PLUNK GENEALOGY -- see "Family" label on this blog and/or write Mike at

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Russians Are Coming

I love being descended from immigrants. Their lives were so interesting, their struggles so poignant. It places human faces and stories on history. I’ve written before (under the label “family”) about my father’s side, the Irish immigrants. Today, I want to share about the Bulgarian/Russians.

My mother’s father, Ernest Alexander Petroff Sr., was born in Sliven, Bulgaria. His parents had both been born in Russia, and some documents indicate that Russian was the first language of the home.

My grandfather arrived in this country at age 16. Stories surrounding that immigration are sketchy. We’ll go into that at another time. What we believe is that he managed to get to England where we’re told he was swindled out of his money, luggage and possibly his ticket of passage to the U.S. On the ship docks, however, he was told that he could work his way to America on board another ship. That was only partially true. He signed on, but the ship’s officers wouldn’t let any of the young men off. They’d been shanghaied. I don’t know the details, but at some point he jumped ship and made a rather casual entry into this country.

He worked many jobs, but just five years later he had become a Baptist minister.

Flash forward to 1914. My grandfather was 27. His younger brother, Boris (pronounced Bo-REES), was 23. Boris had already served two years in the Bulgarian infantry, was married to Elenco (Americanized to Helen) and was the father of their three-year-old daughter, Seika. Traveling with them was Helen’s 14-year-old brother, George Dimitroff. Their entry into this country was much more traditional.

The little family sailed from a port city in Greece on the Carpathia, which you may recall was the only ship to respond to distress calls from the Titanic just two years prior. The young Petroffs and George traveled in third class, or steerage, accommodations that likely provided them with a small, multi-berth room. They left Greece on Oct. 5 and docked at New York on Oct. 28.

Immigration records show that Boris and Helen could read and write and listed George’s occupation as “scholar,” which we presume meant student. Boris had $50 in his pocket and a job waiting for him.

This is the piece that just fell into place today. Hubby Mike and I had wondered what kind of communication there had been between the brothers – both before and after Boris and his family arrived. Today, it became clear that my grandfather helped pave the way for Boris to come here.

After the Petroffs and George were cleared by immigration, they boarded a train and headed to Granite City, Ill. That’s where my grandfather was a minister and his wife, Lola, was heavy with their first child, my Aunt Mary, who was born just three weeks after the young Petroffs landed. Since Boris listed on immigration papers the name of the Granite City company he planned to work for, we presume that grandfather had arranged the position for his brother.

Granite City, in the St. Louis, MO metro area, was developed as the company town for the St. Louis Stamping & Ironworks Company. Boris went to work as a mill worker, and they most likely put George in school.

Although grandfather, Lola and Aunt Mary moved three years later to Galveston, TX, the younger Petroffs lived in the St. Louis area for many years. Some time during my mother’s elementary school years, she was sent to spend the summer with her Uncle Boris’ family. She was most surprised to find that only the men who went out to work every day could speak English.

Boris and Helen’s next three children were born in and around that area: Mary – 1916; Olga Virginia – 1917; and Peter – 1919. Mike thinks he might have located a daughter of Olga and a grandson of Peter. Hopefully, they will respond to Mike’s emails and we’ll learn more about our family.

We lose track of Boris’ family, but know that Olga and Seika lived for some period of time in California and their father must have joined them. Great-uncle Boris died April 18, 1971 in Riverside County, CA. Olga also died in Riverside County on March 8, 2002.

Mike is an amazing genealogy detective. We hope to find some more Petroff cousins.

(The first photo above is of my grandfather. The group photo is of Uncle Boris and his family. I’ve also given you close-ups of his family – a very good-looking group.)


Kevin Petroff said...

This was amazing to read. Great detective work! I didn't know that my great-grandfather was in Galveston, where I'm currently working. Thanks for the info.

Scarlett said...

Kev - Galveston is where your grandfather was born in 1918. Mike, my genealogy detective hubby, found E.A. Petroff Sr.'s 1917 draft card signed in Galveston. My Aunt Mary, the eldest, was born in Illinois; then Uncle Pete in Galveston; then my mom in Blue Mountain, MS. When as a child my mother heard where her elder siblings were born, she wondered how they all found each other.

Jenni said...

Awesome story. Do you happen to have any early family pictures with your Mom, Granny and Uncle Pete and their parents?

Scarlett said...

Jenni - I don't think any exist. Remember that their real mother, Lola, died when my mother was nine years old. When Daddo married Ida a year later, Mother told me that Ida destroyed all the photos (that she could find) of Lola.

I have one formal studio portrait of her and a snapshot that I believe is of Lola and my mother at a very young age. I no longer have any way of proving this, however.

I've never seen a young photo of Aunt Mary or Uncle Pete.Mother used to rave, though, about how beautiful her big sister was -- golden hair and a beautiful voice. She was in the choir at Daddo's church.