Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Elusive Surname - Stevens

I grew up told the Stevens were German. Turns out they are from Hungary. That adds a little excitement to the family tree I hadn't expected and a long list of new questions. I have mostly done US so far. I want to tackle the Scotland next that was my maternal grandmother's line but I do have a sense of Scotland and growing up with it part of being us so I pretty much know how to tackle that branch. Hungary however is a foreign language and a world that I know enough about in history and what I learned in European history and what reading I have done on my own but I do not "know" about Hungary. This will be a true learning experience. I have had help by other family genealogists with my known family tree. For this branch I am on my own.

I posted to GenForum tonight. I have to say that people there seem very nice so far. That is where I found out about the Stevens line on the Michigan board. I am a novice in so many ways and try to ask questions that sound intelligent and asked with enough detail (I hope) and not sounding like I am asking people to do the work for me however, I do need help with this branch, I know nothing about this side of the world. So, I posted to see mainly see how someone from Hungary would get to the US, I have no idea what country they might travel to and what Port City. Suggestions have come and I am eager to start on some of the suggestions.

My Post:


I have a branch of my family that is very elusive. With a major breakthrough in finding a cousin on the Stevens side of the family, I am faced with genealogy searches in Hungary. (I had been raised on the family story that my great grandfather came from Germany not Hungary)

In trying to figure out where, or even how, to start searching I think my first question is how would they have traveled to the US, through ports of Germany?

The information I do have is his name in Michigan was John Stevens, born 1887 in Yugoslavia but on the 1930 census he said he was born there, but parents were Hungarian. His wife was named Mary and she was from Hungary. They came to the US and arrived in Detroit Michigan in 1912. My mother remembers my grandfather saying the name was Americanized to Stevik (using that spelling having found it on a Radix list).

I feel like I am walking around in the dark. We have no information on him except for that one census and my experience in tracking down an ancestor across the sea is limited.

Any hints or where to starts would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time!

The responses:

The first question is easy. They bought a railroad ticket and maybe even a steamship ticket in their hometown, jumped on a train and where at the port of departure in no more than 2 days. The German ports and others were set up with crude but efficient facilities to house and feed travelers till they got on the boat. At Norddeutcher-Lloyd in Bremen the emigrants were on train cars that dropped them off right inside the shipping company's compound.
Next, the Hungary that existed before 1920 was the Kingdom of Hungary. It was about 3-4 times bigger than modern Hungary. That Hungary was a multi-ethnic country where the population was made up of 5-7 different ethnic groups. Over time many people claimed allegience to one ethnic group but their names showed their ancestors were from another. Since the coutry was run by the Magyar part of the population being seen as a Magyar brought certain benefits. The process was called "magyarization" and you can find out about it on the web.
The name you posted looks like the a South Slav name. Probably spelled Stevic. And after 1920 the territory they lived in, then called BACSKA and today called VOIVODINA is now the northernmost part of Serbia. I can't say this for certain but it is highly likely.
Records from their hometown probably exist and probably are available in the US but you have to know the place name. All the old records are indexed by EXACT place name.
The places the hometown would be identified would be the ship manifest, a natrualization file, if not a citizen in 1940 then the Alien Registration card, and finally the SS-5, application for Social Security.
Once you have a place name you can start on the next part of the search.

What language was spoken by this ancestor?
Any draft registration form, naturalization petition, social security numbers, Alien Registration Form, baptismal record?
I am sure you are aware that country of Yugoslavia no longer.

Do you have a placename in "old" Hungary?

it is really big quise.
It is sure, the Stevens is not German and not Hungarian name. The Stevik also quastionable, what could be that name, which was Americanized to it? The English "S" is in Hungarian written as "sz" could it be Sztevics/Sztavics etc?
One thing is sure, only, and that could be a good start.
Yugoslavia existed from 1921, so in 1887 it could not be. In 1930 he knew, that part of Hungary or Croatia have been Yugoslavia, and he said for the census-worker, that is in Yugoslavia. ( and the statistics for got to write the word "now")
It would be good to look your and your family members' "pantry". Maybe you can find an envelope, a postcard, a letter what could be a good start. An other thing to look the documents in the cemetery's office, where he was buried. In those papers usually is written the birthplace more correctly. Same, what about the social insurance?
Let we see....

As you see, I have good information and places to start. Most importantly, my only source on John Stevens is his 1930 census for Detroit Michigan. I have not found him on a 1920 census yet and he did come to the US in 1912 per the census and his first child was born here in 1913. I can't find any information on him either. This family is very elusive!

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