A toe in different sand

Last week I had the opportunity to explore something completely different in genealogy. The hunt was to identify when and where a family came from to the U.S. The information was minimal and second-hand, but since this was the paternal ancestry of my grandnephews and grandniece, I had a little background already.

The family name now is Solhan and they have been in Indianapolis for three generations. The family traditions that I had heard over the years were that their origins were in Lebanon and/or Syria. There also was the old “name changed when they arrived” story floating around. I had the names of a number of the family members, in particular that the immigrating grandmother was Matilda.

My informant thought they had probably come to the U.S. in the 1930s, so I looked in the 1940 census. It seemed pretty clear cut to find a “Solhan” in Indianapolis, but Ancestry was drawing a blank. I tried spelling variations, still with no luck. So I began looking at Indiana vital records for Solhans and found the 1951 marriage record of a Frieda Theresa “Solham,” born in Indianapolis in 1923, daughter of Pete Solham and Matilda (Charles) Solham, who were born in “Sibbel, Syria.”

The family knew that Pete and Matilda had come to the U.S. with one child…

Going back to the censuses I thought it might be easier just to search for a “Frieda” in Indianapolis, born 1923, but again zippo. Finally, I did find the family in both 1930 and 1940 under the “Solham” spelling. (Don’t ask me why Ancestry couldn’t figure that variation out on its own.) In 1930 their immigration year is given as 1920 (and “Frieda” is recorded as “Orphelia”). In 1940, Frieda was “Alfreda.”

The family knew that Pete and Matilda had come to the U.S. with one child, and he, Charlie/Charles, is listed in both censuses as born in Syria (age 9 in 1930, age 19 in 1940). Making a search for the name of Charles Solhan/Solham, I found a naturalization petition for a Charles Joseph Solham in Mississippi! I almost went past it, but the surname is rare enough that I took a look and, sure enough, this was our Charlie getting naturalized while he was serving in the U.S. Army at Biloxi.

I have come across these World War II military naturalization records before, but this is the first time one has been soooo useful. Charles stated that he was born 15 April 1920 in Sibbel, Syria, and that he had arrived in the U.S. on 22 October 1920 under the name of “Challiozzi Boutros”!!!

Passenger list indexes brought me to the manifest for the S.S. Victorian with the family group: Asaad Salher Boutros, 26, laborer; Mathilde Boutros, 22, housewife; and “Challiozi” Boutros, age 4 months. They were all born in Syria and their last permanent address was in “Sibbel.” Nearest relative in the old country was Mathilde’s sister Adele Simeon of Sibbel, and their destination was Indianapolis.

Wikipedia informs me that the village is Sebhel or Sebeel in what is now northern Lebanon, a community of Maronite Catholics.

How’s that for an old New England genealogist?

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

31 thoughts on “A toe in different sand

  1. Skills learned in one area and time frame are somewhat transferable, thank goodness! I’ll bet that project was fun for you, and so meaningful to the family.

  2. That is excellent, Alicia, and demonstrates clearly that what began as NEHGS is truly American Ancestors!

  3. Interesting as I have encountered several Syrian Catholic families while indexing the French parish records for Lowell, MA in early 1890s as part of the Boston Diocese project. I always find it interesting to find people of different origin in those records!

  4. Very interesting article! I’ve had a similar experience searching the census in Ancestry.com. I’ve had success first looking up the census in FamilySearch, because I think their search is a little more flexible and forgiving. After finding it in FamilySearch, I find the page in Ancestry, sometimes in a less careful indexing and transcription.

  5. Three exclamation points after Challiozzi Boutros is exactly what I would have written. “To capture the prey after the thrill of the hunt” is so satisfying–especially where family is concerned. I really enjoyed reading your article. Thank you!

  6. I agree with all of the commenters listed. You had quite a task and with skill and persistence you solved it. My question is almost a challenge. Can you trace their life and ancestry in Syria?

  7. There is a large Lebanese community in Oklahoma City, many of its members immigrating during our early statehood years. Among them was the late Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist, Anthony Shadid. His book “ House of Stone” recounts his return to their hometown, finding the house of his ancestors and restoring it. His early death was a great loss.

  8. Bravo, Alicia! Persistence and thinking outside the box are important tools for a successful search. My now-deceased research buddy and I would brainstorm the most seemingly illogical “what if” scenarios for a missing link in the generational chain. More often than not, one of those scenarios would turn out to be the key to locating the person or family that traditional methods couldn’t.

  9. Super sleuth! Certain lesson about flexible thinkinh in family name opens many doors.
    As to searching in Ancestry – or Family Search or American Ancestor – i always use the “sounds like” aka Soundex choice and the initials choice to broaden my finds. Census takers, passenger vlerks, transcribers and such were of widely varying literacy levels.
    The write what you heard is resondsibke for many s brick wall.

    1. Good Afternoon Alicia. I have been able to locate links to my family and the Mayflower Passengers via the Guide to the 400 th Anniversary Guide of American Ancestors. Sir Charles Tupper was from Amherst, Nova Scotia which was my original birth place and we at linked to many of those listed -Notable Mayflower Ancestors. It is fascinating to see your many efforts that you have helped us with establishing so much data along with so many of the other NEGHS staff members. Thanks to all for the assistance. Sincere Bet wishes, Paul Morris Hilton, Harvey Station, New Brunswick, Canada. It si great that you were able to locate so much data to the Solham Family members from Syria.

    1. Indeed, “Bhoutros” to “Solham” to “Solhan” is quite the name-change. I’m just glad in my dad’s case we only had to deal with a change from Olariu/Olari to Olar!

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