Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lajos long forgotten: an immigrant baby's story

"Lajos." (Pronounced lah-yos).


The name is Hungarian for Louis.

I can't help but wonder when the name "Lajos" was last spoken by someone in my family.

I spoke the name "Lajos" with amazement when I found the May 4, 1907 ship passenger list that showed my Tóth family ancestors coming to America from Hungary via Hamburg and the ship U.S.S. Pennsylvania. The names of the Tóth family members traveling on the ship were listed as follows:
Maria, age 25 (my great-grandmother, actually age 23)

Maria, age 7 (her eldest daughter, actually age 6)

Ilona, age 3 (the second daughter, actually age 4 - whom I knew to be Aunt Helen: she had made some beautiful quilts that I remember fondly from my childhood, and I had recently visited with her daughter)

Pista, age 2 (little Stephen, not yet 2 1/2 years old - my grandfather, the last child known to have been born to the family while they lived in Hungary - he was mistakenly listed as female on this passenger list)

But listed below was another name: Lajos.

I had never heard anyone mention his name. A baby aged 6 months, the passenger list stated. He was an infant among the travelers on the trip to America. What had become of him?

Thanks to my local Family History Library, I had access to the civil birth records from the village of Gelej, Borsod County, Hungary where the family was from. I had recently searched for the records of each of the children of István & Maria (Németh) Tóth - from 1900 through 1904. I had found Maria Tóth, born November 3, 1900.

The next child was Ilona Tóth, born January 23, 1903.
It was a thrill to find my grandfather's name and date of birth, which was actually a few days different from the date we had always celebrated. Baby István Tóth, his father's namesake, was born on December 13, 1904.
I had stopped after finding my grandfather's record because I knew him to be last child born in Europe. That was a mistake on my part.

In a matter of days after finding Lajos' name on the passenger list of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania I was able to go back to the microfilms of the village registry and, sure enough, there was the name of baby Lajos: born December 2, 1906.

I spoke his name tenderly and my mind filled with questions. What must it have been like for my great-grandmother on that trip from Hungary to Germany and then on to the United States? She had traveled not only with three children, as I had thought, but without her husband and with a young baby. I had always been inspired by the thought of my great-grandmother Ilona Ujlaky's trip with her ill toddler who arrived at Ellis Island in 1909. Now, here was another great-grandmother whose trip posed even more of a challenge. How did she make it through such a difficult trial? And what had become of her baby, Lajos?

Last month I posted a twenty-five minute Ancestors episode about Ellis Island immigration here at 100 Years in America within my article entitled: The "isle of hope and tears" revisited. Along with other stories of Ellis Island and its immigrants, the video tells the touching story of a woman's discovery of her great-aunt's baby's name on the passenger list (who had been unknown to family members of the current generation) and her resulting search for the baby's final resting place.

I had watched the video with interest, touched by the story, with no idea that I would find myself in the same type of search for my unknown great-great-uncle: baby Lajos Tóth.

Did Lajos make it through the trip, or was he buried at sea? If he did make it to America, how long did he live, and where is he buried? In New York, where the family arrived, or in New Jersey where they first settled?

Unfortunately I cannot seem to find the family's arrival passenger list at Ellis Island. I have searched using various fields within Steve Morse's One-Step Ellis Island webpages, but still to no avail. But I will continue to do so. I feel compelled to learn the full story of baby Lajos and his short life.

In the meantime, I can't help but wonder when the name "Lajos" was last spoken in my family. Did his father, having arrived in America before his family, ever even see his young son? Did his siblings remember him years later as they spent their childhoods in America? Did his mother avoid mention of his name because of the painful memories that it brought to the surface for her?


Born over one-hundred years ago, he lived such a short life, but he is a part of my family and its history forever.

Author's notes:
For the continuation of baby Lajos Tóth's story, see Update on baby Lajos: his arrival at Ellis Island.
I had originally written the post entitled A little boy, a big ship and a brand new world, also about this family's trip to America, with a few errors. Because of Stephen Tóth's naturalization records I had understood that he had arrived via the ship Amerika. I had made the assumption that his family had traveled with his father, and I was unaware at that time of the existence of baby Lajos. My discovery of the passenger list for the family's trip on the ship U.S.S. Pennsylvania of the Hamburg-Amerika line gave me more accurate information and I have corrected my original post to reflect this change.


Hungary. Borsod. Gelej. Állami anyakönyvek, születtek [births], 1895-1908. Gelej (Borsod) Anyakönyvi Hivatal. FHL 2,227,088, item 5, pages 583, 628, 660, 704. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc. 2006. Original data: Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Bestand: 373-7 I, VIII (Auswanderungsamt I). Mikrofilmrollen K 1701 - K 2008, S 17363 - S 17383, 13116 - 13183.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa,

    What a great post! Sad in a way, but nice to find that name and speak it once again. But, I hate mysteries... especially since I just named Steve Morse's site as my favorite for the COG. So, let me put you at ease. Little Lajos survived the trip and did NOT die at should be able to find his death record in Trenton. How do I know this? I found them. I'll email you the Ellis Island record. I tried Steve's site for the ship name, month/year, age 23-25, and a Hungarian Maria with no last name. Ellis Island has them indexed as Foth.



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