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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes) Travel of Pēteris Rubenis and his family to America, day by day

7 Names: Erss, Ferders, Hūns (Huhn), Jostiņš, Rubenis, Rūniks, Sievers (Zīvers)

In this Page an episode of the history of Peteris Rubenis' family is described. Peteris Rubenis was a great grandfather of Bonnie Price with whom I discussed her family history matters, who sent me the copies of the documents and photographs, and allowed me to publish this information on this Site. Thank you, Bonnie.

In fact Bonnie possesses relatively many photographs and documents related to the life of this family in Latvia and more of them will be published in the ROOTS=SAKNES later, but in this Page I confine myself with the information related to the voyage of this family to the United States.


Who was Pēteris Rubenis?


Pēteris Rubenis worked as a servant in the apartments of Count Sievers in Cēsis [Wenden]. His wife Elisabeth also worked for this family. It happened that one of her sister Kristīne's 5 sons - Adolfs Rūniks [1885-1946] became known as an author Adolfs Erss. He changed his name because the name Rūniks does not sound very poetically in Latvian language - it sounds similar to a gelder (castrator). A.Erss mentioned Rubenis family in his autobiography published in the book of autobiographies Atziņas, vol III. /Atziņas/. While he studied in the Cēsis town school 1900-1902, he lived at this family. In the autobiography he wrote about that time:

At my mother's sister Mrs. Rubenis I was indulged by my cousin Antonija. Mother's sister was the housekeeper of the comptess Sievers. Her husband took care of old Sievers, the older brother of the comptess, and we lived in two rooms beside the old counts. Here I could make acquaintance with the aristocratic life. While the count had a walk, I was allowed to play comptess' piano and to do my lessons in the aristocratic saloon.

Comptess is a non-married daughter of a count.

The above mentioned cousin Antonija Jostiņš was a daughter of Mrs. Rubenis from her first marriage. The Rubenis couple had another daughter Marija Otilija Rubenis (b. 1894), who was a small girl at the time Adolfs Rūniks lived at them. Later in America she became the grandmother of Bonnie Price. Antonija Jostiņš emigrated to the US in 1905 to her bridegroom, or may be they emigrated together. May be they married in America, may be in Russia, but in any case they appeared in the US as the family Huhn (Antonija became Antoinette). It seems, that they acquired the name Huhn in the United States, though in reality it is possible to find the name Huhn also in the region of Latvia. It is not known why they emigrated. I think, they had been active in the Revolution 1905, because at that time many active revolutionaries migrated abroad.

In 1909 other family members: Pēteris Rubenis, the stepfather of Antonija; Elisabete Rubenis, her mother; and Marija Otilija, her half-sister decided to join Antoinette in America. Evidently, the emigration matters were discussed by exchanging letters and postcards.

It was not very difficult to make decision about the possible routes - they choose the way via Liepāja [Libau] and contacted the company Karlsberg, Spiro and Co. there. The company received the letter on July 6, 1909 and answered next day.


Tuesday, July 7, 1909


The letter is addressed to Mister A.Ruben living in 17 Burg str. Wenden that now is Cēsis, Pils iela 17. It seems that the actual postal address of Pēteris Rubenis was different. And, of course, nobody is known with the initial "A". Here a lot of possible explanations could be proposed:

a) The clerk of the company made a typing error. It is quite possible, because in the contemporary keyboards with Cyrillic letters, the letter 'p' is nearby the letter 'a'. I think that the keyboard lettering has not changed from the beginning.
b) P.Ruben had to live nearby his employers as A.Erss remembered. May be P.Ruben had not the privilege to receive any mail in the home of count Sievers and therefore used another address?
b) Another person named A.Ruben existed, who had the contacts with the travel agency, but nobody with this initial is known.

The letter was a standard printed form with the appropriate additions typed in. By the way, at that time it was not very common to have typing machines in offices so this travel agency should be considered as a rather prosperous one. The company existed and was active for rather good time. In any case, I found in the TD 1935 for Liepāja the company Karlsberg, Spiro & Co with addition in parenthesis (Cunard White Star LTD), but nothing was found in the TD for 1939.

Now about the content of the letter. It informed that ships left Liepāja every Saturday. To embark in Saturday, it was necessary to arrive in Liepāja in Thursday. A company met every passenger train in Liepāja railway station and picked up the clients of the company and brought them to a hotel. For the travellers the accommodation in Liepāja was free of charge.

The charge for a ticket to Philadelphia was

adults 91 Rouble
children 1-12 49.50 Roubles
children under the age 1 year 13 Roubles

As Maria Otilija was 14 at that moment, they paid for tickets the total sum 273 Roubles. The sum was rather large, though the charge for a single ticket was surprisingly low, I think. For your information, in that time one US dollar was worth of two Russia Roubles, so the adult ticket cost about 45 US dollars of that time.

The catering on the board was free of charge for the passengers of the ship.

The weight of the luggage for an adult passenger was 6 Puds i.e. 96 kilograms, though the travelers were warned that in the trains of the US they would be permitted to transport only 4 Puds or 64 kilograms free of charge.

The travel agency informed that the people were not allowed to enter America if they were ill with trachoma or other eye diseases and with parsha, that was a hair disease, but it is not quite clear which one, the dictionaries give the English translation - tetter, mange. The travelers were advised to examine their health with a doctor prior to any travel arrangement.

At the end of the letter the agency asked to inform it in time about the arrivals in Libau and that it was obligatory to have the travel passport issued by the authorities of a Province.


Tuesday, July 14, 1909


I do not think that much time was needed for a letter from Liepāja to reach Cēsis. May be it was received on Friday, July 10 and the family Rubenis began final packing of the things to take with. No doubt, it needs a good time to pack nearly 300 kilograms, so one may presume that they were busy with this activity some time prior the letter was received. P.Rubenis also gathered all the papers needed for the travel passport. He had no problems with the tax receipts, because taxes were paid a good time ago:



6.90 Roubles of the taxes for 1909 were paid on May 29. The receipt bears the name of P.Rubenis with his patronymic and it becomes clear that his father name was Jānis. It is also clear that he paid taxes in Skujenes [Schujen] pagasts i.e. he was registered there. He and his family actually lived in Cēsis that was a good way from Skujene, and could not regularly visit the pagasts officials for paying tax.

Tuesday, July 14 P.Rubenis paid a visit to his Pastor of the Latvian Lutheran Parish of Cēsis and got his Parochialschein, or the Parochial note.


The document contained the basic information about the family from the church records and was intended for the Pastor of the parish, which Rubenis family were going to join in America. Evidently the real American Pastor did not need this note, and this is why it was retained in the family archive. The note was not needed in the case, if the Lutheran churches were not charged with keeping the civil registers in the USA at that time, which is quite likely.

The note informs that:

  • Peter Ruben was born Schloss Schujen pagasts on March 25, 1860, baptized on April, 10, confirmed in 1873 in Schujen.
  • Elisabeth Jostin was born in Kudling (now Bākūži) pagasts on August 17, 1855, confirmed in 1871 in Schujen.
  • The both were married on December 19, 1893 in Wenden.
  • Their daughter Marie Ottilie was born in Wenden on November 11, 1894.

I think that the claim of the Note that Peter was confirmed at 13 is an error - the young people were normally confirmed at the age 16-18. It also follows of the Note that the spouses lived in Cēsis at the moment of the marriage in 1893, but were registered in Skujene pagasts. Presumably at that time they have already been working for family Sievers.

The documents of this kind usually have more information. For this case the church officials might also write the maiden name of Elisabeth (presumably she acquired the name Jostin at the first marriage). It was not done, and we do not know the name. It was find useful, however, to note that the family was emigrating to America.

It seems that the note was not made by the Pastor himself. It is signed by G.Ferder (or Ferber, or similar name). The letters p.l. under the signature may mean Parochial Lehrer i.e. the teacher of the parish school. These teachers quite frequently did the paperwork in parish offices, especially if the Pastor was absent.


Wednesday, July 15, 1909


This was the day when Rubenis left Cēsis for ever.

At this moment I do not have at hand the information about train schedules of that time, but it was obligatory to leave Cēsis on Wednesday to reach Liepāja on Thursday, I am sure. May be they even left Cēsis on Tuesday in the evening.


Thursday, July 16, 1909


Rubenis arrived in Liepāja and accommodated in a hotel for the voyagers.


Friday, July 17, 1909


Pēteris Rubenis made his travel passport. The first page of the passport was this:


The inscription in Russian states that a Russia subject, Pēteris Rubenis, a peasant, with his wife Elisabeth 53 and his daughter Marie Ottilie 14 is going abroad. Peasant in this document is the estate of Pēteris Rubenis. Though he lived many years in the town Cēsis and was not busy with agriculture, he was registered all the time in pagasts or, in other words of that time, - he was a citizen of Skujene pagasts.

For a travel abroad the passport of the province level was needed. Rubenis family lived in Vidzeme [Livland] province, but Liepāja was situated in another province Kurzeme [Kurland] with the capital in Jelgava [Mitau], nevertheless all the paperwork was done in no time. The clerks that worked in Liepāja had the power to sign appropriate documents in the name of the Kurzeme Governor. What was very important to P.Rubenis, they could also make the documents for Vidzeme inhabitants after some information was checked. I think they checked if the taxes were paid, and, as we know, P.Rubenis had these documents. It is easy to imagine that they also looked in the lists of wanted persons, but it did not take a lot of time, though at that time the lists were rather lengthy, because all wanted revolutionaries should have been registered. The Rubenis family also needed passports from the local authorities in Cēsis and the permission to leave the country, but the clerks retained them in the file of the former subject of the Empire Pēteris Rubenis.

The above discussed text of the Passport was also repeated in German and French languages, which constitutes practically all the document. On another page it is also mentioned that the charge for the Passport was 10 Roubles, and it, as well as the additional 5 Roubles for the Red Cross, was paid.

No visa was needed for the travel, at least the passport does not bear any.


Saturday, July 18, 1909


Rubenis family embarked the ship and left the region of Latvia.

I have no information about the ships and the route Liepāja - England. It is known only that Liepāja [Libau] was the port, where many future Americans started their way to the new homeland.


July 21-24, 1909


I do not know how long was the travel by ship from Liepāja to any port of Great Britain, but it could not take more than 3 days, or in the worst case 5-6 days, I guess. When Rubenis family arrived in England, they were to adjust the clock (I am sure they had only one) to the new time zone, and, what was even more important, they were to adjust the calendar. The Russia Empire used other calendar, and it was July 31 in England and America, when they boarded the ship in Liepāja, and August 3-6, when they arrived in England. For more information about the calendar in the Empire see another page


August 11, 1909, it is Gregorian calendar now


The family Rubenis embarked the steam ship Friesland in Liverpool for Philadelphia. Evidently they spent about a week in Liverpool waiting for the ship and being busy with some formalities including medical examinations.

Like all other passengers, they were written in the passenger list or as it was called officially - List or Manifest of alien Passengers for the United States. It is possible to study the list in more details, because Bonnie Price found the list and copied the relevant pages:


The text below written in bold italic copies the column headings of the list form.

1. Number on List. It really contains the number and also some marks of the officials who checked this list several times. Rubenis family was numbered from 13-15.

2. Name in full. The family name and the given name were registered. In the case of Rubenis family all three members were carefully registered in Liverpool, but another clerk presumably in Philadelphia at the time of debarkation thought the inscription should be made more precise and added the information about the relationships in the family (husband and daughter)

3. Age. It is not clear how the age was calculated. The actual age of Pēteris was 49, but Elisabete became 54 years old while they were traveling.

4. Sex. No problems with it, but it should be added that if the current inscription coincided with that of the previous line, the clerk did not repeat it but simply put a mark in the appropriate place.

5. Married or single. No problems.

6. Calling or occupation. The clerk in Liverpool wrote that P.Rubenis was a laborer that was not enough in Philadelphia where it was changed to Joiner.

7. Able to Read, Write. All of the family members were able to read and write. It seems, however, that the clerk in Liverpool registered that the Rubenis did not read nor write but the clerk in Philadelphia corrected the information.



8. Nationality (Country of which citizen or subject). All Rubenis were mentioned as subjects of Russia, of course.

9. Race or People. According to the conventions of this Site it would be appropriate to use the term Ethnicity. Rubenis in Liverpool were registered as Russian. In Philadelphia the clerks understood that the new immigrants were not very Russian but could not realize that they actually were Latvians, so the American clerks corrected the previous inscription to German.

10. Last Permanent Residence. Country. City or Town. The country was Russia, but the town was Wenden i.e. Cēsis.

11. The name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came. Here very important information was found: the inscription asserts that in Cēsis [Wenden] lived a brother of Pēteris - Johann Rubenis. Quite possibly he actually was Jānis.

12. Final destination. State. City or town. Rubenis family stated they went to Pennsylvania, city Philadelphia.


13. Number on List. The number was repeated on the next page. The numbers for Rubenis family were: 13-15

14. Whether having a ticket to such final destination. Rubenis had, of course.

15. By whom was passage paid? Whether alien paid his own passage, whether paid by any other person, or by any corporation, society, municipality or government. Pēteris paid by himself, for Elisabete the passage was paid by her husband, but for Marie by the father.

16. Whether in possession of $50, and if less, how much? Good question, isn't it? It was put down that Rubenis family possessed $350 in cash. Not so bad, by the way - it corresponded to about 700 Russia Roubles. It could be a year salary for a worker in United States of that time, I believe.

17. Whether ever before in the United States; and if so, when and where? Nobody of Rubenis ever were in US previously.


18. Whether going to join a relative or friend; and if so, what relative or friend, and his name and complete address. The Rubenis family were to join family Huhn - the family of the daughter of Elisabeth Rubenis. It seems that in Liverpool neither the name nor address were written correctly, so the clerk in America corrected the inscription - wrote the name and address and add that they (Huhns) lived in the US for 4 years.

19. Ever in prison or almshouse, or institution for cure and treatment of the insane, or supported by charity? If so, which? The answer was - No

20. Whether a Polygamist. Rubenis were not, of course.

21. Whether an Anarchist. The answer was - No

22. Whether coming by reason of any offer, solicitation, promise, or agreement, express or implied, to labor in the United States. No, they had not.

23. Condition of Health. Mental and Physical. The answer was - Good.

24. Deformed or Crippled. Nature, length of time, and cause. To this question the answer was also - No

25. Height. Feet. Inches. Pēteris was 5 f. 6 in (167 cm). tall, Elisabeth - 5 f. 2 in (157 cm). Marie Ottilie was not measured. As far as I understand, the immigrants were measured for police reasons. Nobody can change their height, if adult, you know.

26. Complexion. The answer was - dark, for all of the family members. I am not sure that this is a good characteristic for the complexion but the clerks knew better.

27. Color. Hair. They had black hair.

It seems that the questionnaire is not over - the immigrants definitely had to answer questions about the color of eyes and so on and maybe other questions. Unfortunately at this place my copy of the list terminates.


August 22. 1909


That day Rubenis family arrived in their new homeland which became the homeland of their descendants.


© Comments. Bruno Martuzāns. 1995-2002