Scroll. If you would like additional information about the meaning of these windows, you can find it here. The following photos are two of the three panels.

Left panel

Left panel

Center panel

Center panel

While waiting for an archivist to retrieve the books, I found some display cases containing signed documents from a few American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.

In the first document, dated July 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appoints Edward Joy Morris of Pennsylvania as U.S. Minister Resident in Istanbul. In the next item, he directs the Secretary of State to affix the seal of the United States to the envelope of a letter addressed to the Sultan of Turkey.

Abraham Lincoln signed document - 1861

Abraham Lincoln signed document – 1861

There are additional listings in the catalog that are not held at the library’s Jerusalem location. Those items are referenced so that they can be located. I wanted to see a third book that was part of the collection from my ancestral town but this library didn’t have it. I searched the online collection at the place where the book is located (in NY) and found a digital copy of it.

If you’re ever in the Jerusalem area, a visit to the library is worth the trip. There’s something for everyone. In addition, the staff was extremely helpful and one of the patrons even assisted me when he overheard that I didn’t understand the Yiddish written in one of the documents.

The website for the National Library of Israel is:

Archival Holdings in Jerusalem

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) is one of the best places to check for family history material if you have Jewish roots. This wonderful resource recently merged with the National Library of Israel and they are both located in Jerusalem.

CAHJP is in the process of updating their website and it is now part of the greater National Library of Israel site. The information is well organized and is an improvement over their previous site. The website is still new so expect future updates.

You will find a general overview of their collections, arranged geographically by country, community, (according to the borders in existence between the two World Wars) organizations and by private collections.

The following picture gives an example of some of the communities which the archive represents. Some of the material dates back to the Middle Ages.


When I visited the archive, some of the documents that I found for personal research were almost two hundred years old. There is so much to explore at CAHJP that I think it will take a few more trips until I’ve looked through everything I want to see.

The website for the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (CAHJP) is:

Happy hunting!

Two Fabulous Tips of the Day

Tip #1

If you are doing any type of family research and would like to expand your family tree, try this creative idea from blogger Kenneth Marks.

Google a last name that you are searching for with words such as “beloved”, “dear” or “brother” and you are likely to find new information that you never came across before.

I tried it and found new items such as a family tree, a marriage certificate and obituaries both online and within newspaper images.

Tip #2

While searching for a free photo, I came across a site which contains images that were contributed by artists and can be used freely. The site can be found here.

Family Heirlooms: Chinese Figurines

My mom is a retired interior designer who loves to collect antiques. Years ago, when she was still working, she would always purchase interesting items for her clients. During my childhood, she occasionally showed me things that she bought for me thinking that I might cherish them one day. It happened on very rare occasions so the memories are still clear. I’ll always appreciate her thoughtfulness.

It took me a long time to sincerely appreciate antiques because of my exposure to them as a child. Every summer, we took a road trip to New England so that we could visit cousins in Massachusetts. The drive from New York always seemed to last an eternity because mom HAD to STOP at EVERY antique shop along the way. In my child’s mind, I could never quite understand why she always wanted to stop at these ‘junk shops.’ I told myself back then that when I grow up, I’ll never decorate my home with anything ancient.

Eventually I did grow up and for a while, I really did resist antiques. But then my fascination for history and all things vintage opened my mind and I became more interested in these types of items because of the history behind them and the sentimental value.

As I unpacked the last boxes, (finally after moving four years ago) I found a few things that my mom gave to my family. They are figurines from the Kiangsi Province in China. There was also a note inside the box that she wrote about their history.

Four years is a long time to be without something and you tend to forget about it. So when I opened up the box and unwrapped these items, it was almost like receiving them for the first time. When my mom gave us this gift, I wasn’t yet interested in family history or history in general. She must have foreseen something in me that I didn’t even know yet. Last week, I was thrilled to learn the background of these antiques again and they now have a special spot on our shelf.

History of Chinese Figurines

These porcelain figurines came from Kiangsi Province, and were made between 1900-1940. After Communists came into power, the figurines were no longer made. The Communists did not want to export. President Truman did not want to do business with the Communists and closed trade with mainland China. A man whom my mother purchased the figurines from was an importer of Chinese porcelain before 1940. The Communists broke the molds when they came into power and the ones produced today are reproductions of the originals.

After the United States opened trade with China in the late 1970’s, these figurines appeared in wholesale Oriental showrooms in limited quantity. The people who used to make these figurines had died off, and nothing like the originals could be made. Only poor reproductions were sold in places like Chinatown in New York City.

Kassel-Bettenhausen Cemetery

Photographer Jürgen Krug did an outstanding job capturing this image of the cemetery where my 4th great-grandfather, Joseph Simon Frankel (1742-1815) is buried. The cemetery is located in Kassel, Germany.

Der jüdische Friedhof Kassel - Bettenhausen Jewish cemetery in Kassel

Der jüdische Friedhof Kassel – Bettenhausen
Jewish Cemetery in Kassel