During the Passover holiday, we took a number of our grandchildren to Ellis Island. It was my first visit to this historic landmark and as I sat on the ferry for the short trip from New Jersey to Ellis Island, I tried to picture what it must have been like for my grandmother, uncle and mother on that day eighty six years ago when they arrived at Ellis Island several weeks after leaving their home and family in Riga, Latvia.
For my entire childhood and for many years thereafter, my mother claimed to have been born in New York and to have grown up in Buffalo. Only late in life did my mother admit to having been born in Riga and having immigrated to the United States as a child. She was an immigrant child in a generation of immigrants who desperately wanted to be accepted as a “Yankees” in their new home. And so Chaja became Edna and Riga became New York City all in an effort to be better accepted in American society.
My final conversation with my mother last May was about her childhood in Riga. I wanted to know what she remembered about her life there. What was it like growing up in Riga? Where did she live? What were her grandparents like? She could not recall very much. She came to the US as a very young child, she explained. On that day she had no recollection of her grandparents or her childhood in Riga. (During a conversation a few years earlier my mother gave me her childhood address in Riga which I have saved in the event I ever visit there.)
While sitting shiva in New Jersey a cousin told me that he had found papers among my uncle’s (my mother’s brother) effects that shed light on my mother’s arrival from Riga. My grandmother, uncle and mother made the voyage across the Atlantic on a ship called the Majestic. They arrived at Ellis Island on January 1, 1929.
My grandfather after whom I was named had come several years earlier to pave the way for his family in the United States. I had learned as a child from my grandmother that they left Latvia to flee rampant anti-Semitism and never ending pogroms.
My cousin’s discovery piqued my interest to learn more about my mother’s immigration to this country. After shiva I joined Ancestry.com and did some basic research. I learned that my grandmother was 36 years old on her arrival, my uncle 13 years old and my mother 10. This was quite a revelation as my mother had indicated that she was a very young child on her arrival.
Apparently, according to a record of detention, upon arrival at Ellis Island my grandmother, uncle and mother were detained -exactly how long I do not know – until they were picked up by my grandfather. The stamp on my uncle’s immigration record suggests that it could have been two days.
Thanks to the research by my daughter in law Jen who joined us at Ellis Island, additional documents regarding my mother’s arrival at Ellis Island were located.
My mother arrived as Chaja Judelovics.
She arrived with her mother Rivke and brother Abram on January 1, 1929 on the Majestic. She was 10 years old when she arrived at Ellis Island.
Her father was Jude Judolovics of Noe Avenue in New York City.
She was identified by the immigration authorities as a “school girl”.
I learned further from US Census records that my mother lived in the Bronx for about ten years after her arrival at which point the family moved to Buffalo. At some point she attended Cornell where she was Phi Beta Kappa (we have her key and Cornell ring) and also Hunter College in New York.