Books that include early history of the family(1) relay a vague, partly fictionalized and occasionally conflicting story that Benjamin Warner came from Krasnoshiltz in either Poland or the Russian Empire to Baltimore in 1883 or 1885. The rest of his family followed. His wife was Pearl and two surviving children came with her: Anna and Hirsch, later known as Harry Morris Warner. In Baltimore Abraham/Albert, Samuel, Rose and Fannie were born. Sons David and Jacob/Jack were born in London, Ontario. The family returned to Baltimore after several years, then moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where Sadie and Milton were born.
Beginning with the United States Federal Census, the 1900 enumeration places the Warner family in Youngstown, Ohio.(2) That source says Anna, Harry, Abraham and Samuel were born in Russia. The rest were born in Maryland. Their immigration date is 1886. The 1910 census has children Harry M. and Samuel born in Russia, Jack and David born in Canada and the rest in Maryland.(3)
The World War I draft cards for Albert, Samuel Louis and Harry Morris Warner (which give their occupations and confirm they were who we know as "The Warner Brothers") say they weren't native born, but naturalized citizens based on their father's naturalization.(4) The Warners' origin in Krasnoshiltz is confirmed on Benjamin's death certificate.(5) The informant was his son Abe, and Benjamin's place of birth is written as "Krasnanashiltz." Krasnoshiltz, at one time in the Russian Empire, is now the Polish town Krasnocielc. This is also a primary source for Pearl's maiden name Eichelbaum, she being named as Benjamin's wife. Pearl's death certificate gives her parents as Joseph and Bascha Ackelbaum of Poland.(6)
From these records it's clear that the Warners didn't immigrate in the first half of the 1880s and that Samuel wasn't born in Baltimore as is widely stated. United States Federal censuses are particularly unreliable sources for accurate immigration dates. The 1910 census appears very unreliable by giving the dates of 1898 and 1899. The 1894 date for the arrival in the United States of the two sons born in Canada is reasonable. If 1898 and 1899 are changed to 1888 and 1889, it would allow for all the children down to Rose to be born in Russia before the family immigrated, which other evidence indicates.
To further explore the origins of this family, it's helpful to know that the 1883-1885 immigration period must be wrong before research into passenger lists. Abraham and Pearl clearly had children in Russia after those years. In the indexes to passenger lists involving Europeans coming to Great Britain and the United States, only one possiblity turns up for Benjamin and that is Benjamin Wonsal in 1888. All the information given for this man matches what has been accepted about Benjamin Warner except the immigration date, which is evidently incorrect. Benjamin "Wonsal" of Krasnoshiltz left Hamburg, Germany, for Liverpool, England, on the British steamship Chester.(7)
Using 1889 as a start year for the rest of the family, only one possible family group turns up. In October 1889 Pere Urnsal arrived in Baltimore on the German steamship Hermann, having embarked at Bremen, Germany.(9) Pere is on the passenger list as a male peddler, age 37, with Rifke, 10, Moses, 9, Abraham, 6, Schmul, 3, and Reisel, 10 months. They were Russians, and their declared final destination was Maryland. They traveled in steerage.
Had the Bremen passenger lists been preserved, a comparison could have been made and a town of origin possibly given, as is the case with the Hamburg records. The passenger lists held by US Customs were transcriptions of orginals made before the ships docked at their destinations. This was certainly the case for ships leaving Hamburg. This dispells the common adage that immigrant names were changed at Ellis Island. The entry for "Pere Urnsal" is hard to explain. Was this a very poor transcription of the original list? This kind of mistake was atypical, but given the weight of other evidence, it's very unlikely this wasn't Pearl Warner and her children.
New names weren't forced on immigrants by US Customs as is often supposed. Reviewing publications and online webpages, it's generally accepted that Benjamin Warner chose his last name once in the United States and that the original name was unknown to descendants. The documentary The Brothers Warner, aired as part of the PBS "American Masters" series, includes a telephone conversation between creator Cass Warner Sperling and a woman who says that Benjamin Warner was the brother of one of her ancestors and that the surname of the family was "Wonskolaser." No further evidence was given to support this, and a search of published indexes to primary records for anyone with this name who could have been of Benjamin's generation was not fruitful. Why was Mr. Wonskolaser thought to have been Benjamin Warner's relative? If Benjamin Wonsal was Benjamin Warner, it is reasonable to imagine him simplifying the name Wonskolaser to Wonsal, for whatever reason. However, "Wonsal" is a name that appears in 19th century vital records for the Lomza Gubernia, which then included Krasnoshiltz.(11)
Summary of proposed corrections to the accepted early history of the Benjamin Warner family
Benjamin "Wonsal" immigrated from Hamburg to Liverpool on the steamship Chester in January 1888, then from Liverpool to Baltimore on the ship Polynesian in January and February 1888. His wife Pearl was the "Pere Urnsal" who came to Baltimore from Bremen on the steamship Hermann in October 1889. Traveling with her were her children "Rifke," "Moses," "Abraham," "Schmul" and infant "Reisel." In Baltimore the family name was changed to Warner. Rifke was given the name Anna. Moses, whom the Warner family also called Hirsch, became Harry Morris. Abraham became Albert in his adulthood. Schmul, who may have had the second name Levy, became Samuel Louis, and Reisel became Rose. Harry, Albert, Samuel and their younger brother Jack eventually entered the motion picture business and started the "Warner Brothers" film studio.
The Russian-born Warner brothers of the motion picture industry
Harry Morris Warner, original name perhaps Hirsch Moses Wonsal (the Warner family apparently referred to him as Hirsch), born in the Russian Empire, probably in the town of Krasnoshiltz, 12 December 1881.(12)
Albert Warner, called Abraham in childhood, original name perhaps Abraham Wonsal, born in the Russian Empire, probably in the town of Krasnoshiltz, 23 July 1883.(13)
Samuel Louis Warner, original name perhaps Schmuel Levy Wonsal, born in the Russian Empire, probably in the town of Krasnoshiltz, 10 August 1885.(14)
1. Prominent among them are: Bob Thomas, Clown Prince of Hollywood: The Antic Life and Times of Jack L. Warner, (McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York:1990); Cass Sperling, Cork Millner, Jack Warner, Hollywood be thy Name, the Warner Brothers Story (University Press of Kentucky:1998); Michael Freedland, The Warner Brothers (Harrap:1983).
2. Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line], (Provo, UT, The Generations Network, Inc.: 2004); from United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Youngstown, Mahoning County, OH, Ward 1 (Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration: 1900), Roll T623 1300, E. D. 58, pg. 24A.
3. Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line], (Provo, UT, The Generations Network, Inc.: 2004); from United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1910 Youngstown, Mahoning County, OH, Ward 2 (Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration: 1900), Roll T624 1212, E. D. 107, Page 1A.
4. Ancestry.com, World War I Draft Registration Cards [database on-line], (Provo, UT, The Generations Network, Inc.: 2005).
5. Familysearch.org, Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1953, [database on-line], (Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City:2013), image of Ohio Department of Health death certificate, Mahoning County, 1935, #1613,.
6. Familysearch.org, California Death Index 1905-1939," [database on-line], (Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City:2012), image of California Department of Health death certficate, Los Angeles County, City of Los Angeles, 1934, state file #42871, local registration #9998.
7. Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2008; from Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Bestand: 373-7 I, VIII (Auswanderungsamt I), Mikrofilmrollen [-], Indirekt Band 72, ship Amerika, p. 61. U. S. passenger lists are dated according to their arrival, not their departure.
7.5. "Virginia Death Records, 1912-2014," ancestry.com database online, 1932, [cert #] 23492-23832, image 111 of cert. #23592, Michael Eichelbaum, son of Joseph and (Bessie) Eichelbaum, d. 16 Nov 1932, age 66, Lynchburg, VA. See also his gravestone, Beth Joseph Agudath Sholom, Madison Heights, VA, inscription "Alter Bear son of Joseph Eichelbaum born 19 Oct 1866 died 17 Nov 1932," image at www.findagrave.com/memorial/82228133. 8. Ancestry.com, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2006; from National Archives and Records Administration, Passenger Lists of Vessel Arriving at Baltimore, MD, 1820-1891, Roll M255 44, ship Polynesian, p. 2.
9. Ancestry.com, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2006; from National Archives and Records Administration, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Baltimore, MD, 1820-1891, Roll M255 46, ship Hermann, p. 7. There are no extant Bremen lists from this time as there are for Hamburg, the latter of which give the town of origin.
10. Warren Blatt, "Jewish Given Names in Eastern Europe and the U. S.," Avotaynu, 14:3 (Fall 1998), pp. 9-15.
11. Jewish Records Indexing Poland.
12. His birth date is given in various publications. No vital records were found for the period of the Warner births in Krasnoshiltz. See note #1.
13. He provided this birth date on his World War I draft registration card (cited above).
all text and photographs © 1998-2015 by Doug Sinclair unless otherwise noted