I recall my dad (Leonard Ghertner) told a story that Simon Ghertner’s name had been changed at Ellis Island to include the ‘h’ at Ellis Island because ‘it looked better’. Actually it appears Simon Ghertner never entered the United States through Ellis Island. According to this Smithsonian article, immigrant’s names weren’t routinely changed at Ellis Island.
While that seems like a set-up for fudging a difficult name into the record books, or maybe even just making the best guess on a name that perhaps a nonliterate immigrant might not know how to spell correctly, it didn’t go down that way at all, Urban says. Name changes “could happen, but they are not as likely as people have been led to believe,” he says.
Ellis Island inspectors were not responsible for recording immigrants’ names. Instead, any error likely happened overseas.
To leave the home country—whether Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Poland or elsewhere—immigrants had to purchase a place on a ship—whether bound for New York or one of the other U.S. ports accepting immigrants.
At the shipping line’s station in Europe, a clerk wrote the passenger’s name in the ship’s manifest, sometimes without asking for identification verifying the spelling. The shipping clerk also asked a set of questions, largely to determine if male immigrants could do manual labor, as that was the main reason they were being allowed into—and often, courted by—a burgeoning America.