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Photo credit: Peter Bellis/Flickr

Today is Welcome Wednesday. This prompt inspires me to write about my ancestors’ arrival in the United States. My grandma Tanya’s brother Alexander (aka Sasha) Peckler was the first member of the family to come to America.

Sasha left Zhitomir (which is now in Ukraine, but was then the Russian Empire) in 1910, when he was 22. He traveled under the name of Schaje Pekler in steerage class on the SS Hannover, which left Bremen on September 22  and arrived in Philadelphia on Oct 5 1910. His marital status is listed as single. But he did not travel alone.

Listed right after him in the passenger list were three young women: Lise Gorlowsky, Malke Gorlowsky, and Rebecca Gorlowsky – all of them single and of marriageable age (24, 17, and 20). Ditto marks in certain columns indicate that the 3 sisters traveled with Sasha.

It was scandalous for a single woman to travel with a single man – especially on a journey that would take 2 weeks to cross the Atlantic. The Victorian era had only ended in 1901, and most of its strict moral standards trickled over to the Edwardian era.

How could this have happened? Perhaps the fact that Sasha was a teacher meant that he was so well respected that he could act as a travel companion, even though he was 2 years younger than Lise.

I know from personal memory that Sasha married Lise (plus I have a copy of their marriage certificate). I suspect that Sasha was already engaged to Lise at the time they emigrated from Russia. Under those circumstances, especially since she had two sisters with her who could act as chaperones, it might have been considered socially acceptable.

But there is an even better explanation. There is a column on the passenger list in which the nearest relative who remained in the passenger’s home town is listed. Sasha listed his father, Naftula Pekler. The three women indicated Naftula as that person also, and that he was their uncle; thus, Sasha would have been their cousin, and therefore a suitable travel companion. As far as I know, the Gorlowskys and Peklers were not related. So this little white lie was likely how the sisters protected themselves from being perceived as behaving improperly.

Interestingly, there are marginal notes that record the naturalization certificate numbers that were later issued for Sasha, Malke (who was known as Manya in Chicago) and Rebecca (who was known as Rivka). Sasha was  naturalized in 1916, and one of his witnesses was Jacob Patofsky, who later became president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ Union.


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