Due to a posting on the JewishGen Digest by Renee Steinig, I was made aware of the free availability of naturalization records for Passaic County, New Jersey. The link for these records can be found under the County Clerk’s Office website.
The County seat of Passaic County is Paterson which is the largest town. In total, there are sixteen towns in Passaic County: Bloomingdale, Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, North Haledon, Passaic, Paterson, Pompton Lakes, Prospect Park, Ringwood, Totowa, Wanaque, Wayne, West Milford, and West Paterson.
Passaic County was a good draw for new immigrants as it was known to have jobs. The largest town, Paterson, was the earliest planned industrial city in America and had some of the first textile and industrial enterprises too. It was the home of many silk mills which gained it the title of “Silk City”.
Many Jews went to Passaic County, amongst them my great grandparents who settled in Paterson along with other relatives and landsleit from Kupiskis, Panevezys, and Vabalninkas, Lithuania. They were just a few of the many varieties of emigrants who came to Paterson and these can be further researched through the Facebook group entitled Jewish Roots in Paterson, NJ, which was initiated by JewishGenner and JGSNY member Roni Seibel Leibowitz.
The naturalization database is very helpful in finding detailed information on one’s ancestors, especially those naturalizations after 1906. One can search by either surname or country, although the only drawback is that the country search engine is limited to only 100 hundred entries. Unfortunately, the database does not provide the total number of records which fall under a particular category either as is done on Ancestry.com and other databases.
To start, one has to plug in a surname to get a record. Then, click on Get Image and the actual document will pop up. Be sure and check if there is more than one page in the document and look carefully at all pages. One of the other things you have to be alert about when searching for your family is that their surname may be truly mangled as were my family's names that I looked up. Use all possible spellings you can thing of or just plug in the first letter or two of the surname. In addition, the town names that your ancestors came from may be spelled in peculiar ways as well.
My first attempt to find individuals who came from my ancestral shtetl of Kupiskis, Lithuania, was to look up a family who I knew to have emigrated to Paterson, NJ. An example was David PELOVITZ who is listed on his Declaration of Intention on December 26, 1925, as living at 183 Harrison Street, Paterson, NJ, as being from Kupishki, Lithuania. He was born January 23, 1903 and came to America from Rotterdam on the vessel Rotterdam. He was listed as a wood turner and single. He was also known as Pelovic.
This is a great record as David's birth is not recorded in the Kupiskis Births. However, his siblings are listed and we know then that his father was Abram-Eliash ben Movsha-Itsek Pelovitz. Abram-Eliash Pelovitz was a mohel in Kupiskis. A further Petition for Naturalization record of five pages dated 1929 is also available which states that David came to America on March 22, 1921. He was now living at 215 Governor Street, Paterson, NJ., still single and was known as David Pellow.
Another find was the Petition for Citizenship for Dina BLOCK, living at 289 Water Street, Paterson, NJ, on October 30, 1931. She was born in Kuperkis, Lithuania on June 1, 1882, as Dina Jaffe, and arrived in NY from Libau on October 2, 1906, on the SS Korea. Her husband was Louis Block, born 1883 in Kuperkis, Lithuania, arrived in NY in 1908, married December 3, 1910 in Paterson, NJ, children born in Paterson, NJ, were Samuel Block, born September 27, 1910, Barney Block, born July 22, 1912, and Pauline Block, born April 24, 1916. Note discrepancy between when the couple was married and when their first child was born. This was probably an error on the part of either Dina or the Clerk perhaps.
What is more interesting is the Petition for Citizenship for Dina’s husband Louis Block who stated that he was from Kovno and his wife was Lena! He is listed as living at 289 Water Street. Close investigation of the document reveals that Dina requested that her name be changed to Lena!
The only thing missing from the information about Dina/Lena was that of the names of her parents so that she could be linked to a particular Jaffe family in Kupiskis. There were quite a number of Jaffe families, it would be difficult to determine anything without first names. Probably, the marriage certificate in Paterson, NJ, would have the names and resolve that mystery.
One of the great things about this database is that you can search either by surname or country. Testing this search parameter, I tried by country, Lithuania, and found the following record on May 22, 1923:
Harry Cohen, a coal dealer, living at 129 Montgomery Street, Paterson, NJ, age 33, born Kupishok, Lithuania, September 5, 1889, came to America on the SS Zeeland from Antwerp, Belgium, on July 28, 1906, married to Lena who was born in Dwinsk (Daugavpils, Latvia).Also, Samuel Cohen, on May 22, 1923, a junk dealer, living at 158 Fulton Place, Paterson, NJ, born Kupishok, Lithuania, January 5, 1892, came to America from Libau on the vessel SS Russia, April 30, 1907 (9), married to Anna, who was born in Subsz, Lithuania.
These two Cohen individuals appear to be brothers with one coming to America first. Another Cohen with a record in 1896, Samuel Cohen, was born 1869, a glazer, living at 2 Avon Street, Paterson, NJ. He was found to be from Kupisek which was written on the front cover of his paperwork and not in his actual papers. It goes to show you that you should look carefully at every scrap of paper in the database.
There are, at least, five known separate Cohen families in Kupiskis and they are hard to track. At least, these records may help resolve some questions about those family members who came to America and who they belonged to. An additional record was for Jacob Miller, on November 29, 1924, a painting contractor, born Koopsig, Kovna, Lithuania, on January 10, 1896, living at 385 - 11 Avenue, Paterson, NJ, who came to America through Hamburg on the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria, August, 1912, married to Bessie, born NY.
Again, this is a choice record as there are a number of Meller, Muller, Milner families in Kupiskis who became Miller when they left. This may take some time to determine who this person actually was and which specific family he belonged to. Perhaps his tombstone may enlighten the researcher with his father’s name. It certainly points to checking the Paterson burials which have not yet been put on the JOWBR.
Another type of search I decided to do was of my own name of Rabinowitz. I pulled up eight (8) entries with the year of their application and place of birth: Bertha (1945, Krynki, Poland), Betty (1924, Bobrinsk, now Babruysk, Belarus), Isaac (1892, no info as the record was too early), Jacob (1907, Kamenetz, now Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine), Louis (1912, Vitebsk, Belarus), Samuel (1923, Bialobregi, now Bialobrzgi, Poland), Saul (1935, Bialystok, Poland), and Solomon (1928, Bialystok, Poland).
They all seemed to originate in what had been Galicia, the hotbed of Eastern European emigration to America. However, none were members of my family. Many years ago, Monica Leonards, z’l, a JewishGenner, whose ancestors were from Kupiskis, decided to pull out all of the Kupishokers who had come through Ellis Island and had specified that shtetl. When Monica had gotten the listing together, she gave it to me. This was a wonderful tool which I have utilized often over the years since then as the listing included not only the information on the emigrant, but who they had gone to and where and included links to the actual ship’s manifest (somewhat later, Stephen Morse had provided this capability on his One Step site).
Utilizing Monica’s listing, I decided to pull out all those who also specified that they were also going to Paterson, NJ. The names of the families were Adirim, Bloch, Gordon, Griff, Miller, Motelsohn, Ramang, Sak, Wienebrocki, and Zieper. I hit paydirt with the first name of Adirim as I found Chaim Adirim which the Ellis Island records showed as having come to America with his mother Dusha and his siblings Aron and Guttman on June 12, 1905 on the SS Moltke. The entire family is listed as ending up in the hospital upon arrival before meeting their father Abe in Paterson.
The Kupiskis marriage records showed that Chaim’s father was Abel ben Mordkhel Adirim, who married Dusha bat Girsh Brozin in 1898. Of further interest is that Abel Adirim, who was born in 1872 and was a butcher, left Hamburg on the SS Pennsylvania, on March 2, 1904 and arrived in New York on March 25, 1904, and was going to his cousin Jossel Lipschitz, 5 Grace Street, Worcester, MA. Evidently, Abel Adirim either did not actually go to his cousin or did not find Worcester to his liking and moved to Paterson, NJ. In any event, he was ready to receive his family in Paterson in 1905 when they arrived.
Going to the 1910 Census, the Adirim family is found in Wayne, NJ, which is in Passaic County and they had expanded now to Abe and Dorothy, the parents, and children Aaron, Herman, Goodman, Harold and Max. However, the family name has been mangled and is transcribed as Adersom and Adiriom.
Then, switching to the naturalization record, I found that Chaim had been born on October 12, 1901. Great info as the Kupiskis birth records did not include any births from 1901-1905. Also, more importantly, the record specified that Chaim Adirim became known as Herman Adrian and that he had married Pearl on January 1, 1928 and had two children Renee Irma and Aaron Lewis.
This combination of tools, the Ellis Island ship’s manifest, the Passaic County naturalization records, the US Census and the Kupiskis marriage records had provided quite a family tree in short order.
Another avenue I decided to pursue in regard to the naturalizations was that of the records for my grandmother’s brothers-in-law. The first one I decided to look up was Samuel Simon who had married my great aunt Rose Zadekowitz. Sure enough, there he was listed as being born in Bauska, Latvia, in 1885, and living at 220 Water Street, Paterson, NJ, and working as a painter and paper hanger.
This was delightful news as it confirmed a family bubbe meise about how he came to marry my great aunt. He was said to have boarded with my great grandfather and met my great aunt in that manner. And so it seemed to be as the address on the naturalization record was that of my great grandfather. Further, my other great aunts had married a group of brothers from Bauska, the Hillman brothers. They had all boarded with my great grandfather in Paterson as well. Apparently, the reason Simon had boarded there too was that they knew each other from Bauska.
When I went to search in the naturalization records for one of the Hillman brothers, I found Moris (Morris) Hillman who was born in Bauska in 1882 and was a painter and paper hanger. He had married my great aunt Jenny. Here was a connection to Samuel Simon who was around the same age and was in business with Morris. Not only that, Morris was listed as coming to New York on September 17, 1906, from South Africa, which confirmed another family bubbe meise that the Hillman brothers had first gone to South Africa to relatives before coming to America.
The naturalization records were proving to be the linchpin in a successful delving into my family tree. Without the details provided in the records, I would not have been able to confirm many facts about my relatives.
One other interesting item came up in my search as I had not been able to find the ship that Samuel Simon came to America on. The naturalization record stated that he came on the SS Vaderland and arrived in New York on April 18, 1905. A fellow researcher, Paul Cheifitz, managed to find the manifest and showed me that the name had been mangled in both the writing and transcribing of it.
Not only that, but now that I had the manifest from 1905, I could see that Samuel Simon, listed as Shmuil Salmino, had gone to a cousin Samuel Olswanger. There was a family bubbe meise that we were related to the Olswanger family and my father had visited them in New York. This connection to Samuel Simon was therefore very tantalizing and I felt that perhaps this was the person to whom my father had referred to.
JewishGenner researcher Barbara Zimmer generously assisted after I had posted on JewishGen about the Olswanger family as she found further information on them in the Census in New York. Samuel and Fanny Olswanger were the parents of Rose and Alma and two other children and Samuel was a house painter as Samuel Simon was.
In addition, Anna Olswanger, who is the coordinator of the Olswanger family group, was able to provide me with information as well. However, the connection to the Olswangers is still in the works and, I hope, one day to find out further information from descendants of the family.
In addition to the Passaic County Naturalization, another local resource which can enhance one’s knowledge of the Paterson and/or Passaic County Jewish community is The Jewish Historical Society of Northern New Jersey
So, my delving into the Passaic County naturalizations continues and I hope to find more tidbits of information on many more families.