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     In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison established that Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, should be the primary immigrant processing station on the East Coast. January 1, 1892, the newly constructed processing canter started operation. At the start of World War I the influx of immigrants from Europe dwindled to a trickle. Although immigrants from Europe were also processed at the ports of Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia, during this 22 year period the majority passed through Ellis Island. Among them were hundreds of thousands of Poles, mainly peasant farmers from the Austrian and Russian partititions of Poland. These included 57 bearing the name Biega, almost all from southern Poland - the Austrian occupied province of Galicia - especially the villages of Dębna and Mrzygłód. After World War I, the impoverished farmers no longer needed to emigrate, they found work in the industries and commerce of the new free Polish Republic.

     The tabulation lists all the Biegas processed through Ellis Island. Biega records at Ellis Island

     To my surprise I found almost no correlation with the tabulations of Biega families in the the U.S. Census of 1910, 1920, 1930.
     Several factors contibute to this unexpected result.

  1. A number of Polish immigrants came through other ports, such as Boston and Philadelphia. In addition many records were destroyed in a fire in 1897.
  2. Both in Ellis Island records, as well as in the Census, many spelling errors were made, particularly in writing Polish names or in interpreting answers given by people not speaking English. In the tabulation above I corrected all obvious mis-spellings (Dębna alone was spelled six different ways!). If the name Biega itself was mis-spelled, the records have been lost, or at least cannot be retrieved.
  3. By the time of the 1910 or 1920 census, many Poles had anglicized their first names. For example Wojciech might become Albert, Adalbert, Al or something else. Often only the mother or a grandmother was home, she would be hazy about such details as the date when the family arrived in the U.S., even about the birth-date of the head of the family, often did not understand the questions. In addition, if nobody was home when the census-taker knocked on the door, no record was made. Census takers were supposed to come back a second time, but frequently did not, especially in blue-collar immigrant neighborhoods.

I gratefully acknowledge the great work done by the Elllis Island Organization to digitize all the records and make them available for researchers.

How to pronounce those difficult Polish words. Listen to the audio.

Where the Biega families came from. Also in Polish.

The Ellis Island Organization.
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