Grandfather on Boat in Sepia

grandfather on boat
This is a photo of my maternal grandfather, whom I never met, on a boat. No idea who the man on the left is – the captain? I am guessing the photo was taken before my grandfather went to Russia as a salesman for Ford(?) and met my maternal grandmother, whom he married in Russia and then returned to the U.S – my grandmother and mother came a few years after, needing special permission to enter the country (they came in 1929, one month before the stock market crashed).

•  More on my maternal grandfather

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How many of you had relatives that came through Ellis Island? My paternal grandparents did and possibly my maternal grandparents and mother as well. I highly recommend American Passage: The History of Ellis Island by Vincent Cannato. He writes about the different commissioners of Ellis Island and their styles, Castle Garden (the immigration inspection predecessor to Ellis Island), nativist vs. immigrant lobbies, and recent politics of rebuilding Ellis Island as a museum.

There is a funny passage in the book where Theodore Roosevelt declares at a dinner that “he had chosen [Oscar] Straus without regard to race, color, creed or party. To that, an elderly and increasingly deaf Jacob Schiff nodded and said in his thick German accent: ‘Dot’s right, Mr. President. You came to me and said, ‘Chake, who is der best jew I can appoint Segretary of Commerce?”” Sad are the descriptions that investigators bring back of the situation in Eastern Europe – poverty, starvation and disease were too abundant in the late 19th – early twentieth century.

For more photos with sepia, visit Sepia Scenes:
bench in sepia

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21 thoughts on “Grandfather on Boat in Sepia

  • It is a nice look from the past – the gentleman dressed up to meet the presumed captain, dressing for the occasion meant something more back then, it seems. The history is wonderful, America truly a beacon for all who yearn for freedom…

  • The photo tells us so much about life then.. like Ralph said, getting dressed up for a special occasion was a must.

    My maternal grandfather came through Ellis Island in 1899 as a young boy and the family settled in New Jersey.

    I love old family photos and sepia suits this one.

    • All I did was scan this one in – it was already sepia.

      Thanks for adding the bit of your own family history. The book points out that so many Americans are descendants of Ellis Island; few can trace their ancestors to the Mayflower. Then there are those that came on slave ships. Or were here before the Pilgrims showed up. Nowadays, people come through airports and get visas while in their own countries.

      • “Nowadays, people come through airports and get visas while in their own countries.”
        -or not.

        I think most of my grandparents came through Ellis Island although the only story I know is of my maternal grandmother who came alone(at around age 30) and I believe it was a pretty daunting experience.

      • I think I would rather be rejected from getting a visa in my own country instead of coming all the way to Ellis Island and then being deported because I was frail or in some way incapable of working, as too many people were.

        The book does talk about how scary the experience at Ellis Island was – part of the purpose of the commissioner was to weed as many as they could. I think one member of my father’s family almost got sent back for an eye disease.

  • Interesting history! My maternal grandfather came through Ellis Island. His sister was already married and in New York City so he came to her in 1910. I was able to find his entry record at their on-line site. I wish I had known this and had the interest to ask him about it back in my youth!

  • What a lovely photograph, Leora…a treasure to have. I cherish the old sepia toned photographs I have of my grandparents, and one I have of my maternal great-great-grandmother.

    My maternal grandparents came through Ellis Island, separately. My grandmother, in 1890, with her family. She was seven. My grandfather was 20 in 1900. They met in Manhattan and married there.

    Thanks for the book review…I have meant to buy it, but haven’t done that yet.

  • How cool that you have that old photo, Leora!

    Ellis Island? My granddad and his brother came through there. And would you believe that the officials filling out the papers at Ellis Island spelled my grandfather’s last name different from his brother’s so from then on their names were slightly different?

    • Yes – a similar thing happened to my paternal grandmother’s family, though the book claims it was usually not Ellis Island officials making those changes but the family’s choice, usually (wanting to be more American?). My grandmother had brothers with three different last names; all began with an ‘s’, but otherwise not the same!

      There was a joke in the book, totally made up because Chinese didn’t go through Ellis Island: Jewish guy says his name is Yankel Gurevich. Chinese guy then says his name is Sam Ting. Official writes down Yankel Gurevich for the Chinese guy.

      • According to Ellis Island officials and a blurb on their website, they did not change names there, but the individuals changed their names upon leaving Ellis Island in order to blend in and assimilate within the American culture. I am sure, though, a small percentage of individuals name’s were changed when entering Ellis Island due to handwriting interpretations, misspellings of the surname by the official, or whatever…but the E.I. officials were not permitted to do that. Rumors have perpetuated throughout the years that it was done at E.I.

        Maybe some families made it sound like it was done at E.I., to keep the burden off them for future generations…who knows.

        But, there were times that the names were not spelled correctly on the ship’s manifest, which was filled out from the port of departure, or the person changed their name before departing so their documents would read their new chosen surname.

      • Thanks for the explanation.

        “Maybe some families made it sound like it was done at E.I., to keep the burden off them for future generations” – this is more or less what Vincent Cannato suggests in the book.

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