So I've saved the highlight of my trip for last....... Ellis Island.
I have a lot to say about Ellis Island and found the trip to be emotional. As you may or may not know, it was an immigration station between 1892 until around 1924 for about 12 million immigrants, mainly from Europe.
Although, the immigration didn't necessarily stop at that island in 1924. My grandpa dated a holocaust survivor who came through there after WWII. It was also used as a detention center.
Anyway, I really wanted to go and experience the view my great-grandparents had when they first arrived on US soil. Henry and I took the ferry to Ellis Island and passed the Statue of Liberty on the way. It was beautiful and I almost got teary-eyed. Henry caught that on tape.
When we arrived to the museum, I went straight to the computers to check the records for my great-grandparents. I knew it was going to be difficult, and I didn't expect much, but I thought I would try anyway. My last name is really uncommon, and it was really hard to even find similar names to that of my family. You had my great grandpa's last name and then that of my great-grandma. I was unlucky with both. I did talk to my paternal grandma who told me that they moved from Russia and lived in London. Due to the lack of work in London, they immigrated to the US and lived in New York for a few years until they settled in Long Beach. I didn't realize that they moved around a lot.
Anyway, while I was there at the computer station, one of the women who worked there helped me do a search. Even though we were unsuccessful, she told me not to give up. (She was so nice) First of all, their names were spelled differently all the time, so it is very easy for it to be misspelled over and over and over. My aunt has my great-grandpa's naturalization certificate, and she was kinda struggling to make out the letters on that. Basically, their names are spelled differently on many different documents.
I would like to point out that I didn't expect to feel sad about not finding my great-grandparent's records. Especially since my dad told me before it was very difficult, and I couldn't find anything online. I so badly wanted to see it for myself while I was on the island and felt heart-broken that it didn't happen. Luckily the lady helping me was very knowledgeable and gave me a little bit of history behind not only the record keepers, but of the Russian-Jewish immigrants as well.
Henry was also there with me, and very patient. He saw that I was upset and tried all he could to help. After I was done and felt a little discouraged, he bought me some fried food so I could eat my feelings. Bless his heart. We talked over fried shrimp and onion rings.
My aunt was kind enough to give me names of distant cousins and mail me a copy of the family tree so I can keep trying. I'm just gonna have to keep trying. In fact, I just picked up the family tree in the mail today. In addition to that, I went back to my storage unit and found letters my great-grandma Pauline wrote to the White House (while Roosevelt was in office) and magazines to submit poetry. I tried to use the various spellings on those letters to locate immigration or naturalization records. I couldn't find anything. I even spoke to my Russian friends who wrote out my family name in the cyrillic alphabet. It is hard to find anything about them. But I did take the address on the letters to see how they lived. I used their address on Google Maps. I couldn't find a house. Instead I saw an apartment building. I'm not sure if there was a house which was torn down to make an apartment building, or if she lived in an apartment. But it was interesting to see where they settled before they died. It seems like such a small detail, but it was something to me. Here is the image I got of their last neighborhood from Google.
Looking for my family records was the first thing on Ellis I did so that I could enjoy the rest of the museum without worrying.
Basically, the layout of the island, is that there is main area with the registry which was turned into a museum. Then you have other buildings on the island such as the detention centers and hospitals which were closed to the public.
The main area we toured was nice, but it was restored and turned into a museum. I felt that with the restoratoration and all the displays, that a lot of the spirit of the place was gone and silenced. It's kinda hard to describe. I really wanted to see the hospitals and other buildings that weren't yet restored. I wanted to see the buildings that were long forgotten. I did get to see pictures of the island before any restoration and those pictures spoke volumes. The photographers who captured that said that it was very emotional and although the place was abandoned, they could still feel the spirits of people that came through. An empty hospital bed or chair in the middle of the room said thousands of words in their photos.
While I was there, I imagined what the people who passed through went through. All these different cultures coming to the US and bringing their cultures with them. How long did it take for all those cultures to get lost ? How many wanted to forget ? I really wondered what the trip was like for my great-grandparents. Were they happy to arrive ? Hopeful ? Sad ?
What I do know of my great-grandparents is that they stayed in New York for a while and moved on to Long Beach, CA. One thing I didn't understand was why my grandfather didn't embrace his background. However, after talking to my grandma, I was told that my grandpa didn't practice Judaism because his parents didn't trust Rabbis and felt they were up to no good. Basically he was brought up to be distrusting of his religion. He didn't really talk about his family unless we pulled it out of him. Even then, it wasn't that much. He did not practice his religion and embraced being an Atheist, only to use his religious background for his art. He liked to make torah pointers. He didn't practice Judiasm, but made cultural Jewish art and socialized in Jewish circles.
Being in New York was a new experience for me. I could feel the spirits of the immigrants that came here to this country through the older buildings. You could see Europe in the design of the buildings. Henry's apartment was a classic Spanish apartment with the tall doorways and cramped quarters. I just felt a stronger connection to New York than I really do here.
Immigration is still alive and strong, just like it was then, but each group has their own time. It made me think a lot about what people go through to get here, especially since many of my coworkers have their own stories.
Anyway, I have some pictures...................................
View of the Brooklyn Bridge before walking on over to the ferry.
These are pictures of a statue dedicated to the immigrants that came to our country.
Me in front of the Statue of Liberty on the ferry to Ellis Island. The same view my great-grandparents had over a hundred years ago.
In front of Ellis Island.
The kissing post. This was the post where immigrants were reunited with family members that preceded them.
These were the stairs of separation. Some went to get detained, others had more inspections, and the rest were free to continue on with their destination in the United States. From what I hear, my great-grandparents stayed in New York for a while until they moved to Long Beach where they lived until they passed away.
The Registry Hall. It looks empty here, but during its peak years, it was packed with many different inspection lines.
Graffiti. There was a bunch of scribbled drawings and writings in the building. People during that time did a lot of waiting, and had a lot of time to kill. What would you scribble on those walls ?
I just wanted to be part of a family..............
I can balance my belongings on my head too !
More pictures of The Registry Hall.
This picture is worth a million words to me and I just could not take my eyes off of it. This woman looks like she could be a family member of mine from both sides of my family with the way her hair was done, her dress and her body type. She is faceless, like the millions of immigrants that came here, and she looks tired and worn down. My great grandparents escaped persecution and did whatever they could to support their five children. My great grandpa was a tailor, and my great-grandma helped run a grocery store.
On the ferry going back to Manhattan so I can meet Porkstar and take obscene pictures with the Wallstreet bull.
Bye bye Lady Liberty !