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?
33 thoughts on “A toe in different sand”
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.
Janice, yes, a nice change of pace. It is good to explore once in a while.
That is excellent, Alicia, and demonstrates clearly that what began as NEHGS is truly American Ancestors!
Yes, indeed, Janet.
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!
It will be interesting delve further into the history of that region.
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.
James, I have done that too. Just being stubborn this time.
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!
You are welcome!
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?
My Arabic is limited, so I’ll probably have to find some help.
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.
Elizabeth, I will look up the book, thanks.
Thank you, Catherine.
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.
Joanna, when one starts on something this different, one is already out of the box!
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.
Julie, I did have it set for Soundex, or thought I did. Apparently, the last consonant being different had something to do with it.
Alicia this fun! I really enjoyed your 20th century sleuthing – must have been a nice break too! 🙂
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.
Glad you are getting good use out of the Mayflower work. I really enjoyed that research.
Jeff, yes, and I needed it!
Great sleuthing! Do you know why they changed their surname?
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!
Jared, at least the first letter is the same!
Barb, other than wanting a less foreign sounding name, I do not know. It may be a variation on “Salher.”
I am actually a Solhan! Charlie was my great great uncle. This is great info, the family tree is hard to follow. They changed the name to sound less foreign. Do you have any other info?!?!
charlie was (shallita) means in aramaic
the lion.Badwi(means st padue)this is the best story about the immigrant family.they came from small village in north lebanon calles Sebhel,very beautiful village there are still some slahab in the village,othes went to brazil some to venezuela.you can googlesebhel now and ee it in the mountains of lebanon covered with snow.one of the most beautiful village in the country all the charles family came from there.