How Can Geneologists Caregorically Say For Sure.[last names were not changed at Ellis Island]..?

I’ve heard a few genealogists say that last names were NOT changed at Ellis Island? As I recall, I think their argument is that names were copied directly from ships’ manifests. Still, is it completely out of the question that some names were shortened, if not changed? Why should a ship’s manifest be the final word on this? (Note: Many claim their family names were shortened at various ports of entry - not just Ellis Island. Is this merely a persisting misconception?)

and a zillion others.

In short, there was no procedure by which the names could be changed.

That there was no procedure doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; as well as things such as foreigners with names that didn’t match expectations, there was the possibility of miscopy.

My firstname is somewhat similar to Marian. I’ve got people turn me into Maria, Mari An, Mary Ann, Mary Anne, Mayan, Maya, Marfa… all while copying the name from a document on which it was typed. My personal banker recently called me Mari An in a text message; I wrote back “thank you Ser Gio”.

The Spanish government also didn’t and doesn’t have a procedure to change immigrant’s names. But alas, the functionaries involved weren’t familiar with Slavic patronymics: before they realized that these people had one single lastname and that the -vich/-ovna bit wasn’t a family name, many immigrants from such countries got registered as “first lastname [patronymic]”, “second lastname [actual family name]”. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened.

For me, one great-grandfather left the old country with one name and arrived in America with another. Ditto his siblings* and his mother.

A great-great-grandmother got her last name changed due to a misunderstanding on how names worked. Her two brothers who came separately didn’t have the same mistake made.

(And a second great-grandfather has a different name listed on the emigration record when he left than the one he got on arrival. But that one actually made sense.)

And on and on.

It is complete and total nonsense that this did not happen. It’s revisionist crapola.

  • Just the ones that traveled with the family. Siblings that immigrated earlier kept their last names.

Computers were rare during Ellis Island days. Documents were written by hand. It’s not hard to believe that errors were made and names altered, whether intentionally or accidentally. I doubt if the clerks who handled the paperwork were much interested in accuracy (these were foreigners, after all), and the language barrier was significant.

While Ellis Island officials didn’t create surnames and force them on immigrants, there are other mechanisms of change, e.g. transcription error, voluntary change, or the confusion of a cognomen or placename for a surname.

Transcription errors can get pretty bizarre. I saw ‘Wisconsin’ shown as the birth-state when ‘Missouri’ was correct; on examining the census original I saw not sloppy penmanship, but an ornate script … but, peculiarly, with the ‘Missouri’ easily reread as ‘Wisconsin’!

In 1582 Stratford, Warwicks., England, mention of a marriage between
        * Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley
was immediately followed the very next day by mention of a marriage between
        * William Shagspere and Anne Hathwey
… But some scholars claim that Anne Whateley and Anne Hathaway were two different women! :eek:

I don’t know if it was intended or not, but you demonstrate how errors can occur when you use the spelling “Hathaway”. You’ve replaced the given spelling by what you consider the correct one.

In my family tree in the late 1700’s, one of my ancestors had the first name Robt. You would assume this was a misspelling or abbreviation of Robert, but in several church records the same spelling occurs - baptism, marriage, father of… Similarly, somewhere in the 1700’s the surname picks up a final “S”. As with the Shakespeare example, spelling was optional until education and language basics were firmly established. And this is simply inside England. You can imagine US public service dealing with people whose names were totally unfamiliar, accent possibly unintelligible, and various vowels and consonants used differently, and in some languages formal spelling rules not yet precise. …not to mention people from places that used different alphabets. Plus, after a few years I’m sure the immigration people did not have the greatest concern for accuracy since it did not necessarily matter.

A fellow I worked with got his permanent residency papers for Canada several years ago, and changed his last name. The area of India he came form did not have surnames, so he’d used his village name. When he realized that he was choosing a permanent surname, he chose instead to use his father’s name.

There may not have been any procedure for it, but it definitely happened.

My wife is into genealogy. She wasn’t having any luck at all finding anything on my side of the family until she asked me for all of the possible spellings of my last name. My grandfather came over from Greece, and in fact my father spoke Greek up until he went to kindergarten, at which point he had to learn English in a hurry. I told my wife the original Greek spelling, how that translates letter by letter, how it is pronounced phonetically, and I gave her a couple of variations. With that, she was able to find the name on the ship’s manifest, the immigration form, and the first census that my grandfather was here for. The name is spelled differently on all three forms.

The name on the ship’s manifest is closest to the original Greek. The name as it is spelled on the immigration form and on the census form is clearly someone taking a wild guess at spelling it phonetically. They clearly did not just copy the name from the ship’s manifest.

Curiously, none of the spellings matches the current spelling of it. Apparently, as my grandfather learned to speak English, he eventually corrected the spelling of it, though he kept one feature of the English-ized version (converting the TS at the beginning to just an S).

Where did it happen in the process? The immigrants presented their names. They got checked against the manifest. They walked off with their names. And once they got into America they could use any name they wanted. From my Smithsonian cite.

It happened to my father as well. But he didn’t go through Ellis Island, or New York at all. He changed his name to match that of his American relatives. The customs people had nothing to do with it.

Then why can’t you find a single expert who has done the historical work to say this, instead of all of them saying it couldn’t happen on Ellis Island? Did you read the cites are or you just dismissing them out of hand?

So they didn’t care about accuracy. And then what? Did they hand the immigrants a new name? No record of that exists. No reason for that exists. Just the opposite. In my last cite Steve Morse writes:

He does show that mistakes could be made at the other end of the process, at the *originating *bureaucracy. That’s far more likely than Ellis Island people making deliberate changes. But that doesn’t work as well for a good story.

FWIW, I was fully aware of what I did. In the quotes I used the spellings as they appeared in the quotes. (One was in Latin!) In the summary I used the “standard” spellings.

My Great Grandfather on my Mother side had a name like : Lord nameofvillage the Seventh. His name was thus Listed as “Seventh” (in his dialect).

So, I am not sure if his name was changed, as he didnt actually have a family name, *per se. *

My great-grandparents came here from a village not far out of Lviv. They had a common Ukrainian name. When they got here, their name was changed to another, equally common, Ukrainian name. If they had been the ones making the change, I expect they would have chosen something more “American sounding.”

No one is saying that the passenger manifests are the final word. It’s possible that transcription errors occurred when folks got on the boat, too, instead of when they got off. But that would mean that the name wasn’t changed “at Ellis Island”.

Title edited to indicate subject. Please post your complete question rather than obscuring what you are asking by putting part of it in the OP.

The same thing happened to my family when they came over here at the beginning of the 20th century. Our best guess, is the name was just written down phonetically,
but it is definitely not spelled anywhere near what it was in the old country.

Unfortunately, the term “revisionist” is too often used by people as a convenient shorthand for “The historical evidence and the analysis of historical experts contradicts the stories that I’ve heard before.” That seems to be what you’re doing here.

People should read the links provided by Exapno Mapcase before belligerently jumping in to defend the myth. None of the links claim that names never got changed; the main point is that, when names did get changed, they were often changed at the point of origin in Europe, and when they were changed in the United States, the reason for such changes was NOT the common myth that immigration officials did it on a whim, or because they thought they knew best what name a person should have, or because they didn’t care about immigrants.

Here’s another example of evidence-free stereotyping. Firstly, even if the officials didn’t care too much about the immigrants themselves (generally not true), they did care about accuracy because that was part of their job, and because the accuracy was required by the United States.

Perhaps more importantly, did you know that fully one in three of the immigration employees working at Ellis Island was an immigrant? Seems unlikely that these people would be automatically dismissive of foreigners. And that immigration inspectors spoke and average of three languages. Literally dozens of languages were represented among the officials, and these officials were assigned to particular groups of immigrants, based on their language skills. And if a particular case presented difficulty, it was nearly always possible to find someone who could communicate with a particular immigrant.

I think that what has happened, in the popular mythology of Ellis Island, is that the growing nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment of the first couple of decades of the 20th century, culminating in the immigration restriction and quota laws of 1921 and 1924, has been extrapolated to the immigration officials themselves. But the fact that the Immigration Restriction League and labor unions and other nativist groups, as well as the American population more generally, were becoming increasingly opposed to (some types of) immigrants doesn’t mean that the Ellis Island officials were intentionally lax in their duties or hostile to the immigrants.

Yep. In common with a lot of south Slavic families that immigrated to the US, my father’s family had a patronymic that ended in -ic, which is pronounced “ich.” So the spelling was in fact morphed to -ich.

Add to the list of why names changed: School Marms making their own biased corrections, right or not- family members at war, or getting Pony Express mail confused, so made a variant change- from Enyeart, for instance, to Enyart, Enjart, Enjoerdt, Inyard, Inyart, Nyart, etc… We have seen it happen with brothers and Father to Son, etc… Phonetically, different sounds for vowel and consonants. Check out the Library of Congress for more specific research tools.

Just a nitpick, if nitpicks can be the size of a sequoia. Pony Express mail? The Pony Express lasted only from 1860-1, decades before Ellis Island. Those immigrants who were in the country probably never used the Pony Express for mail. Those rates were exorbitantly high, used mostly for businesses who could make money by cutting down transit times. Even more basically, how mail could have affected names in any way whatsoever is beyond me. A mailman doesn’t care how names are spelled on an envelope, and certainly never changes them for families.