Family History Mystery: Discovering Alexander Balla’s Immigration Details

For a while now, a great deal of mystery has surrounded the immigration details of one of my 2nd great grandfathers, Alexander Balla Sr. (1886-1950). According to oral family history, Alexander left the village and country of his birth, Eszény, Hungary (now Eseny, Ukraine), for the United States when he was between 18 and 22 years old, working aboard the passenger ship in exchange for part or all of the passage fee. Oral family history about his immigration also adds that although one of the reasons Alexander immigrated to the United States was to be with family members that were already living there, another significant reason was the fact that his life had been threatened in Eszény by someone or a group possibly connected to the Black Hand. Despite these details from oral family history, I was never able to track down a shipping manifest for Alexander’s immigration.

Recently, Ancestry.com made Texas Immigration and Naturalization records available, which has helped clear up some of the mystery surrounding his immigration. According to both his Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization, which were filed in 1942, Alexander immigrated from Eszény to the United States on May 8, 1906 aboard the SS Pretoria, arriving in New York, New York. In addition to providing the date of his immigration, Alexander’s Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization provide an additional, and highly interesting, fact about his immigration to the United States. According to these records, Alexander did not arrive in the United States under the name “Alexander Balla,” “Alex Balla,” or even “Sándor Balla.” Instead, he states that his lawful entry for permanent residence in the United States was done under a completely different name, that of “Joseph Domoks.” Seeing this was surprising, as there was no mention of his using an assumed name in oral family history or on any other historical record. Although there is a lot of mystery surrounding the threat made against his life, including who exactly did so, it is likely that this motivated him to change his name in order to conceal the fact that he was leaving the country, as well as concealing where he was immigrating to.

Alexander Balla’s 1942 Declaration of Intention
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Declaration of Intention
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Petition for Naturalization
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Petition for Naturalization

The information provided by Alexander’s Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization records, is, moreover, supported, with slight differences, by the SS Pretoria ship manifest for his arrival. According to this record, Alexander arrived on May 6, 1906, instead of May 8, 1906 as stated on his naturalization records. His name is enumerated on this ship manifest as “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”), which is slightly different than what is found on his naturalization record (“Joseph Domoks”). This immigration record also states that Alexander arrived in the United States to be with his brother, István Balla (Steven Balla Jr.), who he reported was living in Tompkins Cove, Rockland Co., New York.

Immigration Record for Alexander Balla, who appears on line 12 of the manifest with his assumed name of “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”).
Immigration Record for Alexander Balla, who appears on line 12 of the manifest with his assumed name of “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”).
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110 Years Ago Today

On November 15, 1902, 110 years ago today, Júlia (Molnár) Balla (1885-1962), my 2nd great grandmother, arrived in New York to begin a new life in America. At the age of 17, Julia left Eszény, Hungary, where she was born and raised, for Hamburg, Germany where she boarded the S.S. Pretoria, departing on October 31, 1902.

A photograph of the S.S. Pretoria

The ship manifest for the S.S. Pretoria states that Julia was coming to New York to join her sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Molnar. Julia appears on a Record of Detained Alien Passengers from the S.S. Pretoria. She was detained, according to this record, because she was waiting for her sister to pick her up, which took place at 4:25 pm, the time at which Julia was discharged.

A page from the ship manifest for the S.S. Pretoria showing Julia Molnar, who is found on line 13.
S.S. Pretoria Record of Detained Alien Passenger showing Julia Molnar, who is found on line 30 (last entry).

These details from the ship manifest are consistent with family oral history, which states that Julia did come to New York to be with her sister, because her sister found her a job. Lizzie was living in New York and working as a chef in the household of a fairly well-off family. Because Lizzie was such a good employee, they asked her if she had any relatives that could take the position of maid in their home. She told them about her sister Julia, and they paid for her to come to America. The following painted photograph of Julia (left) and Lizzie (right) shows them wearing the uniforms they wore while working for this family.

Julia (left) and her sister Lizzie (right) in their Uniforms

Nearly five years after her arrival, Julia married Alexander Balla (1886-1950), with whom she had ten children, the first five of which were born in New York and the remaining were born in Sabine and Jasper counties in Texas.

Family History Through the Alphabet – J is for Journey

Tracing one’s ancestry is indeed a journey; and one that is not only rewarding but also very enlightening. However, by journey here I mean the journey from the various places one’s ancestors were from and all the stops along the way down through the generations leading to ourselves and where we were born. In short, our ancestral journey in the world.

Arriving in America

In tracing my ancestry, I was fascinated by this. In looking into the ancestries of my four “cardinal branches” (Kernan, Lapham, Hamilton, and Sebok), as well as their related families, I uncovered that there are numerous journeys. Being from a country of immigrants, the United States, it is not too surprising that most of my ancestral lines have not only a journey to the United States, but also a story to tell behind it. The following is this for my four cardinal branches:

  • My Kernan branch journeyed from Ireland to Québec, Canada sometime between 1830 and 1832 likely because of early indications of the coming famine or changes in religious laws; and by 1857, they journeyed from Canada to Minnesota likely because of economic reasons.
  • My Lapham branch journeyed from Devonshire, England to the Colony of Rhode Island in about 1660 because of the persecution of Quakers in England, a religion my early Lapham ancestors were actively involved.
  • My Hamilton (originally Heldman) branch journeyed from the Grand Duchy of Hesse (now Hesse, Germany) to Ohio in 1835 for economic reasons, as Hesse was going through something of an economic depression at the time.
  • My Sebok branch journeyed from the small village of Székelyzsombor in the then Kingdom of Hungary (now Jimbor, Romania) to Indiana between 1903 and 1905 because of economic reasons. Székelyzsombor was a small village mainly involved in horse training for the Imperial Army and small-scale farming, with little opportunity for a better life.
Location of Lyman Stearns’ Quartz Mine

In addition to the journey to the United States, I was also fascinated to look at my ancestral journeys within the United States. Although it may be uncommon in some countries around the world, for those of us from the United States it is not too surprising to find that one generation was born in one state (like New York) and that the next was born in a state thousands of miles away (like California). For me, it was fascinating to uncover these journeys and even discover why they embarked upon them in the first place. For example, in researching my Stearns ancestry, which is a related family to my Kernan branch, I uncovered that my 4th great grandfather, Lyman Stearns (1803-1879), married his wife, Rebecca Hines (1816-1875), in Howard Co., Missouri; and that they raised six children together in Linn Co., Missouri, where Lyman was a farmer and ran a boarding house. I also uncovered that Lyman and Rebecca, as well as all six of their children, died in California. But why did they move to California? After additional research, I uncovered that they did so by 1852 during the California Gold Rush. Lyman was a miner in Tuolumne Co., California at this time, where he had Quartz mine.

In closing, the following is the ancestral journeys of my four “cardinal branches” from their ancestral origins down through the generations to me and where I was born, California.

  • Kernan Branch: journeyed from Ireland to Québec, Canada by 1832, to Minnesota by 1857, to Missouri by 1884, to Oregon by 1895, and to California in 1961.
  • Lapham Branch: journeyed from Devonshire, England to Rhode Island in about 1660, to Massachusetts by 1682, to New York by 1795, to Ohio by 1834, to Michigan by 1835, to Nebraska by 1880, to Idaho by 1911, to Washington by 1917, to Oregon by 1930, and to California in 1961.
  • Hamilton Branch: journeyed from Hesse to Ohio in 1835, to Missouri by 1912, to Arkansas by 1933, and to California in 1952.
  • Sebok Branch: journeyed from Székelyzsombor, Hungary (now Jimbor, Romania) to Indiana by 1905, and to California in 1920.

Our ancestral journeys, whether from one country to another or within one, are certainly a fascinating part of a family history, and one worth exploring.

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