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Glasgow Emigrants

One of the cool things about being a Glasgow-based researcher is that you come across all sorts of stories about people who used Glasgow as a staging point on a longer emigration journey. I came across one of these stories as part of my MSc studies at Strathclyde, and thought I'd share.

The Sukert Family

On 12 May 1895, a young Jewish couple, Philip SUKERT and Mary GRAZIFSKE, married at the southside Glasgow synagogue at 19 Thistle Street. The marriage was also recorded at the main Glasgow synagogue, where the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre maintains a huge library of Scottish-Jewish records and literature, in both English and Hebrew, with volunteers on hand to help with interpretation and translation.


Mary’s marriage certificate states her age as 20, giving 1875 as an approximate year of birth. No birth record could be found for Mary, but her parents, Iosel GRAZHEVSKI, and his wife Beilia TATEL, were located on a Russian Revision List, similar to a census return, for Zaludok, Vilnius region, in 1874. Zaludok at that time was in the Russian Empire, and is now in western Belarus. JewishGen volunteers have transcribed in English and indexed what Jewish records survive for eastern Europe for the pre-WW2 period, and their database provided the only documentary trace of the GRAZIFSKE family. Zaludok was an overwhelmingly Jewish town. Out of the 1,860 inhabitants in 1897, 1,372 (72%) were Jewish.


Philip SUKERT was born in what is now Poland on 12 May 1875. His parents were Naiach (Isaac) SUKERT, and Scheine JAGODNIK. No birth record can be traced for Philip, who later gives his place of birth as Ostrow. Ostrow-Mazowiecka is in eastern Poland, around 55 miles north-east of Warsaw. This was another predominantly Jewish town, with Jewish families accounting for 60% of the population in 1897. JAGODNIK, Philip’s mother’s surname, was the second most common among Jewish families in the town.

Although the hometowns of Philip SUKERT and Mary GRAZIFSKE are now in separate countries, in the 1890s they were both part of the enormous Russian Empire. Their reasons for leaving eastern Europe are likely to be broadly similar. Anti-Jewish riots were a regular occurrence in Western Russia in the 1880s, when Philip and Mary would have been children. Banned from living in most of the Russian Empire, Jewish families were confined to the Pale of Settlement, a broad area in the very west of Russia, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

Jewish people living in the Pale of Settlement were unable to own land or access education, and faced increasing levels of mob violence through the 1880s and 1890s. Many Jewish families chose to leave the Russian Empire altogether. Between 1880 and 1914, over 2 million Jews emigrated, many to the United States. Fares to America were expensive and many emigrants took the cheaper option of the shorter voyage from Hamburg to Hull or Leith, then on to Glasgow or Liverpool, the main transatlantic ports at the time.

The SUKERT family in Glasgow

The Jewish population of Glasgow almost tripled in the decade between 1891 and 1901, from 3,174 individuals to 8,969. Mary and Philip’s address given on their marriage certificate was 50 Crown Street, in the Gorbals. 50 Crown Street was high-density, tenement slum housing, with families living in close proximity. This was an overwhelmingly Jewish area; on the 1901 census the streets with the largest numbers of Jewish residents were Crown Street, where the SUKERTS lived, and Thistle Street, where they married.

After Theresa’s death in 1898, the family moved, and were living at 306 Lawnmarket in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile when their third child, Esther, was born on 10 November 1899. The family remained in Edinburgh for the 1901 census. Philip, by now 26, was listed as a manager in a tobacco shop. Mary, 27, also gave her occupation as tobacconist. The family returned to Glasgow later in 1901 for the birth of their fourth daughter, Dina(h). By 1903 Mary was running the family business, a tobacconist’s at 403 Eglinton Street in the Gorbals, and in the same year gave birth to her fifth child, Rosa, followed in 1904 by a sixth daughter, Rebecca.

The SUKERTs had by now been in Scotland for a decade, and had had six children, five of whom were still alive.

Emigration to the United States


Their decade in Scotland had clearly enabled the family to save enough money to complete their emigration. Philip’s younger brother, Abraham, was already in Glasgow, having married Annie BRIDGE in the city on 9 January 1901. On 2 November 1904, Philip’s mother Scheine JAGODNIK and daughter Eta/Annie departed Hamburg for Grimsby, giving Glasgow as their final destination.

By the early years of the 20th century, increased competition, quicker crossing times and increased capacity had driven the cost of a transatlantic ticket down to around £5. Prices of steerage tickets fluctuated, and figures show the end of 1904 was a “low fare period”, with the cost of a Liverpool to New York ticket falling to between £2 and £3. Perhaps taking advantage of this steerage ticket price war, Philip boarded the SS Baltic at Liverpool to sail for America.

At the time, the SS Baltic of the White Star Line was the largest passenger ship in the world, with a capacity of 2,875 passengers. The Captain, Edward SMITH, was later to captain the ill-fated Titanic. Only 1,776 passengers were booked on the 14th December voyage, confirming excess capacity at the time. The Baltic docked at Ellis Island on 23 December 1904.

Mary SUKERT and children

On 11 March 1905, Mary and her children boarded the SS Columbia in Glasgow, bound for New York. Also aboard was Scheine MILKER or JAGODNIK, Mary’s mother-in-law, and Scheine’s two children from her second marriage, Philip’s brother Abraham, Abraham’s wife Annie, and their two sons.

After 10 days at sea, the Columbia docked at Ellis Island, New York, on 21 March 1905. Mary had $7 in her pocket; not much money, even by 1905 standards. Mary’s admission papers stated an intention to join her husband at 19 Rutger Place, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Steerage class immigrants like the SUKERTs were not allowed to simply walk off the boat, and underwent a detailed inspection at Ellis Island first. The Ellis Island Foundation has digitised 65 million arrival records from 1820-1957, free of charge. This is an invaluable resource for any research involving immigration through the port of New York.

Mary and her five children were detained for further questioning by the Board of Special Enquiry at Ellis Island. This was not unusual; around 10% of passengers underwent additional immigration inquiries between 1892 and 1924. The cause of detention for Mary and her 5 children is given as “1 illegit ch”, or “illegitimate child”. But none of Mary’s children were illegitimate in the sense being born outside marriage.

The team at Ellis Island have offered an potential explanation.

They give the most likely scenarios as:

  • Mary and her children were travelling with her brother-in-law Abraham and his family. Officials assumed that Abraham had two wives, and all the SUKERT youngsters were his children.

  • Mary, with no English and poor literacy skills, completed paperwork incorrectly, giving the impression that Philip had been in the US longer than was possible for him to be the father of 5-month-old Rebecca.

United States and Naturalization – March 1905 - 1950

Two months after the Mary and the children arrived, the family appeared on the 1905 New York State Census. The SUKERTs were living in Forsyth Street, in a predominantly Russian Jewish area of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Two years and one day after arriving in New York, Mary gave birth to her seventh child and first son, Naiten, in Brooklyn in March 1907, and in 1912 had her eighth and final child, Lilian, who gives her place of birth as both New York, and Missouri.

Around 1911 the family moved to the Mid-West, buying land in Kansas City in 1911, and were listed in a 1912 directory running a dry goods store. In 1914, Philip SUKERT submitted his first application to become a naturalised US citizen in Kansas City. Philip’s first petition for naturalisation was denied due to an “incompetent witness”.

In 1917 the family moved to 211 North Western Avenue in Chicago, and the following year, Philip completed his WW1 draft card, giving the same address. In September 1925, Philip finally obtained his US citizenship after submitting the below “Declaration of Intention” in Chicago in 1918. His petition confirms his place of birth as Ostrow, and his date of arrival in the United States.

Mary died in April 1945, at the age of 70, followed by Philip in January 1952. Both are buried in Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, 4,500 miles from their birthplaces in Eastern Europe.

The Hebrew reads: “Phineas, son of Naiach, passed away 5 Tevet 5712. Miriam, daughter of Yosef, passed away 14 Iyyar 5705”. The headstone confirms the couple’s Hebrew names as Phineas and Miriam, and also their fathers as Naiach and Yosef.

The story of the SUKERT family and their journey from Russia through Scotland, onto New York and then Chicago is exceptional, yet commonplace at the same time. Thousands of passengers passed through the Glasgow docks to new lives in America. Were your ancestors among them? Get in touch and I can help you find out.


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