The Young Americans

Over the last few weeks I’ve been undertaking an epic clean out of about two dozen boxes, and wow, is it still paying dividends! I’ve been sharing my finds on my Facebook page, including my grandmother Mitzi Cummings’ wedding dress and satin slip, as well as oodles of embroidered linens from my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings’ home in Los Angeles.

But I’ve now been blessed with discoveries from the other side of the tree — from my grandfather’s Fingerman family — including rediscovering these early studio portraits of Sol (my grandfather), his older brother Sam, and younger sister Esther, probably from the 1920s.

Sam Esther Sol Fingerman studio photos 1920s
Siblings Sol, Sam, and Esther Fingerman.

These would’ve been taken in Denver, where the family settled at some point after my great grandparents Sucher and Feige Fingerman emigrated from Kamenetz, Russia, which is now Ukraine.

What I discovered is that Sucher (later Sam Sr.) arrived in New York first in late 1906, followed by Feige (also known as Faygele and Americanized to Fannie) with 11 month old Sam a few months later in May 1907. They must have stayed on in New York for at least a couple of years, as my grandfather Solomon (always shortened to Sol*) was born there in 1908. The couple’s youngest child, Esther, was born in Denver in 1911.

As I read their manifest papers following their arrivals at Ellis Island, all I could think about was how hard it must have been for Sucher to leave his wife and newborn baby behind. Who knew what her circumstances were… Perhaps there was no money for them to leave together. Perhaps he needed to assure himself it was the right thing to do. Maybe it was both.

Esther Fingerman studio portrait possibly graduation
Another fabulous studio portrait, possibly my great aunt Esther’s graduation photo.

Of course, every leg of that trip was hard and there was no guarantee of making it safely. Crossing through several countries over several weeks, with Yiddish and Russian as your only languages, must have been frightening and lonely.

But the desire to make it to America, and reunite with other family members who had left before them, was very powerful.

popa young boy w Esther and Sam
An earlier photo of the Fingerman children, circa 1919, and taken in their father’s tailoring shop in Denver.

In fact, it makes me wonder what took them so long, as they were surely at the trail end of a massive wave of immigration by Jews from Russia and Ukraine to the US and Canada that started in the 1880s. In fact, another set of great-grandparents, Jacob and Sarah Meir (later Mayer), fled to Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada also from what is now Ukraine.

Their eldest son, Louis B. Mayer, would leave for New York, then Boston, then Haverhill, then Los Angeles. After settling there with his own family and co-founding Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he brought over his siblings, including my great-grandmother Ida and her four children, as well as his father, Jacob, by then a widower.

Much later, Sol, a boy from Denver, would meet Mitzi, a girl from sunny LA…

I am so grateful to my mother who entrusted me many years ago with these photos, as well as Sol and Mitzi’s letters from 1939, written back and forth between LA and Denver after he rushed to Feige’s hospital bed in early March. It appears that after her death, he stayed to help Sam Sr. and Esther cope with their huge loss, relocated them into an apartment, and ended up working for McCann Erickson’s Denver office for the remainder of that year.

I am often drawn to these letters but I had forgotten about these fabulous photos of the new young Americans.

* My grandfather later changed his name to Sol Baer Fielding.

Copyright 2018 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.