Friday, June 13, 2008

Gimme Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

I've been doing a bit of research lately on my family history. A fair amount of old public records (census records, military draft enrollments, old telephone directories) has been digitized and indexed, so you can now search for online for forensic evidence of your not-too-distant ancestors. I've been using and it's been rewarding - I'm sure there are others genealogy search services out there that are competent as well.

The most rewarding artifact that I've been able to discover is this image of the S.S. St. Louis:

This is the ship that carried my paternal great-grandfather, Louis Abramowitz, across the Atlantic (How great is it that the ship that carried my ancestor Louis was the St. Louis?)

Louis hailed from Kiev, then part of the Romanov empire. He boarded the St. Louis in Southampton, England and arrived in New York City on May 14, 1911.

Apparently, the St. Louis was an America vessel, launched November 12, 1894, with a total of 10 boilers, 64 furnaces, and could fit 320 1st class passengers, 210 in second class, and 800 in third class.

Here's an image of the ship's manifest of "Alien Passengers" bound for the United States (click on the image to enlarge):

Louis' ethnicity on the ship's manifest is listed as "Hebrew". He is listed as being a 25 year old native of Russia, born in the town of "Klotzh", a name that doesn't appear on any modern maps. The manifest also lists Louis' occupation as "Tailor" and his final destination as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I particularly love the tailor part. According my great-Aunt Bea (his oldest daughter who sadly passed away just this year at the age of 90), Louis was a terrible tailor. No skills. So when he settled in Baltimore around the time of World War I, his boss suggested he find himself another line of work. Louis ended up becoming a kosher caterer, starting a tradition that now extends through four generations in my family (that behind-the-scenes history in the kosher business goes a long way towards explaining why I don't keep kosher, but that's grist for some other post).

Louis' grandchildren and great-grandchildren now operate or manage kitchens or restaurants in 3 states, including both Millers (by blood) and Attmans (by marriage) in Baltimore, The Belvedere in Connecticut and East Coast West in San Fransisco.

Somehow Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus seems appropriate:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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