European Immigration

TransAtlantic Steamships: Bessie, Nathan, Nathan’s brothers and sister, Lou, Miriam, Max, and Jack would cross the Atlantic on large ocean liners to come to America. Many of Bessie’s neighbors and all of her friends at Anshe Sholom would also come by steamship. Bessie and her brothers sailed on the Hamburg-American line. Diagrams of this company’s ships, travel brochures, pictures of the rooms, even menus can be seen here.

Immigrants would be medically cleared before being allowed on the ship. See a typical immigration inspection card HERE.  (Bessie’s card would list Russia as “last residence.”)

Ellis Island and How to Look Up Your Ancestors: The largest number of people arriving in America from Europe during the years 1892 to 1954 would enter through Ellis Island as Bessie did. Now operated by the National Park Service as a historic site and museum, you can look for your ancestors in the Ellis Island records at the Park. Or use the online database at the Liberty Ellis Foundation.

Hebrew Aid Societies: Upon arriving in New York, Jewish men would form groups with other men from their town with the purpose of providing fellowship and help for others from their area. Bessie would find Nathan through the membership records for the Glubokoye Society. See the listing for Nathan’s death in the original Glubokoye Society records: Glubokoye Society Records.

Immigrant stories:  A classic, first published in 1925 and republished in 2003, Bread Givers, a novel by Anzia Yezierska, tells the story of a young Polish immigrant woman. The main character Sarah Smolinsky lives with her orthodox Jewish family on the Lower East Side, rebels against her strict father, and struggles to become an independent woman. (New York: Persea Books, 2003)

Watch and listen to Alice Kessler-Harris, the historian responsible for the reissue and popularity of Bread Givers, speak at the Tenement Museum. (90 minutes)

View a recently restored silent movie from 1922 based on Yezierska’s Hungry Hearts: Hungry Hearts, the Movie (13:45)

After spending her childhood in the Pale in Lithuania, Mary Antin immigrated to Boston with her family in 1895. In her 1912 autobiography The Promised Land, Mary describes living in Boston as a Russian Jewish immigrant. Read Antin’s book online at The Promised Land.

Tenement Museum: See how immigrants lived in a typical tenement building on the Lower East Side in New York. Built in 1863, more than 7,000 immigrants lived at 97 Orchard St. from 1863 to 1935. The restored tenement displays apartments from different time periods. Located at 103 Orchard St. between Delancey and Broome, the Tenement Museum offers tours of the tenement, talks, walking tours, and resources to individuals, groups, and schools.