Dec 10, 2019 | History

Emigration Documents

Subscribe for updates

Our purpose at Dorosh Heritage Tours is to make genealogy come alive, and our blog shares our most recent research discoveries in this area with you.

Today we will look at the the number of documents that our ancestors had to obtain, read, sign and submit to a variety of government departments and various other authorities in order to emigrate. This must have seemed to  them to be an overwhelming task. Yet, they all did it, because they wanted to improve the lives of their families.  So let us take a look at what our ancestors had to accomplish prior to leaving.

This post will be of particular interest to those whose ancestors emigrated from Volhynia and Poland after WWI. It is based on the research of emigrants’ files in the “Department of the Emigration Syndicate in the City of Rivne”, that Dorosh Heritage Tours of Ukraine conducted in the State Archives of Rivne Province, present Ukraine. It was an interesting project!

So, first, a few words about the Syndicate. Its main task was to assist emigrants before departure and during travel: in particular, they would provide relevant information, assist in obtaining the necessary documents, mediate the purchase of rail and maritime tickets, assist in obtaining loans, and ensure the completion of all formalities at home and abroad. It was very surprising to realize that despite all the progress over the last several decades, emigration regulations haven’t changed much: the requirements for crossing borders in the present day are still very similar to what our ancestors had to do in the 1st half of the 20th century!

Safety issues were a big concern and the Syndicate tried to educate its customers in this matter. Here is a special “Warning for Emigrants” and its translation:

warning for emigrants from Emigration Syndicate

Various thieves and scammers prey upon emigrants. They wait near the offices, consulates, ships offices, at train stations and on trains and trams, so they can rob the emigrants or extort money from them. That is why the Emigration Syndicate advises you to always avoid:

1. Talking about emigration with unknown people while traveling;

2. Picking up any kind of “lost” wallets, handbags or parcels;

3. Trusting unknown people who meet emigrants on the streets, at gates or staircases, claiming to be a “consul” or a “secretary”;

4. Giving their documents to unknown persons to check;

5. Buying any “packages” with materials for clothes, overcoats and shirts from unknown, randomly met people;

6. Buying “golden coins” or “diamonds” from unknown people, because the items are usually fake;

7. Strange people who suddenly start calling you “my uncle” , or suddenly admit some kind of kinship with you;

8. Asking strangers for directions;

9. Being treated with cigars, cigarettes or chocolate that have been altered with substances to put the travelers to sleep, in order to later rob them on the train or in waiting rooms;

10. Asking questions of people other than police officers in uniforms, or women from the Railway Mission who wear a white and yellow armband on the streets and at railway stations;

11. Asking questions of people other than train or tram conductors on trams or trains.

In all emigration matters, you must contact ONLY the Emigration Syndicate Offices, which provide immigrant advice and legal assistance completely free of charge, as well as assistance with the preparation of documents related to the trip.

I must say that this process was more “civilized” compared to the 1st wave that took place before WWI (read more about the 1st wave in our future posts) when scam, bribery and racketeering were so much more common. So, what were the documents that every emigrant had to collect in order to leave the country?

– In this photo  you can see the PASSPORT of Smyk Kornij, a farmer of Pakhinia village, Kremenets District, who decided to find a  better life with his wife, Pelagia and daughter, Nadia, 5 months old, in Argentina. The passport included the family picture, and contained information on his profession and a short description of the appearance of Kornij and Pelagia. It was the key document. Every applicant had to visit the Gmina (Community) council to obtain their passport there. This service was free.

PASSPORT image 1 of Smyk Kornij, a farmer of Pakhinia village, Kremenets District
PASSPORT image 2 of Smyk Kornij, a farmer of Pakhinia village, Kremenets District
PASSPORT image 3 of Smyk Kornij, a farmer of Pakhinia village, Kremenets District

–  It was necessary to provide A COPY OF THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE. The Orthodox and Catholic populations received their certificates at their parish center, and they were based on the metric record. At the same time, an entry was made in the church book to record the date the copy was made: it is the inscription that we see in the birth records so often. Lutherans and Evangelicals had to make an application at Gmina (Community) Council. The birth certificates for the Jewish emigrants were provided by the Rabbi. All extracts from the birth records had to be certified at the Povit (District) Council.

– The authorities tried to keep track of reserve soldiers, so each male applicant had to provide a MILITARY CERTIFICATE. Prior to departure, among other papers, every male had to deliver these certificates as military ID and proof of registration, along with a mobilization card to the district military administration. These documents were checked before boarding the transport, and those males who did not possess the necessary proof of this requirement were sent home at their own expense.

– What do you think about the “CERTIFICATE OF MORALITY, INTELLECTUALITY AND ABILITY TO WORK”? Sounds great to me! The certificate you can see here confirms that Stepanczuk Alexander from Koloverty village of Mezhyrichchia Community (Present Rivne province of Ukraine) did not have any criminal record for 5 years, did not have any mental disability, never went begging and was able to do physical and mental work.

Certificate of mortality, intellectuality and ability to work

– The AFFIDAVIT OF SUPPORT was a miracle-working document that improved the chances for the emigrant’s positive resolution of his/her emigration matters.  In this picture you can see the document provided by Harry Sudman, who resided in Chicago and invited his 20 year-old daughter from the town of Wisniowiec in Krzemeiniec District to come to the US.

United States of America Affidavit of Support

– Every potential emigrant had to receive a clean bill of health and provide a HEALTH CARD with a photo and a stamp of the doctor. It cost 2 Zloty per each family member. In the card of Bozhena Stranska, a 6 year-old girl, we can find general information about the diseases that would not let one get the approval of the doctor: tuberculosis, trachoma, leprosy, cancer, incurable and contagious diseases, mental illness and mental retardation, blindness, hearing problems, fractures or other physical impairments that impede physical labor. In the case of pregnancy, women who were 5 months pregnant or more had to receive a doctor’s special permission immediately prior to departure before they could board the transport. It should be noted that the departure of the family was possible only under the condition that every member of the family was healthy. If any member of the family became ill (caught a cold, had cough, red eyes, rash or other skin lesions, fever) in the period between the examination by the doctor and the arrival to Rivne (with their belongings and all the necessary documents to proceed with the transfer to another transport), they were obliged to inform the syndicate department immediately and receive treatment instructions from the Syndicate doctor. If at least one family member was ill, the whole family was put on hold and had to wait for special permission to proceed from the Syndicate.

Health card with photo and stamp from doctor

– The Syndicate also facilitated the matter of TRANSPORTATION: they chose the shipping company and organized the train connections. “Linia Gdynia-Ameryka”, which operated the ships of Kosciuszko, Pulawski, Polonia, was one of the key shipping companies of that time. You can see the official letter of the company to Mrs. Luba Slowinska from Nowy Wisniowiec town, Krzemieniec District, Wolyn Voivodship. It advises Mrs Luba to board Polonia ship in Gdynia on June 3, 1933. To get to Gdynia Mrs. Luba had to get a railway ticket at the Emigration Sydicate to travel from Kowel (present Kovel in Ukraine) to Warsaw. She had to arrive at Warsaw with a valid passport and her luggage on May 31 to settle the formalities and to then take the train to Gdynia. She was allowed to carry 100kg of luggage without any additional payment! Some other shipping companies allowed 50kg of luggage per person.

official transportation letter to Mrs. Luba Slowinska from Nowy Wisniowiec town, Krzemieniec District, Wolyn Voivodship.

– 2 PHOTOS, 7*7cm. It is interesting to note that the photo paper was very thin, which made it impossible to retouch the image or make any changes. The background had to be white. Pay attention to the feet of the photographer’s assistant who is holding the white cloth. In most cases the applicants were photographed without a hat/head cloth. We saw the photos of women wearing head cloths, but they were very rare. One of the photos had to be certified by the Community Council to prove authenticity.

emigration photo

In looking at all those many photos on passports, certificates and other documents from the 1930’s, it made us realize that the people did not really understand how lucky they were, and how crucial these steps for emigration were going to be for their fate. Just a couple of years later WWII took the lives of approximately 14 million people in Poland and Ukraine.

There is much more to come in future blogs and we invite you to follow Andriy Dorosh on FB to get notifications about these future posts. We are also pleased to offer assistance with your family research in Ukraine and with exploring the mysterious past of your ancestors. Our heritage tours of Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia will let you learn much about your roots. We can make your Ukraine experience the trip of a life time.