The Ellis Island Legend

When I was young I was caught up in the Ellis Island legend, probably because of the books I read and the movies I saw.* I thought all immigrants came to the United States through Ellis Island until it closed in 1954. When I got a little older, I realized that people–a large portion of Chinese immigrants–also came through San Francisco.

At some point, the gardener and I found out that Ellis Island records were online through The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, and we tried to find his paternal grandparents, Isidore and Celia. Alas, we could not find them.

Now I know that there are several places immigrants arrived when they came to this country, and that Ellis Island didn’t open until 1892. Still, what did that mean for the gardener’s relatives?


Let’s start with Celia Goodstein. Although we weren’t able to find her on the Ellis Island records years ago, now that I know she came into this country with the surname Gutstein, it was very helpful. Also, that her name was listed as “Civie.” I can find her now as Cisvie Gutstein, arrival date 20 November 1909 on the ship, the Caronia. An image of the ship is available, but I am expected to purchase the image if I want it.

A little trip over to Wikipedia solves that.

Here are the stats:

Name: RMS Caronia
Namesake: Caro Brown
Owner: Cunard Line
Builder: John Brown & CompanyClydebankScotland
Yard number: 362
Launched: 13 July 1904
Maiden voyage: 25 February 1905
Homeport: Liverpool
Fate: Sold for scrapping, 1932
General characteristics
Tonnage: 19,524 GRT
Length: 678 ft (207 m) p/p
Beam: 72 ft (22 m)
Propulsion: Steam quadruple-expansion engines, twin propellers
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
  • 1,550 passengers
  • (300 first class, 350 second class, 900 third class)

Then I read something very cool. About 2.5 years after Celia arrived on board the Caronia, the Caronia was the first ocean liner (wow, I didn’t realize a steamship was also an ocean liner) to send the Titanic a warning about the ice ahead. I imagine that the ship has been depicted in some way in one or more movies about the Titanic.

So, Celia did arrive through the portals of Ellis Island. She is part of the Ellis Island legend.

Max Goodstein, Celia’s uncle, arrived 10 June 1906 on the Umbria. He can be found on the Ellis Island Records under the name Mordche Gudstein.

Max’s wife Neche/Anna and the children came in through Ellis Island on 20 July 1907 (a few months before Malke) on the Celtic. On the Ellis Island records search I find Neche listed as Nuche Gutstein.

Isidore’s sister, Malke, is listed on the Ellis Island records under the surname Schiskin, rather than Scheshko. She arrived on the ship Patricia 23 November 1907.

What about Isidore himself? He arrived in 1913. UPDATE: I have the ship manifest records for his arrival, thanks to Inna. See line 16 on both pages.

Ellis Island, 1902, from Wikipedia

I do think that we were right to begin with, that all the gardener’s paternal relatives came to the United States through Ellis Island.

There is a legend that someone in the gardener’s father’s family had been in the United States since Civil War Days. That would be a real stretch if it were true since they all came from the Russian Empire. So far what we have found is that Malke came before Isidore and Max came before Celia. But who came before Malke and Max? Berl Silberberg and Max XXXXX. If you recall, Max XXXXX has a last name that we have not been able to decipher. And no luck so far with Berl Silberberg. It would be fun to find them and see who was here before they were!


* Think about this a minute: Above I mentioned books and movies. Most of what we read and see has been “reconstructed” history–that is, we experience history through stories written by our contemporaries or at least not by individuals who lived through the period. These are secondary sources.

Primary sources can be fascinating. I’d like to “argue” that fiction that was written as contemporary fiction, but is now in a historical period, is a great primary or first-hand source.

Have you ever heard of the writer Abraham Cahan? He wrote books about the Jewish immigrant experience while it was happening well over 100 years ago. Cahan was born in Belarus in 1860, and as a young man and teacher he immigrated to the United States. In the 1890s and into the early 1900s, Cahan published novels and short stories. Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto and The Rise of David Levinsky are two of his most famous. I also recommend the story “The Imported Bridegroom.” I haven’t read it in years, but I think I need to re-read it!