The Fusia/Fuscą Family  

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 The Great Family Debate: 

How (or why) Fuscą became Fusia in America

 

 

Once upon a time...     to be continued

 

 

But first a little myth busting!  

 

 

The Myth of Ellis Island Name Changes

 

Immigrants' surnames were changed thousands of times, but professional researchers have found that name changes were rare at Ellis Island (or at Castle Island , which was the New York port of entry prior to Ellis Island 's opening). The myth of name changes usually revolves around the concept that the immigrant was unable to communicate properly with the English-speaking officials at Ellis Island. However, this ignores the fact that Ellis Island employed hundreds of translators who could speak, read, and write the immigrants' native tongues. It also ignores all the documentation that an immigrant needed to have in order to be admitted into the U.S.

In order to be admitted into the United States as an immigrant in the late nineteenth century or later, one had to have paperwork. Each immigrant had to have proof of identity. This would be a piece of paperwork filled out in "the old country" by a clerk who knew the language, and the paperwork would be filled out in the local language, not in English (unless the "old country" was an English-speaking country). The spelling of names on these documents generally conformed to local spellings within the immigrant's place of origin. Even if the person traveling was illiterate and did not know how to spell his or her own name, the clerks filling out the paperwork knew the spelling of that name in the local language or could sound it out properly according to the conventions of the language used. Also, in many countries one had to obtain an exit visa in order to leave. Again, exit visas had to be filled out by local clerks who knew the language, and exit visas were written in the local language.

A ship's passenger list had to be prepared by the captain of the ship or his representatives before the ship left the old country. This list was created from the travelers' documents. These documents were created when the immigrant purchased his or her ticket. It is unlikely that anyone at the local steamship office was unable to communicate with this man. Even when the clerk selling the ticket did not speak the language of the would-be emigrant, someone had to be called in to interpret. Also, required exit visas and other paperwork had to be examined by ticket agents before a ticket would be sold. The name was most likely recorded with a high degree of accuracy at that time.

Next, the ship's captain or designated representative would examine each passenger's paperwork. The ship's officials might not know the immigrant's language, but they had to inspect the exit visa and the proof of identity. They knew that immigrants would not be accepted into Ellis Island without proper documentation and, if the paperwork wasn't there, the passengers would be sent back home at the shipping company's expense! You can believe that the ship's owners went to great lengths to insure the accuracy of the paperwork, including names, places of birth and travel plans. It is believed that many more people were turned away at the point of embarkation than were ever turned away at Ellis Island . In other words, most of those without proper documentation never got on board the ship.

When the ship arrived at Ellis Island , the captain or his representative would disembark first with the passenger list. The Ellis Island officials would then bring in interpreters to handle the interrogations. These interpreters were usually earlier immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants, and they all knew how to speak, read and write the language of the immigrants.

The usual immigrant processing time was one to three days. During this time, each immigrant was questioned about his/her identity, and all the required documentation was examined in detail. Keep in mind that this was not a quick two or three-minute conversation such as we have today at international airports. In the days of steamships, the Ellis Island officials had the luxury of time. They could make leisurely examinations.

The questioning at Ellis Island would be done in the immigrant's native tongue. While the immigrant often was illiterate, the interpreter doing the questioning always could read and write the language involved. Ellis Island employed interpreters for Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian and all of the European languages. The immigration center in San Francisco did the same for all the Chinese dialects as well as Japanese, Korean, and many more Oriental languages. Other immigration centers in Boston , Philadelphia , New Orleans , Galveston and elsewhere followed similar procedures.

Anyone who did not have proper paperwork (in the native language) showing the correct name and place of birth was sent back. Many thousands were sent back for identification reasons or for medical reasons or because they did not have sponsors in the U.S. Most of the people who came through Ellis Island did so with correct paperwork showing the correct or at least plausible spellings of their real names in their original language.

There were a very few exceptions, however. Occasionally war refugees were admitted without much documentation. This was especially true in 1945 and 1946. A few others succeeded in falsifying documents in order to gain admittance when they could not be admitted under their true identities. Occasionally a child was admitted under the surname of a stepfather when the name of the natural father would have been more appropriate. Nobody can document the number of exceptions, but most professional researchers believe that the number of exceptions was very small.

Once settled into their new homes, however, anything could happen. Millions of immigrants had their names changed voluntarily or by clerks or by schoolteachers who couldn't pronounce or spell children's names. Some immigrants changed their names in order to obtain employment. Many immigrants found it easier to assimilate into American culture if they had American-sounding names, so they gladly went along with whatever their neighbors or schoolteachers called them.

However, the records at Ellis Island remained in the original language.

For more information about the myth that "the family name was changed at Ellis Island ," look at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization's Web page at:

http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/history/articles/NameEssay.html