Today marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of my great-grandmother, Elżbieta Müller, to the United States. She soon Americanized her name to Elizabeth Miller, and the following year became Elizabeth Pater after marriage.
Elizabeth sailed on the SS President Grant, a ship of the Hamburg-American line. The ship left Hamburg, Germany, on April 3, 1909, and arrived at Ellis Island in New York City on April 16th. The passenger arrival records for 1909 include a number of details that are not found on earlier records. From Elizabeth’s arrival record, I learned the following information: She was an 18-year-old Polish dressmaker from “Zieraldow, Russia” who was able to read and write. Her nearest relative in Poland was her father, Jan Müller, in Zieraldow. Her destination was Philadelphia, PA to go to her brother, Emil Müller, at 2512 Palethorp Street. The manifest indicates she was in posession of $4, but then “None” was written over it. The record provides a physical description of her having light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11″. Her place of birth is indicated as Zieraldow, Russia.
I take a special delight in her arrival above all other immigrant ancestors, because it is an example of one of my biggest mistakes in my genealogical research. A name like “Elizabeth Miller” is very common, so her record was rather difficult to find. There were immigrants that bore that name from Ireland, England, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary. Many years ago, very early in my genealogical quest, I thought I found her record. Only to find out years later that I was wrong – and in fact, I had been tracing the incorrect family and birthplace all the while. I forget exactly what prompted me to take a second look, but I’ll never forget my reaction to finding her actual record that I discuss above…”She’s from Żyrardów?!” I knew that the “Zieraldow” on the record was merely Żyrardów misspelled. I kept repeating it to myself, smiling at my error. You see, my first surprise was that my great-grandparents were not a married couple when they “came over”. I wondered how they managed to marry the year after her arrival when my great-grandfather had been here for a few years as a young teenager. The answer? They were from the SAME TOWN – which is how I knew that “Zieraldow” was a misspelling (which I naturally proved through research as any genealogist would).
When I found this record, her real arrival record, there were several facts that confirmed or provided adequate proof that it was the correct person, including her age, father’s name, and brother’s name and address.
I noticed that the manifest had a big “X” next to her line number. That is a signal that the passenger was detained for some reason, and there may be more information available. For more information, see A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations. The key to finding the additional information is to find the manifest (on either microfilm on online records), then scroll to the very end of the records for that ship and date of arrival. At the end of the “normal” manifest listings, there is a record of detained passengers. It appears that they detained Elizabeth because she had no money to get to Philadelphia, so she had to telephone her brother for money. They discharged her from Ellis Island the following day, April 17th. I wonder what was more stressful – traveling alone to a new country, or being held overnight once she got there?
Besides my delight with this find after such a long search for the correct record, finding Elizabeth’s arrival was fun for me because she has the distinction among all of my great-grandparents and immigrant ancestors of being the only one that I met. I don’t remember the event or how many times I actually met her, but my mother tells me that Elizabeth held me on her lap on at least one occasion. To me, this knowledge gave me a more tangible “link” or connection to my immigrant ancestors. She became more than a name or a face in a fuzzy photograph – I met her, even if I was too young to remember it. My great-grandmother died in 1972 when I was five years old.
Today I commemorate her arrival to the U.S. and honor her for making that long journey alone to begin a new life in a new country. Welcome to America, Elizabeth! I am certainly glad you came.