Did John Elsik Have a Brother?

I wrote a letter to my father in 2007 in which I asked if my Great-grandfather had a brother Joseph. I asked Dad to look at the 1910 census.  There appear to be two Elcik families:  John Elsik (Elcik) in 1891 and Joseph Elsik (Elcik) in 1901.  The 1891 record matches up nicely with the family photo we have.  The Joseph Elsik (Elcik) record, however, is confusing me.  There is a similarity of names but different birth years and arrival dates.

First, families were bigger in the late 1800s compared with today. Then, there was the similarity of the responses in the 19190 Census. Both men gave the “Elsik” spelling for themselves, with other family members spelling the surname “Elcik.”  Other similarities included immigrating from “Austria,” speaking Slovak, and practicing Catholicism. To us, it was beyond coincidental that they migrated to the same small town in Androscoggin County, Maine, and worked the same job (washer) in the local paper mill.

Another unlikely coincidence was both men gave their three daughters the same names.   It was a common practice of the time for brothers, according to one genealogist: 

“Brothers who lived near each other would sometimes give their children the same first names. The cousins might have gone by nicknames or middle names to avoid confusion during their lifetimes. It becomes more difficult 100 years later for a genealogist looking to match the right people to the right spots on a family tree.”

That John and Joseph did not immigrate together could be explained by their ages. John came to America when he was 25 years old. Joseph would have been 20 at the time.  Joseph may have been considered too young, or maybe the family needed him at home. Either way, Joseph did not immigrate until ten years later, when he was 30 years old.

Historians wrote that Czech and Slovak immigrants were prolific letter writers to their relatives. Their letters usually included stories of how well they were doing in their new home and encouraging the siblings and cousins to join them. John likely would send money home to his parents. Many immigrants did. Immigrants also sent money home to help siblings pay for their passage and promised to help them find jobs and accommodations.  A washer job in a papermill fits the bill.

We believe that John Elsik had a brother Joseph who joined him in Durham, Maine, because of his encouragement. No letter survives to confirm this theory. Still, documentary evidence of John’s siblings, including Joseph, will surface.