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 Ancestry.com, 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.
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
 Sharon Carmack, The Family Tree Guide to Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors (Family Tree Books, 2005), 5.