Ellis Island et al. (was: Re: O'Kun)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 30 19:15:07 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/30/02 1:41:54 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
pmcgraw at LINFIELD.EDU writes:

>  would U.S. immigration officials really get the passengers' names from a
>  log?  Even if it was before the age of passports, wouldn't
>  emigrants/immigrants have carried official identification "papers" of some
>  sort, and wouldn't immigration officials have taken the names from those?
>  (I haven't seen the research that reached the ship's log conclusion--maybe
>  it somehow ruled this out.)

No, they would not use the ship's log.  They would use the passenger manifest.

Any ship arriving legally at a US port knew that it had to provide the local
authorities with a list of all passengers, or at least all passengers
intending to debark.  Whether or not the passengers carried passports or
other "papers" (ID documents), the ship had to provide a manifest which, at
the very least, provided a name for every face on board.  The US authorities
at Ellis Island and other ports could---and did---refuse entry to immigrants
for several reasons, of which lack of proper documentation was one.  The
companies owning the passenger ships were careful to prepare manifests
properly, as anyone refused entry to the US had to be carried back to Europe
at  company expense.

First class passengers had their paperwork handled for them by the ship's
crew.  It was only the non-first-class passengers (which meant virtually all
the immigrants) who had to carry their own papers through the Ellis Island

Why so many misspelling on manifests?  Many immigrants were illiterate (what
was the literacy rate in Ireland when the Potato Famine hit?) or were
literate only in Yiddish or Russian, neither of which use the Latin alphabet.
 While Ellis Island had professional polyglots on its staff, most European
shipping offices did not.  Bad handwriting, inattention, or ignorance of
Irish spelling could easily transform "McGrath" into "McGraw" or vice versa.
Not to mention interchanging "McGregor" and "MacGregor".  Alternatively, an
Irish clerk could easily have mishandled "Okun" and "Kahn".

       - Jim Landau

P.S. In the olden days, the speed of a ship was measured by tossing overboard
a piece of wood called a "log" that was tied to a rope with evenly-spaced
knots in it.  The number of knots that passed over the rail before the
special timing sandglass ran out equalled the ship's speed in nautical miles
per hour, a rate still called "knots".  The number of knots pulled out by the
log was then recorded in the ship's "log book".

This may sound elementary, but I once encountered a freshman calculus class
not one of whose members knew that "knots" was a measure of velocity.

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