Learning about your family story through travel and immigration records can be an exhilarating experience. Here is a brief, though incomplete, case study in how I learned more about my great-grandmother, Maria Tsardoulia (1894-1951) and her journey to the United States from Greece in 1916.
From researching census records I knew that Maria Tsardoulia came to the United States somewhere around 1916. Some Facebook help alerted me to The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island website. In this database of over 51 million passenger records you can search for details about your relative's arrival to the U.S. The site does require registration with an email address (or Facebook) but the basic search functions are free.
I had to do a little sleuthing because there were a variety of spellings of Maria's last name. In more current usage I have seen it as: Chardoulias, Chardoulia, Chardul, and other variations. The "T" in "Tsardoulia" threw me for a loop.
I came across the passenger list for S.S. Ioannina on September 28, 1916, departing from Piraeus, Greece. Page 1 indicates a Maria Tsardoulia (see highlighted section numbered 14). Arrived in New York City on October 24, 1916. That seems like a long commute time to me (almost a month), but I will do some research on transatlantic passenger ship travel times at a later date.
This was encouraging, but I wasn't completely confident yet. Page 2 of the passenger manifest provided the extra evidence that I needed. In the highlighted area on page 2 I saw Maria's final destination listed as Waterloo, Iowa. I already had a 1918 marriage certificate for Maria and my grandfather, Vasilios Halvangis (1891-1937), in Waterloo. Shortly after their marriage in Iowa they settled in Detroit, MI.
I knew Maria was not married when she came to the U.S. It seemed unlikely that an unmarried 22 year old woman would have been traveling by herself, but I found no other obvious family members listed on the passenger manifest.
I decided to look again at the manifest for clues.
What I found was a name and address of a George Tsardoulias (noted the added "s" on the end) listed under the relative or friend that Maria was joining in the U.S. The address was in Waterloo and it indicated that George was Maria's brother. This fit with some other information I had already had about Maria's siblings.
A few lines above Maria's name I found another name of interest, Emmanuil Mavrogeorghiou. That is quite a mouthful. Interestingly, the name listed under the relative or friend he was joining was the same George Tsardoulias in Waterloo, Iowa that my great-grandmother was joining. George was listed as Emmanuil's cousin. All the evidence points then to Maria and Emmanouil being cousins as well. Their exact relationship to each other remains to be determined.
Here is a QUICK TIP: Make Facebook your friend. I found a Hellenic Genealogy Geek page that was quite helpful. I posted an inquire there about the mystery person (Emmanouil) and within minutes got some help and even some additional information. For example, a member helped me find the village of origin on the passenger manifest. Though I knew that my great-grandmother was from Samos Island in Greece, I discovered her specific village in Samos was Tigani (present day Pythagoreion) and listed right there on the page.
On the The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island website you can also find information on specific ships. Here is the S.S. Ioannina that my great-grandmother, Maria Tsardoulia, sailed on when she began her immigration journey to the United States.
I've stared at this picture of the S.S. Ioannina and imagined what my great-grandmother's journey was like. I think about the stories she may have told to her children, including my grandfather. Did she ever make it back to Greece? What family members did she leave behind? Was she scared? Excited? How would her experience compare to the immigrants of today?
These are the types of questions I encourage you to explore as you look into your own family history. To know our ancestors is to know ourselves.
There are still some gaps in this story that I am looking forward to filling. I'll keep you posted as I learn more.
Good luck in finding your story!
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