Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Family's Name Changed at Ellis Island

A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]
Polish immigrants Aleksy and Brygida Charzewski were dismayed to find their name changed to "Chesley" at Ellis Island.

"I had heard of this sort of thing happening," says Aleksy, "but I never imagined it would happen to us."

The Charzewskis were visiting the Ellis Island National Monument on Monday with their daughter when the park ranger leading their tour began calling them by the wrong name. Residents of America for just two years, they felt too intimidated by the ranger's uniform to correct him.

"The man asked for our name at the beginning of the tour," Brygida explains. "My husband was ill from the ferry ride, so perhaps he did not pronounce it clearly enough."

Park Ranger Mark Collins insists that "Chesley" was the name told to him and that, besides, personnel at Ellis Island are not allowed to change anyone's name.

"Our job is just to move people through the place and weed out the troublemakers—that's it." Collins grudgingly accepts some of the blame. "It's my mistake I didn't send them back the minute they stepped off the boat. The father looked like he had typhus or something."

The Charzewskis—or "Chesleys," as they now feel compelled to call themselves—are just happy that the experience is over.

"I only wish that I had paid for better tickets," Aleksy says, scowling. "I don't know why the Ellis Island Ferry even has steerage compartments."

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