Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Your Most Frustrating Brick Wall Problem

I was driving home from Klamath Falls last night after teaching a four-course seminar there during the day.  I didn't get home until midnight and pretty much collapsed right after I got home anyway, so I was unable to post my response to this week's challenge from Randy Seaver in Saturday Night Genealogy Fun until now:

Here is your assignment, if you choose to play along (cue the Mission:  Impossible! music, please!):

(1) What is your most frustrating brick wall problem?  Tell us what you want to know and what you have found to date.

(2) Share your genealogy brick wall problem in your own blog post or on Facebook, and leave a link to it in the comments.

I have two very frustrating research problems:  determining who the biological father of my paternal grandfather was (which I have posted about several times) and finding my great-great-grandmother immigrating with three small children to the United States.  By my definition, neither is a "brick wall", because I haven't exhausted every possible avenue of research yet, but I'm pretty close to that on the latter, so I'll write about it.

My Brainin family came to the United States in a chain migration, as was common with immigrant families.  The first one to show up was the oldest child in the family, Nachman (later Max), who arrived in New York Harbor on August 21, 1904 aboard the S.S. New York.  He said he was coming to his cousin H. Weinstein, whom I have not yet identified (and no one in the family knows of any Weinstein cousins).

Next came Chase (Lena), Sora (Sarah), and Dovid (David) on the Caronia on August 2, 1905, also into New York.  They were the next oldest children.  Sarah is my great-grandmother.  Per the passenger list, their fares were paid for by their brother, which should be Max, and they were going to their sister Sophie Rosen.  I know of no sister in the family named Sophie, and that wasn't Max's wife's name, but I'm sure it's the correct family because the rest of the information matches, plus the numbers written above Sarah's name on the page correspond with her naturalization file, which I have obtained.  Lena, Sarah, and David were detained for special inquiry because they were two single women and a young, unskilled man.  They were held for two days as likely public charges based on the number of meals they ate and were admitted on August 3, but the 1905 form unfortunately does not include the name of the person who picked them up.

The next family member I found on a passenger list is my great-great-grandfather Mendel Hertz Brainin  (he went by Morris and Max in the United States).  He arrived on April 17, 1906 on the Gneisenau, also into New York.  He was going to Max, and his son paid for his ticket.  The passenger list has a notation about a "Dr Cert", and he was held for special inquiry as a likely public charge.  He was there about seven days and was admitted on August 24, again with no note of who picked him up.

And in 1910 the entire family appears in the United States federal census:  Max (Mendel), Rose, Lena, Sarah, David, William, Bessie, and Benjamin at 236 East 103rd Street, Manhattan, and Max (Nachman) and his new wife and son, Nellie and Sidney, at 101 West(?) 94th Street, also in Manhattan.

"Wait a minute!," I can hear you say.  "You didn't tell us when Rose, William, Bessie, and Benjamin came to the U.S.!"

Yup, and that's my frustrating research problem.  I still haven't found them.

Seriously, how can anyone lose a woman and three young children?  That's four people who should be together on a passenger list somewhere.

But it's true.  I can't find them.

I know all of their Jewish (Yiddish) names.  Rose was Ruchel Dwojre, maiden name Jaffe.  William was Velvel, Bessie was Pesche, and Benjamin was Binyamin.  Ruchel Dwojre was born about 1866–1871 in the Russian Empire, Velvel was born about 1891, Pesche about 1892–1895, and Binyamin about 1896.  So I know the names and approximate ages to look for on the passenger lists.  Still no luck.

Since Chase, Sora, and Dovid came relatively soon after Nachman, I'm pretty sure they were the second set of arrivals.  I don't know whether Ruchel and the youngest children arrived before or after Mendel.  It's common both ways, for the father to come last or for the wife and youngest children to come last.  But I know that they had arrived by 1910 because they appear in the census, so sometime between 1904 (after Nachman's arrival) and 1910.

My beginning hypothesis was that they had come into New York, as did all other family members, so I focused my searches there.  When discussing this once with my grandmother, she said that she remembered her grandmother saying something about coming into Watertown, which led me to research Boston records.  I later discovered that there is a Watertown, New York which was a border crossing, so I searched Canadian border crossing records.

I have looked for Ruchel and the children in the Ancestry New York passenger record collection; the Ellis Island database, using the Steve Morse interface; microfilmed Ellis Island index cards at the Family History Library; the Ancestry Boston passenger record collection; the Ancestry Canadian border crossing collection; and the FindMyPast outbound UK passenger list collection.  I have searched using only their Jewish given names and have looked under Brainin and Jaffe.  I have found no one who even closely approximates them.

I recently discovered that Binyamin (Benjamin) filed a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen, when my cousin (his granddaughter) suddenly told me she had a copy of the declaration.  On that, he stated that he had left Europe from Libau on the Coronia and had arrived in New York on September 15, 1906.  I did not find the ship arriving in New York on that date.  I have searched that ship’s passenger lists for other dates in 1906 on Ancestry and through Steve Morse’s site, but not exhaustively.

William said on his World War I draft registration that he was a naturalized citizen.  Willie was in the Army, and he likely had a fast-tracked military naturalization (such as his brother David had), which has almost no details; these naturalization documents often lack information such as the date and ship of arrival into the United States.  I did, however, request a USCIS index search to see if they could find his naturalization file.  I submitted the request in 2016 but never received the results.  When I checked the tracking system today, however, it said that the search was completed in 2017.  So I have just now sent a request for another copy of the search results.

I have one remaining clue I have not yet pursued.  On the 1910 census, there is a note that Max (Mendel) had filed naturalization papers, i.e., had made a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen.  I have not yet pursued this, because I strongly suspect the search will not be profitable and because it currently costs $65 to request an index search from USCIS.  In the 1920 census Morris/Mendel (who died before the 1930 census was taken) was listed as an alien, not as having filed papers.  It was common for older immigrants not to become naturalized citizens.  But there are discrepancies in other information on the 1920 census:  It says everyone in the family — Morris, Rose, Lena, Dave, and Willie — arrived in 1904.  I know Morris came in 1906; of course, I still haven't found Rose and Willie, so I don't know when they arrived.  It also says that Dave became a citizen in 1907 and Willie did in 1909.  I have Dave's naturalization papers, and he became a citizen in 1918.  So it is possible that Mendel did file papers, as the 1910 census states, and that the information on the 1920 is incorrect.  But right now I don't have the extra $65 to cough up for that search.


  1. My best guess is that their surname is seriously mangled on the passenger list or underneath a blog of ink. Don't give up. Like you siad, it's difficult to miss a mother and 3 children.

    1. I've tried just given names, just last names, still no luck. I also have to consider that the page might be torn or lost. :(


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.