Every ship entering the port of New York was required to provide customs officers with comprehensive details of its cargo, passengers, and crew. The “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers” (left) is a snapshot of a single moment—a century the the past. It captures salient details of the 800 or so people who arrived on the same ship,
just as they were embarking on their wholly unknown future in a foreign land—the U.S.A.
The manifest allows us to look back upon our ancestors through the eyes of one of the first officials to welcome (and scrutinize) them as they stood before the officer, undoubtedly with heart in throat, wondering if anything they said might provide an excuse to send them back whence they came.
Whoever looked at my grandmother, Lisi, when she arrived on the evening of September 26th, 1911, began filling in the twenty-nine columns on line 19 of the manifest with the details that the U.S. wanted to know about this “alien” prior to her entry into this country.
Never mind what her real name was. They took the Hungarian equivalent, Erzsebeth, from her passport/Dienstbuch [for details of this dual-purpose document, see 6/14 post, When a Resume Worked as a Passport).
The mistaken transcription
Years later, when all this information was transcribed into a searchable database, her name was mistakenly copied as “Ebnor” with an “o” and Erzebeth was miscopied as “Erssebeth,” making my search just a tad more difficult. But because of the detailed information Lisi had written on the postcard of her ship (see last post), I found it. The U.S. wanted further bureaucratic information:
Aha! Question #12, the last question on the first page of the two-page manifest, is how I discovered that Lisi didn’t go directly to Chicago to meet my grandfather. Instead her first stop was Cleveland, where her stepsister, Maria Wagner, lived. I hadn’t known this before.The questions continued on the second page, allowing us to stand in the interrogator’s place, and imagine how Lisi appeared to him/her:
|grey [I recall deep brown eyes!]
|fair [not really]
|Markes of identification:
Is she a polygamist? No.
An anarchist? No.
(Who would answer “yes” to these two questions?!)
Condition of her health, mental and physical: good
Deformed or crippled? No.
In possession of at least $50 and if not, how much? $40
Ticket to final destination? Yes
Who paid for passage? Self
Ever in U.S. before? No
Going to relative or friend? If so [give] complete address: Rudolf Wagner [her stepsister’s husband] 4287 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.
I had seen that name before, and this piece of unknown information on the manifest was a revelation that connected Lisi’s arrival to an incident forty years later.
A family of documentarians brings life full circle
I had never met the Wagner family—nor do I recall hearing about them—until I read my father’s 1950 diary. During one of his many business trips out of state, he traveled to Ohio and made a side excursion to visit the Wagner family in Cleveland. By 1950 they had grown sons, owned a restaurant where the sons and father switched off to work night and day, and had many American luxuries. Another immigrant family that had fulfilled the American dream. Details to come.
Meantime, Lisi successfully passed inspection, both health and moral (no polygamy or anarchism!). Josef will have to wait a few more weeks to see his darling, but she let him know she had arrived safely.
Coming up: the postcard of New York Lisi sent to him and how a seemingly unimportant business card turned out to be a key clue as to how they connected in Chicago.