Family Lore regarding the Origins of the Kantoff Name vs History

Unfortunately, the surname Chaiet appears to sound like ‘Cheat’ when read and pronounced in American English. Apparently the surname Kantoff was substituted in order to avoid this situation. Perhaps Kantoff was the original surname of Sam Chaiet’s mother, Rivka. Just why a direct translation of Chaiet to Tailor or Taylor was not chosen is unclear.

But…family lore has it that although Sam Kantoff’s surname was actually Chaiet, when asked his name by the interpreter at Ellis Island, Sam replied: “Can’t talk” and the official wrote down Kantoff. A charming story, but unlikely because, in reality, passenger lists were not created at Ellis Island – they were assembled by the ship’s captain or designated representative before the ship departed from its port of origin. Since immigrants would not be accepted into Ellis Island without proper documentation, the shipping companies were very careful to check the immigrant’s paperwork (usually completed by a local clerk in the immigrant’s homeland) and ensure its accuracy to avoid having to return the immigrant back home at the shipping company’s expense.

Once an immigrants, like Sam Chaiet, arrived in Ellis Island, he would be questioned about his identity and his paperwork would be examined. All Ellis Island inspectors operated under rules that did not allow any immigrant to change his or her identifying information unless it was so requested by the immigrant or unless the interrogation demonstrated that the original information was in error. Inspectors were usually foreign-born immigrants themselves and spoke several languages, so communication problems were nearly non-existent. Ellis Island would even call in temporary interpreters when necessary, to help translate even the most obscure languages.

Ellis Island 1926: The Interpreter and the Recorder

One of the interpreters hired at Ellis Island was Fiorello H. LaGuardia, who would later become mayor of New York City. While attending New York University Law School, he worked at Ellis Island from 1907-10 at an annual salary of $1,200. Having previously worked in the U.S. Consular Service in Europe, he could speak Croatian, Italian, and German.

The Chaiet/Kantoff Family came to America in four waves:

1) 1904 [or 1906] Hyman Broftman, Sarah Broftman’s brother

2) 1910 [but at different times during the year] Sam Kantoff and 3 Chaiet siblings:

Harry Chaiet
Rose Chaiet
Abe Chaiet

3) 1913 Sarah Broftman Chaiet with 5 children:

Fred Chaiet
Faye Chaiet
Dorothy Chaiet
Nathan Chaiet
Beatrice Chaiet

4) 1920 Sarah Broftman’s elderly father along with his daughter-in-law Miriam Broftman and her 4 children by her husband, Hyman Broftman, Sarah’s brother.

5) It is still unknown as to when Jeanette Chaiet arrived in America.

Harry Kantoff 2

Fred Kantoff

Nate Kantoff



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