Category Archives: Ellis Island

MyHeritage Newly Indexed Ellis Island Records and My Great Discovery!

Recently, Legacy Family Tree Webinars hosted a presentation by Mike Mansfield, titled Find Your Immigrant Ancestors AND Their Relatives in the New York Passenger Arrival Records. This webinar gave a glimpse into the newly indexed records for New York which have been added to the MyHeritage database collection.

This webinar is well worth watching if you have ancestors who passed through Ellis Island. It’s in the free library so even if you aren’t a subscriber (you should be, it’s fabulous!), you will have access to it.

My paternal great grandparents all came through Castle Garden and, later, through Ellis Island. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother to ask questions back when I first began this genealogical journey.

I was very curious about the Slovak side of my family. My grandmother, Julia Scerbak Sabo, was born in Passaic, New Jersey in 1893. Her parents had also married in Passaic a couple of years earlier. However, her family story was a bit different than that of most immigrants. When Nana was four or five years old, the family returned to Ujak, their ancestral village. Nana returned to the United States in 1910 when she was seventeen years old, traveling with her cousin, Susanna Szurgent, who was all of eighteen years old.

I asked Nana if she ever saw her parents again, as her father and mother, Michael Scerbak and Anna Murcko, both died in Ujak (today known as Udol.) She said she never saw her mother again, although they talked on the telephone a handful of times. However, she said she saw her father at least twice more before he died in 1932 because he returned to Passaic for short times.

Now, Nana was always spot on about any questions I put to her about her family and life in Slovakia. I had no reason to doubt that Michael Scerbak returned to the United States for those visits, likely a combination of earning some money and visiting with friends and relatives who settled in the Passaic-Garfield area.

Michael was no where to be found in the 1910, 1920 or 1930 censuses, nor could I find him in the 1915 New Jersey state census and I had resigned myself to the fact that his visits happened between census years and I wouldn’t ever find evidence of when he was here.

That is, I wouldn’t find any evidence until MyHeritage indexed those passenger records. During the webinar, I decided to try out the search capabilities and entered both Scerbak and Scserbak. Up came a hit for a Mike Scserbak in 1912. What really caught my eye was the notation that the passenger, not Mike, was going to stay with his brother-in-law, Mike Scserbak in Garfield, New Jersey. The passenger was Janko Murcko. Janko is a nickname for John, like Johnny. Janko was from Hajtovka, which is a tiny village about a mile from Udol and he was born about 1880.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Janko Murcko is person #4 on the top left side of the list.

I mentioned my great grandmother earlier in this post – she was Anna MURCKO and she had a brother, John, born in 1879. The Murckos were from Hajtovka.

Udol is a very small village that had never had more than perhaps 800 people living there. There is only one Michael Scerbak who married a Murcko and had a brother-in-law named John at that time and that is my great grandfather.

I finally had my proof that Nana saw her father at least once after she left Slovakia for good. Now I wonder if her dad ever met my grandfather-to-be, George Kucharik aka Sabo. That’s a question that I don’t think will ever be answered!

If that wasn’t great enough, a second entry popped up that I believe is also my Michael Scerbak. I knew my great grandparents were in Passaic by October 1892, when they married at St. Michael’s Church in Passaic, New Jersey. However, I had no idea when either Michael or wife Anna first arrived.

Source: MyHeritage Ellis Island Collection

On Line 6 of the second page above, there is a 20 year old “Michaly Serbak.” My Michael was born in 1868 and there aren’t many men of the same name running around in that time period. I think this is my Michael, which means he was in the United States, probably for the first time since he was alone and aged 20, by 1888. I haven’t yet found Anna’s arrival, but it still might appear. Murcko is spelled many ways since it sounds like “Muchko.”

There is a second part to this story, unrelated to the Ellis Island records. I asked Nana if her father had any siblings. She said he had two sisters, but no brothers. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Michael had a brother, John, who was about six years older. John married, had a family AND left Slovakia for the Passaic-Garfield area. In fact, he died in 1938 in Garfield.

Nana had been right about so many answers. Why had she not said that she had an uncle who lived in New Jersey? Could she really not have known John’s whereabouts? The 1915 New Jersey state census can answer that question. John Scerbak was living at 98 Grand Street, Garfield, New Jersey. Nana, who married in September 1915, was still single at the time the 1915 census was taken and was living with cousins at 60 Grand Street, Garfield. Those two houses are a total of 443 apart and that particular neighborhood was very popular with folks from Ujak and Hajtovka, as it was less than one mile from St. Michael’s Greek Catholic Church in Passaic, where they all worshipped.

Well, they all worshipped there except for one John Scerbak, who broke with tradition and attended SS. Peter and Paul’s Russian Orthodox Church! My grandmother loved St. Michael’s and she had a long standing hatred of Russia for taking over Slovakia and turning it Communist.

Nana isn’t here to question more closely, but I think she denied that she had an uncle because John Scerbak chose to leave the parish of St. Michael’s!

If you have family who passed through Ellis Island, I strongly recommend that you watch this webinar, which is in the free library at Legacy Family Tree. I’ve disliked the Ellis Island website ever since they introduced their “new improved” (I think they ruined the site) experience. MyHeritage has made a terrific contribution with the New York passengers collection and not only remedied the Ellis Island faults (like images that jump all over the place when you try to read them), but have made the collection vastly more usable by including names of those close relatives/friends back in Europe and those with whom they were going to live in the United States.


Mining for Ancestors on the Ellis Island Website

If you have 19th or 20th century immigrant family who arrived in New York, you most likely have checked out the website.  There is a passenger search button in the upper right corner of the home page. I’ve visited this website a number of times, but have only searched for a select few known family members.

I decided to expand my horizons a bit because some, not all, of the passenger entries give very specific town names as the place of origin for each family. Since I know the family names and places where they lived, I can enter the names and then scan the towns of origin in hopes of finding some distant relatives.

My grandmother’s family names were Scerbak, Murcko and Patorai, but I know quite a bit about many of them already so instead I am going to focus on “Kucharik” and an alternate spelling of “Kuharik” since the Ellis Island site doesn’t work with wild cards.

Kucharik isn’t a terribly common surname, but it isn’t rare either. In Slovak, “kuchar” is “cook.” My Kucharik family is small and they mainly lived in the villages of Okruzna, Also Sebes and Felso Sebes, today known as Vysna Sebastova, a few miles east of Presov.

Searching the spelling “Kucharik” brought up the largest number of hits, but there was only one of interest.

Janos Kucharik was from “Alsoscbes, Russia.” The passenger manifest list is hard to read, but details included the fact that Janos had been to Pittsburgh, PA in 1905. He was a farm laborer and on this trip he was going to stay with his brother, Matyas Kucharik, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The street address given was 568 Hillside Avenue.

This is probably his brother’s World War II draft registration card. Notice that he is only living a couple of blocks away at 725 Hillside Avenue:

Matthew Andy Kuharik

In spite of finding his information, I have found no records – birth or marriage – near Presov that might fit either of these two brothers. However, given that the Kucharik family near Vysna Sebastova is quite small, my first guess would be that these might be second cousins of my great grandfather, Stefan Kucharik, born in 1855.

The other two entries in the Ellis Island database were for two young women, Anna and Maria Kuharik. Maria arrived first, in 1905 from “T. Sebes.” The “T” is probably a misreading of an “F.” Anna came in 1913 from “F. Sebes, Hungary.”

Maria “Kuharik” arrived on 24 August 1905. She was single and aged 20, on her way to the home of her brother-in-law, Janos (John) Stipkala,  in Cloquet, Minnesota. Now, John Stipkala married Mary Kravjar on 9 February 1903 in West Superior, Wisconsin, which is a stone’s throw from Cloquet. Mary Kravjar was the daughter of Stephen Kravjar who married Anna Kucharik and lived in Nizna Sebastova, another name for Also Sebes. (Political border changes meant that town names also changed, depending on the government in power.)

I have not been able to find out how Maria Kucharik, nor can I readily identify Maria’s parents. However, I am sure there is a family tie here because my Stephen Kucharik lived at Szengeto #2. Stefan and Anna (Kucharik) Kravjar lived at Szengeto #5.

Anna Kuharik arrived from Bremen, Germany on 15 March 1913. The passenger manifest names her father as Mihaly (Michael) Kuharik and Anna is headed to Superior, Wisconsin, the same general area (only 20 miles from Cloquet) in which Maria Kuharik went to five years earlier.

This Anna Kucharik is likely the daughter of Michael and Susanna (Magnus) Kucharik and she was born on 8 October 1894 in Okruzna, Slovakia. As with Janos and Maria Kucharik, I am certain there is a family tie to my Stephen because Michael and Susanna Kucharik were living at Szengeto #1 when Anna and her siblings were born.

Also, my Stephen had a brother, Michael, born in 1859. He is the perfect age to be a father of several children born in the 1880’s and 1890’s. Michael and Susanna’s first known child was born in 1880 so they likely married in 1879. No marriage record was found for them in Roman Catholic registers and the Greek Catholic register for Okruzna seems to have some pages missing as the only marriages recorded there in that year were in February. Unfortunately, I have not yet found any other records for Anna in the United States or back in Slovakia.

If you haven’t tried looking for immigrants with the same family surnames as yours who named the same towns and villages as your ancestors’ homes, then you might be missing a great opportunity to find new distant cousins here in the United States. I still have work to do on these Kuchariks, but I have no doubt that I will discover more clues and possibly be able to prove the direct relationship to my Stephen.

I was able to pick up the trail of the family of John Stipkala and Mary Kravjar (whose mother was Anna Kucharik), but that story is for another day.


Ellis Island and Castle Garden & Other Arrival Ports

Between 1880-1920, some 30,000,000 million immigrants arrived in the United States seeking a better life with greater economic opportunities. Many of these immigrants passed through Castle Garden and, then, from 1892 onwards, through Ellis Island, until it closed in 1954, after serving as a federal immigration center for 62 years.

Many beginner family historians hold the belief that their family came through Ellis Island only because they were European and realize that there were multiple entry points through which thousands first step foot in the United States. If lacking documentation, a newbie should consider that family might also have arrived through ports in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont,  Illinois, Michigan or upstate New York through Buffalo or Rochester crossing from Canada. Philadelphia and Baltimore were also busy ports of arrival.

In my own family, the family of one of my maternal great grandmothers settled in Calais, Maine. They were living there in the 1900 census and noted to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1880’s. I initially assumed that they probably arrived in Boston and then made their way north to Maine. However, when I found their 1884cemigration record filed in Copenhagen, they gave Canada as their destination. I now believe they arrived possibly in Halifax, Nova Scotia or elsewhere and then crossed the bridge from St. Stephen, New Brunswick to Calais. However, border crossing records don’t begin (exist) until about 1895. Since my 2x great grandmother died in Calais in 1890, those records won’t help me.

If you are searching for a record of your ancestor’s arrival, be open to the idea that the most direct arrival port might not be the one at which the family actually arrived. Tips for Determining Your Ancestor’s Probably Port of Arrival for Arrivals at U.S. Ports from Europe 1820-1950s might help you narrow down the actual point of entry.

Locating records for places other than New York can be a bit daunting. U.S. Ports of Arrival and Their Available Passenger Lists 1820-1957 lists the location and availability of many of these records. It also includes border crossing records available from Mexico and Canada into the U.S.

FamilySearch has Boston Passenger Lists 1891-1943, which is searchable by individual names. Olive Tree Genealogy has links to ships’ passenger lists and microfilm availability of records.

Having said all that, the first view of millions of immigrants was, indeed, New York City, and they were processed through Castle Garden or Ellis Island. Both Castle Garden and Ellis Island have websites that give a bit of history and offer free searchable databases.

Castle Garden is the lesser known of the two sites.

Castle Garden Website

The search box is a tab in the green toolbar area in the top left. I picked “Scherback” as a surname to search and here is one of the hits that came up:

“Auguste Scherback” Arrival

There doesn’t appear to be any link to actual images and extracted information is entered in the appropriate description box. I had one question about this site and emailed, but haven’t yet received an answer. Castle Garden closed its doors in 1890, but I noticed that many of the immigrants have arrival dates well into the 1900s. I have no idea where these people were actually processed, but if Castle Garden closed in 1890, they couldn’t have been processed there. I will update if and when I receive a reply.

Castle Garden is administered by The Battery Conservancy, a non-profit organization. They do have a link to contact them, as I did, but don’t appear to have social media contact sites, as on Facebook. the site is free to use, but they do have a donation button if you would like to contribute.

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website is a bit more robust, offering links to historical information about both the Statue herself and the Ellis Island experience. Searches can be done by a person’s name or by ship name.

Before I proceed, I have to admit something right upfront. The Foundation recently updated their website, maybe a year ago. I am not a fan of this new site, as I feel it is more difficult to search and is much less user friendly. I shared my frustrations with them via phone call and, basically, I told them that they fixed what wasn’t broken to begin with and it most definitely wasn’t an improvement.

Having said that, when you enter a name for a passenger search, I would suggest omitting the first name and be prepared to guess spelling variations in the surname because wild cards don’t work.

There are three choices in the right hand columns. The first, “Passenger Record” brings up the option to purchase a $30 certificate with your ancestor’s name, arrival date, etc.

The second choice is “Ship Image,” which again is an opportunity to purchase. However, I love looking at the ships my family sailed on and thinking that I much prefer modern cruise ships!

The third choice is actually the one most people want, the Ship Manifest.

This page is actually quite long and you need to scroll down to view the image itself and click to enlarge it.

The most annoying thing about the new website is that when you roll the cursor over the image, the image jumps around. That didn’t happen on the old site. Many have complained about this, but it doesn’t appear that anything is going to change anytime soon.

The last, super frustrating thing about this new site is that many Ship Manifest images are linked to the wrong page.

The old site didn’t have any of these problems. If you locate your ancestor, but can’t see the correct image, I would suggest emailing them to ask for help. If enough people contact them, maybe they will get the idea that this needs to be fixed.

Good luck with your search!