25 April 2009

Jerry Seinfeld: Family History Award, May 19

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld will receive a Family Heritage Award at the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation annual luncheon on May 19, and his grandparents' journey through Ellis Island will be spotlighted.

Expected to attend the event are Seinfeld’s motherBetty, 94, and his Aunt Orizia (known as Kitty), 100. His aunt also arrived through Ellis Island on a different voyage 99 years ago.

This news, along with Ancestry.com images, was detailed in "On The Records," a documents feature found in the New York Times' City Room, which tracks official and unofficial paperwork, underlying news of the New York area. It includes images of transcripts, letters, court records, invoices, audits and even parking tickets.

Century-old passenger manifests, newly public census records and naturalization papers, stitched together by the foundation and The New York Times, document the family’s hardscrabble journey, first to Brooklyn, then to the Bronx and ultimately, to Manhattan. Collectively, they trace just how far the comedian’s family has come since the days when his paternal grandfather, a 15-year-old tailor from Stanislau, then part of Austria, arrived by himself, penniless, at Ellis Island.

Learning about his ancestors’ harrowing journey has been sobering, Mr. Seinfeld said in a phone interview. “To me, these are scenes from ‘Godfather II,”’ he said. “They didn’t really come over on these boats and go to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It almost seems like a cliché. It’s theatrical imagery. You forget this really happened.”

In particular, he said he was struck by the independence of his grandfather’s solitary trip across the ocean. “I mean you wouldn’t let your kid in Disneyland do that,” he said.

The trail begins in 1903 when Mr. Seinfeld’s grandfather Simon Seinfeld set sail for New York from Le Havre on board the La Bretagne. It appears to invert his first and last name and lists him as “Seinfeld Schimscher” or possibly “Semfeld Schimscher.’’ Schimscher appears to be a version of his first name in Yiddish.

He was detained for a few hours for unknown reasons upon his arrival on March 10, as the record notes on the second page, and was later discharged into the custody of an uncle, Jake, of Orchard Street.
Author Author Alison Leigh Cowan asks readers to weigh in with additional passenger manifest details about Seinfeld's grandfather's voyage. She invites readers to browse, comment and enjoy primary source documents in the archived collection the feature is building. At my last check, more than 80 comments on this story had been contributed.

Have documents that you think New Yorkers must see? Send them here to On The Records.

The story covers census records, draft registration, a Turkish-Syrian mystery and more.

Read the complete article at the link above.


  1. Seinfeld just appeared in Seattle where he spoke affectionately about his gm.

  2. http://http//cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/seinfelds-back-story-about-something

    should be