Being John Miszkowiec: Ellis Island Immigrant

Millions of Americans from all walks of life can trace their ancestry back just a few generations to Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation estimates that there are approximately 100 million living descendants of Ellis Island immigrants. Between 1892 and 1924, 22 million people passed through the island on their way to what my Italian ancestors called “la Terra Promessa.” Of those 22 million immigrants, count all four of my maternal great-grandparents and three maternal great-great-grandparents (5 Italians, 1 Scottish woman and 1 Irishman). Ellis Island records of all seven have been found.

My wife did not claim the Ellis Island mantle. Her Danish, Swedish and northern Polish ancestors went to the Midwest in the 1870s and 1880s, before Ellis Island opened. Her Irish-born mother, uncle and maternal grandparents arrived in America around 1960, obviously well after Ellis Island closed. Two great-grandfathers remained unaccounted for. A Norwegian named Ole and a Pole named John. Ole arrived in 1901, right in the Ellis Island sweet spot but he came through Boston, went to Minnesota and eventually settled in Michigan. John Miszkowiec arrived about 1905 but how and where was a mystery – until now.

When I began my hunt for John, I was well aware that the name Miszkowiec and its derivations would be hard to find. Multiple sources would surely butcher the Polish name and without fail, it was spelt in some crazy ways. But for the fact I knew he and his wife began life together in the Midwest and settled in Fresno, my beginning would have met a quick end. Their children were born in three separate states, so that gave me a general sense of where he was living at particular times.

His wife, Rose, was from Wisconsin but their paper trails converge in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I assume she made her way to Kalamazoo with her brother, who worked and was married there (I found out later). John and Rosie’s marriage record, however, has remained illusive. I am aware they were married in 1909 but it wasn’t in Kalamazoo County (searched through marriage records there and found nothing). The first child was born in Michigan, then others in Wisconsin and then more children born later in California. Each successive census record said the same thing. John was Polish, born about 1884 and came to America around 1905. The census records specifically stated he was Austrian Polish or Galician, which narrowed down his possible birthplaces substantially. Simply put, Krakow.

The Social Security death index indicated a correct birth date. The closest I got to his origins remained Galicia, with Krakow being the most populated and obvious place to look. So I churned through FamilySearch and read pages of Tarnow Diocese indexing records. There were plenty of Mis(z)kowiecs. I had the correct area but still no John or Jan, as it said in Polish. I found one record with a Josephus Miskowiec being baptized a week after John’s birthday. It was suspicious to me because John’s only son was named Joseph. Could it be him?

Now I reached an impasse. I went back to the census records and looked again. In the 1920 census, John indicated to that he submitted naturalization papers. As far as I knew, he never became a citizen. Folks, if you see “Pa” of “Na” on a census page, go find the papers! Naturally, I had to figure out where the man filed those papers. Thankfully, Ancestry.com has indexed thousands of old city directories. He was living in Wausau, Wisconsin around 1917, when the census said he applied for citizenship.

The Deutschland

The Deutschland

I went back to FamilySearch and found digitized Wisconsin declaration of intention papers. After a quick search of the microfilmed index, there was John Miszkowiec, born 24 May 1884 in Kojszuwka, Poland (just south of Krakow) married to a woman named Rosie who was born in Wisconsin. Declaration papers also have very specific immigration information because the government wanted to know when exactly you came here and be able to verify it. John’s record said he left Hamburg, Germany on the ship Deutschland and arrived in New York on 12 Oct 1906. Was it proof that Wifey was a descendant of an Ellis Island immigrant? There was a problem…

Previously, because I knew John arrived about 1905, I had typed hundreds of different derivations of the Miszkowiec name and found nothing in the Ellis Island database. Now I was armed with real facts from both sides of the Atlantic. First, instead of going back to the Ellis Island website, I first went to Ancestry.com and their digitized Hamburg Passenger Lists. Fortunately, the 1906 records were intact. On the emigration list for 4 Oct 1906, sailing on the Deutschland: Jan Miskowiec, 22, from Kojszuwka.

Finally, it was down to finding him on the passenger list at Ellis Island. I found the Deutschland manifest and searched the names again and again. Nothing, nothing and more nothing. My problem was symptomatic of doing online research. Nothing is a better substitute than the actual, original paper manifest. Luckily, in lieu of traveling back to New York and going to the museum, Ellis Island’s original manifests are provided alongside the digitized index. After digitally rummaging through a few pages, I came across a page with a few names I recognized from the Hamburg manifest. I said to myself, “He must be on this page.” I scrolled slowly down the page, not where his name would be but where a person’s last residence and final destination were logged. About two-thirds down the page, I found it. Last residence: Kojszuwka; Final Destination: Kalamazoo. I lurched my finger to the left toward the name column, age 22 and a tear… no, a massive hole. The entire bottom left corner was missing. Time literally took a bite out of my family history. Here is the manifest with the big gaping missing piece!

Regardless of whether we can see the name, which is lost forever, all the evidence clearly shows that John “Jan” Miszkowiec was born in Kojszuwka, Poland (formerly Austria-Hungary) and immigrated from Hamburg, Germany on the ship Deutschland through Ellis Island on 12 Oct 1906. It certainly is definitive proof that Wifey is an Ellis Island descendant too.

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