The Myth of Ellis Island, Part 3
Genealogy Proof Standard Study Group Homework
Chapter Two—Building a Solid Case
Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case 4th Edition Revised, (San Jose, California: CR Publications) 2014.
Here I discover that I am unable to answer my research question with direct evidence.
In Chapter Two of our reference text, the author, Christine Rose, infers that the most straight-forwarded way to answer a research question is to apply data from an original source that supplies primary information and answers the question directly. She says, “Though we must be sure that a broad array of records were examined to assure there are no conflicts…there is nothing further we need to do…except to reduce it all to a coherently written conclusion…” [See End Note #1]
When I decided to participate in this Genealogy Proof Standard Study Group, I selected what I considered to be a relatively simple research question; namely, when did my 2nd great grandfather change his surname from “Wilkimirsky” to “Friedman”? I reasoned that I should be able to find naturalization and census records that would fall into an easily understood timeline and would show the transition from one name to the other, with clear, direct documentation on the naturalization records indicating the legal adoption of the surname of Friedman.
Guess what? Life is never that simple!! I have not yet found his naturalization documents.
I had assumed that he had been naturalized in Hudson County, New Jersey sometime between 1880 and 1890. Family Search does not have a digital index of that record set, but there is an image of the hand-written index. [See End Note #2] This past November, I took the time to browse the image; checking Friedman, Wilkimirsky/Wilkomirsky as well as Vilkirmsky/Vilomirsky, finding nothing. More recently, my cousin Alan, who shares Yusel as a 2nd great grandfather, informed me that he had contacted the Hudson County Clerk’s office to request a search for Yussel’s naturalization records, but that no records where found at that court.
My search for naturalization records is nowhere near exhaustive. As Elizabeth Shown Mills tells us, “Prior to 1906, U.S. residents who met legal requirements for naturalization could obtain their citizenship through any court at any level.” [See End Note #3] Mills tells us to search not just county court records, but records of city, district circuit and appellate courts as well.
Not only that, but there is the possibility that I may never find direct evidence that Yussel Wilkimirsky ever went through a legal process to change his name.
Phillip Sutton, writing in a New York Public Library blog post, tells us that it was not uncommon for new immigrants to change their names at will, without being compliant with legal procedures [See End Note #4]. After all, at the turn of the century, there was no such thing as a driver’s license, a social security number, or a credit card.
For the moment, at least, it appears that I will not be able to utilize that straight-forward path using primary direct evidence to answer my research question. But, as Rose advises us, direct evidence is not always available, and we, as family history researchers, should not let the lack of direct evidence get us down. Rose tells us to “consider your case solid when (after negating any contrary evidence) the evidence points in the same direction and no other conclusion can be reached.” [See End Note #5]
Guess I will be searching for as many pertinent records as I can find to answer that simple research question.
Thank you for reading! Comments, criticism, and correction of fact always welcome.
#1. Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised, (San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2014) page 13.
#3. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace Third Edition (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015) page 405.
#4. Phillip Sutton, “Why Your Family Name was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was),” (nypl.org/blog/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island : accessed 17 December 2016)
#5. Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised, page 18.