by: Larry Fagan
stood at the dock in 1932 to say goodbye to his cousin and close friend, Bill
Fagan. Bill and his sister, Roslyn, and their mother, Sadie Rochkind Fagan,
left New York by ship headed for Los Angeles, California to start a new life.
father, Bill, rarely talked about his father’s life. From my father, I learned that his
father's name was Joseph and that he had died very young. He explained that his
family left New York and came to California after Joseph died. He also repeated
a story that he had to wear shorts instead of pants on the boat trip to Los
Angeles in order to appear younger than his age, because they couldn't afford
the adult fare. My father also told me that he named his first son in memory of
his father. It wasn't until 2013
that I decided to find out more about Joseph’s story. Joseph was the one
grandparent that I never knew.
text, I’m going to reconstruct Joseph and Sadie’s lives from many official and
unofficial documents combined with historical information about the times and places
where they lived. As we examine
each document together, I’ll explain how those images help to tell the family
story. Not all of the information is
reliable, since the family members didn’t directly create the documents in many
cases. For example, the census takers may have talked to a neighbor in order to
complete their task. In other
cases, such as military draft records or naturalization papers, the person dictated the information to someone who filled out the forms.
It is also useful to remember that some things that are important to us,
such as age and birth date, were not so important 100 years ago. So, some of
the information in these documents may not be correct. Combining together all
the facts in these documents allows us to paint a reasonable picture of their
was born around 1896 or 1897 in Minsk. Minsk is a large city in what is
now the country of Belarus. We don’t have records to determine if Joseph
was actually born in Minsk or in one of the neighboring small towns, called
shtetls. His parents were Jacob Feigin and Chaya Locovsky.
Sometime around the beginning of the twentieth century, Jacob moved the family to the United States. We don’t know the exact reasons for leaving, but there were a number of factors that caused a large migration of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe to the United States in that time period. Among the many reasons that Jews emigrated were the poor living conditions in the Pale of Settlement where most Russian Jews were forced to reside. Another major reason that many individuals left the Pale was because of armed gangs that destroyed Jewish communities. These pogroms were common in the 1903-1906 period due to unrest related to the first Russian revolution. Russian law supported military conscription where young boys were drafted and required to serve for 25 years. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 led to increased military recruitment drives and poor economic conditions.
The Feigen family was not alone; in an article about migrations from Russia to the US, the author mentions “between 1880 and 1914, an estimated 1.5 million Jews emigrated from czarist Russia to North America.” More information on the pale of settlement is at: http://bit.ly/2g9pTdW More information on the pogroms can be found at: http://bit.ly/1PRvjpO
As was typical for most families, the Feigin family members came over a few people at a time. Joseph’s father, Jacob, came over first in 1903. In 1904, Joseph’s mother, Chaya, came over with Joseph (age 7), his older sister, Marjase, and younger brothers, Samuel and William. In 1905, fifteen-year-old Minnie, came over with her younger siblings Lottie and Ethel. We don't know where the girls stayed after their parents and siblings left for America.
Travel from Minsk to New York City
It is hard to know what this journey to America felt like for a 7-year-old boy. Did he even know that it would be a train trip then two boat trips that altogether would take about a month to complete? We only have a few pieces of information from which to trace the emigration story. Most importantly, from Joseph’s naturalization papers, we have his last place in Eastern Europe before coming to the US and the name of the boat that brought him to America. From the ship’s passenger log we know the dates of travel. Lastly, research on Scandinavian emigration routes has recently been published. I’ve put together this information to reconstruct the voyage.
Minsk was not near a port of embarkation to America, which meant that the family needed to leave from either an Atlantic or Baltic Sea port or a Southern Russian port like Odessa. This required transportation by foot, wagon, train or raft. Each group had to take some type of transportation to get from the Minsk area to the embarkation point of the transatlantic ship. For Joseph and his family, this meant an arduous thousand-mile journey on land and sea just to get to the port in Copenhagen, Denmark. We know that Joseph and part of his family traveled overland to Libau (now known as Liepāja, Latvia), a port on the Baltic Sea, probably via train from Minsk. It turns out that going via Copenhagen on a Scandinavian shipping line could only have happened in 1904 when there was a price war going on among the shipping lines and transporting 4,000 Russian emigrants through Copenhagen was temporarily allowed.
They traveled by small boat from Libau to Copenhagen. We don’t know the actual boat taken on this part of the trip, but it is possible that it was the Thyra, a boat that during 1904 regularly carried about 250 immigrants from Libau. They went to either Copenhagen or Hull, England to start their transatlantic trip. The journey to Copenhagen took two days. The Scandinavian American Line Company operated a number of ships including the Thyra for short trips and the Hekla for transatlantic voyages.
What is now a nine-hour jet flight from Copenhagen to New York City was then a three-week journey by steamship. Chaya and the three children left Copenhagen aboard the S. S. Hekla on November 23, 1904 and arrived in New York City on December 15, 1904. We know from the ship’s manifest that they had $25 with them in Copenhagen and had $5 left when they arrived in New York City, with the remainder spent for food aboard ship. (Five dollars in 1904 would be equivalent to $130 in today's money).
The Hekla was a small steamship about 30 years old (built in the 1880s). On the ship, there were “40 first class, 30 second class and 800 third class (steerage) passengers.” Most immigrants traveled in the lower level steerage class, and had very difficult living conditions onboard. The third class had mainly large dormitory style areas. It is very likely that the travelers were aware that a sister ship to the Hekla, the Norge, sank in July of 1904 with many passengers perishing.
The route of the Hekla took it first to Oslo, Norway (then called Christiania) and then another stop in Norway called Christiansand. The route then took them through the North Sea, traveling north of what is the now the United Kingdom and south of Iceland. The weather in those areas is typically very bad in December--it looks like the UK weather was in the 40 degree F. range during the trip.
(The weather report for December, 1904 for the British Isles can be found at: http://bit.ly/2gqZKrK . The ship's route was north of those islands, so the conditions were probably worse.)
If we look closely at the manifest (passenger lists from the ship’s log), we can see part of the Feigin family traveling together on the Hekla: Chaya (Chaie) age 40, William (Wulf) age 11, Joseph (Yeisif) age 7, and Solomon (Salmen) age 5. They would have undergone a health check in Libau before leaving and then another health check in Ellis Island upon arrival in New York harbor. If the person was found to be sick in Ellis Island, they were often sent back to Europe at the cost of the shipping company, so there was a big incentive for the companies to make sure that the passengers were healthy before they started the travel. If the immigrant arrived at Ellis Island without sufficient funds, they were kept on Ellis Island until a relative or friend could demonstrate that they would not become a “likely public charge” (needing government support).
Settling in the Lower East Side
Jacob and Chaya settled their
family in the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island in New York City. The Lower
East Side was primarily a Jewish neighborhood where many of the immigrants
gathered when they first came to the US.
It was very densely settled. Many of the residents had low paying
jobs such as street peddler or working in the garment industry (often in their
home). The Library of Congress has
many photographs and other materials to describe what life was like in this
part of New York City during the first decade of the 20th century. Start at: http://bit.ly/2ghQpBk for an overview document about the Lower East Side. A discussion of Eastern European Jewish immigration can be found at: http://bit.ly/2gFcEFp
The U.S. census
documents provide a snapshot of the family in ten-year increments. Some
states, like New York, compiled a less complete census in the years between the
federal censuses. In this first US document, we find the family listed
in the New York 1905 census, after Joseph immigrated, but before Minnie,
Lottie, and Ethel arrived.
1905 New York census, we can see that Jacob (bottom row of the top image) is
a 43-year-old tailor. Chaya was listed as Ida in the census and is a 40-year-old
older brother, Will, at age 15, is already working in the garment industry.
U. S. Census image shows the family, in green highlight, living at 91 Cherry
Street, also in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In 1910, Jacob
and Chaya’s family were all living together, except for Marjase who was already
out of the house. Chaya name is listed as Fannie in this document. The
census shows that Chaya gave birth to 10 children by 1910, with 8 having
survived (with ages ranging from 4 to 25). It also shows that Jacob and Chaya
had been married for 26 years, which allows us to estimate the marriage date to
be around 1884. Minnie, Lottie, and Ethel arrived right after the 1905 census,
and Nathan was born in 1906 (the only family member born in the US).
of the 1910 census document lists that Jacob works in a factory as a finisher
of cloaks (women’s outer jacket). Minnie (20) and Lottie (16) are working
as (sewing machine) operators in a ladies shirtwaist factory.[i]
William works as a tailor in a clothes factory. Ethel, Joe, and Samuel are in
school. The pattern of employment in this family seems to be for the
children to stay in school until age 15 and then get a job in the garment
Neither Jacob nor Chaya could read or write. Fortunately all of the
children (except Nathan who was too young) are listed as being able to read and write. Death
records show that Will died two years later (1912) at age 20.
The 1920 U.S. census entry shows that Jacob and Fannie are called Jake
and Rosie. Several key changes are
seen during this decade: Jacob and
Fannie became citizens in 1918 and only Nathan, age 14, is still at home in
1920. Jacob and Fannie are described as 55 years old, living at 66 East 100th
Street, on the border of Upper East Side of Manhattan and East Harlem. In
1920, Jacob was able to read and write as well as speak English, and now had a
job an examiner (inspector?) in a factory (presumably a clothing factory). They probably lived in an apartment
building much like the one shown in the next slide (also on East 100th Street).
This is current view of a building on the street where Jake and Rosie lived with Nathan in 1920.
Joseph and Sadie’s Story
I didn’t find any documents
about Joseph dated between 1910 and 1918. Joseph should have appeared in the
New York 1915 census if he was living in New York. Joseph met Sadie Rochkind
sometime in this period, although we don’t have any family stories about that
event. Their marriage certificate dated February 11, 1918 shows that Joseph was
living in Trenton, New Jersey, some 60 miles and more than 90 minutes by train from
Sadie’s home in Brooklyn.
In the marriage certificate, Sadie Rochkind was living at 458 Hegeman Avenue in the East New York portion of Brooklyn.[i] This address was the home of her parents, Morris Rochkind and Ida Elkind. The marriage ceremony was performed in Newark, New Jersey, which is much closer to New York City than Trenton.
[i] This is a good example where the official document contains an error, in this case the incorrect address: Edmon Avenue. Many other Rochkind family documents have the correct address as Hegeman Avenue.
In April, 1918 the United States entered
World War I, and a draft of male soldiers had begun the previous year in
anticipation of the war. Joseph also filed for the first step in the
naturalization process in 1918 to become a citizen. The naturalization laws at
that time allowed the spouse to become a citizen as a part of the naturalization
paperwork of her husband or father. Furthermore, Joseph was holding down two jobs
during this period--as a salesman in a furniture store during the day and bookkeeper
I was able to piece together
this picture of the events of 1918 from a combination of government documents
and newspaper advertisements.
Let’s look at Joseph's draft registration card. It shows that Joseph and Sadie were living at 76
Cooper Street in Trenton.
Advertisements for that address described the location as “rooms for
light housekeeping or sleeping purpose for ladies or gentlemen” and the rent
was $18/month. On the military registration
card, Joseph was working at the Robinson Department Store on S. Broad and Day
From newspaper advertisements, we can see that in September 1918 Joseph was looking for work as a night bookkeeper or accountant to supplement his sales job.
The naturalization papers are probably the most important documents that
you can find about an immigrant.
There are two steps to the process: a declaration of intent to seek
citizenship and, after a several year delay, the petition to the court for
Find out more about the naturalization process at: http://bit.ly/2ftx7YL
I was able to visit the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, NJ and locate the original Declaration of Intent for Joseph.
Joseph’s document was signed on November 14th, 1918. This document confirms much of the
information we have found in other sources: Joseph’s occupation was a salesman
and that he was living in Trenton with Sadie. It showed key information about Joseph’s arrival in the US.
documents give us a window into Joseph’s physical characteristics. The naturalization
paperwork records that at age 21 he was characterized as white with a
dark complexion. He was 5 feet 8
inches and weighed 130 pounds. He had dark brown hair and brown eyes.
later, looking at the 1920 census, we find Joseph and Sadie living in Brooklyn
at 694 Williams Avenue. Their son,
William, was born in April, 1919 also in Brooklyn[i]. They probably moved to be near Sadie’s
parents who live only 500 feet away from this address. On this census, we see that Joseph’s
naturalization status is shown as Pa (which means that the first papers or
declaration of intent had been filed with the court). The citizenship papers identify that
they moved from New Jersey to New York at the end of 1919.
[i]The census also shows a boarder, Rebecca Haber, who
was probably related to Joseph’s sister, Lottie, who married into the Haber
On August 23, 1921 Joseph became
a citizen through the Supreme Court of Bronx County, New York. Sadie may also
have been naturalized through this process, or through her father’s citizenship
The citizenship documents help to establish key information It verifies that Joseph left Libau on his way to Copenhagen and the US. It also shows that Sadie was born in 1899 in Borisov, which is located near Minsk in what is now Belarus.
The papers show that in 1921 Joseph and Sadie were living in the Bronx, almost 20 miles away from Sadie’s family. Since William was only 2 at the time, I suspect that the reason for the move might have been that Joseph started a full-time job as a bookkeeper/accountant instead of a job as a salesman. Two important clues support that reasoning. Between the time of the original declaration document and the naturalization petition, Joseph’s occupation changed from salesman to public accountant. Another clue is that one of the witnesses, Louis Kasswan, was also living in the Bronx and working as a public accountant[i].
[i] Louis Kasswan was also a Commissioner of Deeds which is a job similar to a notary public.
Oath of Allegiance
The final step in the citizenship process was to sign an Oath of Allegiance to the US and for the court to grant the citizenship petition. The petition document was completed in April of 1921 and granted in August of 1921.
Since Joseph arrived in the US in 1904, he has lived in Manhattan, Trenton (NJ), Brooklyn, and now the Bronx. Here's a modern day picture of the residence at 673 Dawson Street in the Bronx.
we find the family living back in Brooklyn at 1722 Pitkin Ave. That’s about 1.5 miles away from Sadie’s parents
house. Joseph, Sadie, and William were living in the same building as the
Nagelberg family. Sarah Nagelberg was Sadie’s sister. Consistent with the naturalization paperwork, Joseph was
shown as a public accountant.
1926, Joseph joined a fraternal organization called the Masons. He participated in Habonim Lodge no.
1042, New York City, NY and was designated a Master Mason at the time of his
[i] Here’s more detail from a letter I received from the Masonic Library
in New York City: “The dates typed after ‘initiated,
passed and raised’ show respectively the dates of his first, second and third
Masonic degrees. These are the usual stages of membership a man goes
through when he joins a Masonic lodge. The span of time shown on your
grandfather’s record between degrees is typical. When a man receives his
third degree, he is called a Master Mason, and he is a full member of his
lodge. He may vote and hold office within his lodge, and he may visit
other Masonic lodges around the world that share recognition with his home
In April, 1926 Joseph and Sadie's daughter Roslyn was born in Brooklyn. The full birth records are not yet available, but we see her entry in later census documents.
Sadly, Joseph died in December, 1928 at age 31 from pneumonia. He is buried in Old Montefiore Cemetery
in Queens, New York[i]. The top of the headstone was designed
in the shape of logs to represent a life that had been cut short. The Hebrew inscription says that his
name was: Yosef bar Yaacov (Joseph, son of Jacob). The headstone also shows the
Star of David and the Mason’s symbol.
At one time there was a picture of Joseph on the headstone, but that is
[i] Contact information:
Sadie was left with two young children--William who was 9 and Roslyn who was not yet 3 years old.
In a letter from 2000, Roslyn, now called Rosalind, picks up the story of those
The exact date of the first trip to California is unclear, but it probably took place after April, 1930 since Sadie, William, and Roslyn were listed in the 1930 New York census. Sadie’s occupation is listed as
“private nursing (untrained).” They are living at 498 Christopher Ave. in
Brooklyn, a little over half a mile from Sadie’s parents house.
we don’t have records of the 1930 trip to Los Angeles, we do have records the
for the second trip (in 1932) described in Rosalind’s letter, The S.S. Virginia
left NYC on July 23, 1932, transited the Panama Canal and arrived in Los
Angeles on August 6, 1932. We have
a copy of the manifest from that trip--William is
described as being ten years old with an incorrect birth date (he was 13 and born
in 1919). Around age 13, boys were allowed to switch to wearing long pants or could extend the knickers below the knee, as a sign of their impending adulthood. So the story about being forced to wear shorts during the voyage in order to
appear younger was true! Roslyn was described as four years old in the manifest but she was actually six (born in 1926), with the changes made for probably for the same reason.
Sadie, Roslyn, and William
look sad and stoic in this picture. I can’t tell if it is because
of the nature of old formal photographs, or if it is because of the
difficulties that they encountered during the six-year period after Joseph’s
death. During this time period they moved across the country several
times. The economic depression that happened about the same time as Joseph’s
death must have been a burden. Sadie took on available jobs as a cook and private
duty nurse to support the family. In the picture, William is
standing where the father would be placed. He is wearing the long pants that he
very much wanted to have during the 1932 trip to Los Angeles. They are probably
adjusting to living in a new city where most of their relatives and friends area
a long boat or railroad trip away[i].
[i] We do know that in 1935
(around the time of this picture), Sadie and Roslyn (without William) went back
one more time to New York City via boat.
End of Part 1