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Why did they leave? Reasons for early Lebanese migration

This article is authored by Dr. Akram Khater, Director of the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies and Khayrallah Distinguished Professor of Lebanese Diaspora Studies, and Professor of History at NC State. It is part of a planned series of article that explore the early Lebanese immigrant experience. The first article in this series  focused on who these immigrants were.

Why did some 330,000 migrants leave Bilad al Sham or “Greater Syria” (the lands that today encompass Syria, Lebanon, Palestine/Israel) between the 1870s[1] and the 1930s for the Americas?[2]

Previous Explanations

Ottoman Mount Lebanon

In the past, some have attributed this human movement to persecution of Christians, who made up a large percentage of the emigrants and mostly came from the central district of Lebanon, called Mount Lebanon. The story first then (and still told by some now) went something like this: oppression by the Ottoman government (which controlled the region), and attacks by neighboring Druzes (a heterodox sect of Islam) and Muslims made life untenable for these peasants and town folks and drove them from their homes. This story was developed originally by some of the newcomers themselves to elicit the sympathies of immigration officials at Ellis Island and facilitate entry to the US.  Yusuf Bey, the Ottoman consul in Barcelona, remarked in an 1889 report to his government in Istanbul: “When questioned why they had to leave their homes in such large numbers, they invent …stories about the massacre of their wives and children … all to increase the compassion and thus the alms they can elicit.” Early immigrant writers like Abraham Rihbany, George Haddad and Philip Hitti further portrayed Christians in Mount Lebanon as defenseless victims of persecution oppressed by ruthless “Turks,” in order to garner support for their vision of an independent Syria and Lebanon. In resorting to this exaggerated narrative, they were feeding into Orientalist notions current at the time in America, which portrayed Islam and “Turks” (the term used for Muslims) as nefarious, violent, and repressive.

While we can certainly find incidents of violence and repression (neither of which was one-sided), the fact remains that the period between 1861 and 1914 was one of “long peace,” when, as the historian Engin Akarli argues, the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon—from where came the great majority of immigrants—enjoyed many advantages that nearby districts did not have. Amongst these were an elected governing council of Christians, Druzes and Muslims cooperating and feuding, a local gendarmerie (police force) that kept the peace, a rapidly growing infrastructure of roads, schools, waterworks, etc., thriving tourism, French political and military protection, lower taxes and exemption from conscription for Christians into the Ottoman army. The Russian consul to Beirut, Constantin Dimitrievich Petkovich, summarized this advantageous state of affairs in an 1885 report: “The current Lebanese administration has guaranteed for the Lebanese a greater measure of tranquility and social security, and it has guaranteed individual rights…With this it has superseded that which the Ottoman administration provides for the populations of neighboring wilayat [Ottoman districts].” An 1890 petition by Shi’a villagers from Jabal ‘Amil (in South Lebanon today), addressed to the British consul in Beirut, Mr. Eldridge, supports these contentions. In their letter the peasants requested Eldridge’s help in annexing their lands to the Mountain because “people there enjoy greater security, freedom and smaller taxes.” What corroborates these and many similar contemporary observations is that not all immigrants were Christian; in fact, many were Druzes and Muslims. For example, in the central Matn region of Mount Lebanon, villages records show that on average 18% of the Druzes’ population left, while only 12% of their Maronite counterparts emigrated. That not only Christians were leaving, and that there is no evidence of any sustained or systematic acts of oppression or violence during the height of immigration wave (1880-1914) casts serious doubt on the persecution narrative. Thus, and while there is no doubt that some individuals or even small groups left their homes because of persecution (real or anticipated), the great majority were not driven out by such matters.

Number of Immigrants increases dramatically from villages where silk factories are located.

Other commentators have argued, a little less frequently, that immigrants left the Levant to escape conscription into the Ottoman Army. This is an equally doubtful reason. Put simply, non-Muslims were in practice exempt from military service in the Ottoman army until 1909. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever, beyond few Christians who served in the office corps, that any non-Muslims served in the Ottoman army before WWI. Despite the imperial reform edict of 1856 (known as Hatt-ı Hümayun) that equated Muslim and non-Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire, neither the Ottoman government nor the non-Muslim community were enthusiastic about conscripting Jews and Christians. For revenue purposes “the Ottoman state actually preferred that the Christians should pay an exemption tax (first called iane-i askerî – military assistance, and then bedel-i askerî – military payment-in-lieu) of their own, rather than serve.”[3]  Even after 1909, when the Young Turks government tried to enforce equality in conscription, non-Muslims in Mount Lebanon retained exemption because of the special rule governing this particular Ottoman district. Recruitment of non-Muslims only began in earnest during WWI at which time emigration from the area had for all intents and purposes ceased.

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If sectarian persecution and/or conscription into the ranks of the Ottoman army were not the overwhelming reasons for emigration, then what prompted such a massive movement where anywhere from 15% to 50% of villages and towns emptied out? As one would expect there were many reasons for their decision to leave their loved ones and familiar places for a great unknown. Escaping a bad marriage (as did Gibran Khalil Gibran’s mother), reuniting with family, seeking adventure, pursuing learning and knowledge (as was the case with the Arbeely family), were all individual reasons to leave home. But while there was not a singular reason for the immigration of everyone, the majority left for economic reasons. They were part of the global Great Migration of the 19th century which saw the movement of millions leaving poor economic conditions from places such as Italy and Greece to countries in desperate need for labor like the US, Argentina and Brazil. In 1895 Mikhail As’ad Rustum, a famed Lebanese immigrant and poet, summed this up with these lines:

Now everyone desires to migrate      To buy, sell and be a merchant

In a country replete with wealth         Where the poor man can succeed

And in the early days, this process    was easy to do from Lebanon[4]

Another contemporary observer from Mount Lebanon, Salim Hassan Hashi, wrote in 1908 that the causes of emigration were “to seek riches…in the farthest reaches of the inhabited world.”[5]

Or as Michael Haddy, a Lebanese-American recalled during a 1960s interview: “In 1892 not many people were going to America. This family went to America and they wrote back…[to say that] they made $1000 [in three years]…When people of ‘Ayn Arab saw that one man made… $1000, all of ‘Ayn Arab rushed to come to America…Like a gold rush we left ‘Ayn Arab, there were 72 of us…”[6]

In other words, immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean left limited opportunities in their homeland for better possibilities somewhere else to make money and then return home. Specifically, the stagnation and then collapse of the silk economy of Mount Lebanon (which accounted for 60% of the GDP of Mount Lebanon by the beginning of the 20th century), and textile manufacturing in the hinterlands of Greater Syria forced many to seek better livelihoods in the prospering lands of the Americas. This process began as with other parts of the nineteenth century world, when the Eastern Mediterranean attracted European capitalists seeking markets for their manufactured goods and sources of raw material for their factories. In the case of Mount Lebanon, it was silk—cultivated in its mountains since the days of Amir Fakhredin’s in the 16th century—that French industrialists sought for their factories back in Lyons and other cities. After few decades of boon, the prices of silk cocoons and threads stagnated and then fell in the 1890s. Compounding this problem was a series of bad crop years in 1876, 1877, 1879, 1885, 1891, 1895 and as late as 1909 that bankrupted many a peasant who had taken out loans against the anticipated crop. As the chart below shows, the drop in silk prices strongly and inversely correlates with the number of immigrants leaving Mount Lebanon for the US. Beyond the local economy of Mount Lebanon, the Ottoman Empire suffered from an economic depression lasting between 1873 and 1896. This severe downturn greatly affected small farmers and drove many of them to leave their properties in search of employment either regionally or across the world.

Finally, improvements in health care in Mount Lebanon (especially the introduction of vaccination) nearly doubled the population between 1860 and 1911 from a little less than 300,000 to more than 500,000 inhabitants. This dramatic demographic growth within two generations quickly outpaced the ability of the local economy to provide jobs and income. In short, the distress of local economies and simultaneous increase in the number of mouths to feed meant that peasants and townspeople from across the Eastern Mediterranean were sliding into poverty. By the early 1890s, as many silk factories were being shuttered, the decision to emigrate appeared as the most financially viable alternative for many.

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This way out of impending poverty (for, generally speaking, only those with some money could afford to migrate) was facilitated by the presence of Western missionaries (particularly American Presbyterians) in the Eastern Mediterranean. Their schools and narratives of “Amirka” painted a prosperous image of the United States and allowed for the mental leap needed to depart from home and hearth. For example, Rev. W. A. Wolcott, a missionary in Beirut, recruited hundreds of workers for the textile mills in his native Lawrence, Massachusetts. Additionally, the establishment of steamship navigation and marketing enticements (advance labor contracts, mayloun or pre-paid tickets, etc.) by shipping companies from the late 1870s onwards greatly eased travel and attracted migrants. But it was the word of mouth of the first emigrants that drew more and more to leave their homes and board ships sailing to the Americas. In letters or during their visits, these early immigrants told of golden opportunities abroad (and hardships as well), and actively invited others (family and friends) to join them across the ocean. Finally, WWI and the accompanying terrible famine, which killed nearly one-third of the population in Mount Lebanon alone, spurred another smaller wave of immigration from the Levant after 1919 which lasted through 1924 when the Johnson-Reed Act severely restricted immigration of any non-white Europeans. Because of all this, textile workers from Homs, merchants from Bethlehem, peasants from Mount Lebanon, and teachers from Beirut and Damascus boarded steamboats in the city of Beirut and headed for “Amirka,” North and South.

While it is clear that a desire for a better economic life was a major factor driving thousands to leave the Eastern Mediterranean, each immigrant story remains unique in its combination of factors and elements that compelled the journey of individuals.

[1] The first 19th century Arab to arrive in the US was Antonios Bishallany who came to the US in 1854

[2] An estimated 120,000 went to the US and another estimated 210,000 made their way to South America, mainly Argentina and Brazil. However, these numbers are rough estimates that are difficult to ascertain because of the circular pattern of population movement. For example, between 1887 and 1913, about 131,000 immigrants left Lebanon for Argentina, but some 83,000 traveled back to Lebanon in that same time period (Harfoush, 49). Between 1899 and 1910, and based on Ellis Island immigration records, some 90,000 immigrants left Mount Lebanon for the United States. This does not take into account the previous 10 years, nor are we certain how many returned. By the census of 1930 it seems that only 56,389 of the 147,171 Arab-Americans were born in the Eastern Mediterranean, with the remaining population being American-born.

[3] Erik-Jan Zürcher,  “The Ottoman Conscription System In Theory And Practice, 1844-1918”, International Review of Social History 43 (3) (1998), pp. 437-449.

[4] Mikhail As’ad Rustum, Kitab al-Ghareeb fil-Gharb, p. 17 (Philadelphia, al-Matba’a al-Sharqiyya: 1895)

[5] Salim Hassan Hashi, Yawmiyat Lubnani fi Ayyam al-Mutasarrifiyya (Diaries of a Lebanese During the Period of Mutasarrifiyya), p. 57

[6]Interview with Michael Haddy, Naff Arab-American Collection, Smithsonian Museum

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  1. Thank you for this article. My paternal grandparents arrived in the Dominican Republic in the early 1900’s. They settled in a town called San Pedro de Macoris. I think they were Maronite. My grandfather’s last name I think was Yaqub (changed to Jacobo in Spanish) and my grandmother’s last name was Armach/ Armache? Does anyone know about this group of Maronite Lebanese in the Dominican Republic? We were told the same stories that they were fleeing the Turks/Ottoman Empire. So interesting to learn differently. My grandfather would bring textiles to sugar cane factories and eventually was able to open a textile store in Santo Domingo where they moved. My grandmother was 15 when married and had 11 children in DR. The oldest all did extremely well: Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer, Dentist, accountant. Amazing really given that my grandmother was illiterate. If anyone knows anything about these names or the Dominican Republic emigration history, I would be grateful. Thanks!

  2. My grandparents left Lebanon and originally went to Brazil. Then in 1911, they came to the US through Canada. The turks were responsible fot the starvation deaths of my Grandmother’s entire family remaining in Lebanon during World War I. Our family name is Canaan. My father’s name, as I understand, is Raiff ibn Elyess al bitil Cannon. ( spelling likely wrong.

  3. Hi my name is Mirna Saleb.
    My grandparents are from Lebanon
    Joseph Saleb and Mary sesar Abraham.
    I cannot find anything about them.
    I don’t even know how they got to Uruguay

  4. Such a wonderful article, Thank you so much for sharing! I, like so many, have not been able to find much about my great grandparents, before they emigrated to Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1888. Elias and Mary Basha. Elias is said to be the first Lebanese person to come to Charlottetown, PEI. I do believe that Elias, was the brother of Tanius Basha from the Arizona Basha’s. If anyone has any hints of where I could find any of the Basha family in Lebanon, I would be forever appreciative!

  5. This is so interesting as are the responses about tattoos, never heard about that!
    My great grandfather, his brother & cousin immigrated here in the early 1900s and ended up in Stevenson in Washington I believe, then coming to California. I’m not sure what part of Lebanon they were from but the family was Christian, possibly Maronite I assume from our namesake Saint Doumit.
    I’ve always been curious about my surname as it’s originally spelled Doumit (been told it’s pronounced dow-mit) but when they immigrated they changed it to Doumitt (Pronounced Doo-mitt). At least that’s what I’ve heard from family. Been trying to find out information on my roots in Lebanon and the family of my great-grandfather, his name is Najib Doumitt if you or anyone has info I would love to hear it!

    1. Hi Hannah,
      This response seems to be much later but I just found this article. I hope you get some kind of alert for this message board. If my information is correct, your great-grandfather was born in Mazreat Yeshocah, Syria. I can maybe hep fill in a few details, my grandfather was his younger brother!

    2. Hi Hannah,
      I tried to respond earlier but I don’t think it went through. I can possibly help fill in some small details about your great-grandfather. He was my grandfather’s older brother! I hope you get this message! Also, if anyone has any information on the Koury’s from the Al Kharabah, Tartus, Syrian Arab Republic region, I would gladly appreciate it!

  6. I am looking for information about my great grandfather, who immigrated in 1914 at age 18. It looks as if he travelled first to Canada and then to Vermont. Records indicate that he came from the Rashaya area of mount Lebanon. Family name is Cadry. Any information about this family name and my ancestors is appreciated. I am on 23andMe and have yet to garner anything from it relating to him. Thank you

  7. I am starting my research and this article helped a lot. My grand grand parents came from Lebanon and Syria, they were young after married and came for honeymoon to Americas and stayed in Venezuela between 1890-1920. My grand grand mother died after having 6 children, my grand ma was one of them. I do not have too much info, names were: Jose Abraham Chaya and Rosa Sirgan Dipp, both traveled to different countries before staying forever in Venezuela. IN case anyone knows info about these family last names

  8. My grandmother Wadia Edem Yazbek was born in Batroun, Lebanon in 1911. She married Antonio who happens to be a Syrian descendant. Antonio’s parents left the country (we don’t know why) and went to Venezuela South America. Problem is: they changed their last name into a spanish name, Flores. Maybe to better fit in. I tried to find some information on Wadia but still nothing so far. Only know that Wadia’s mothers last name is Halloum Yazbek. I have been reading and found many reasons to leave the country from persecution to a famine but no one in the family knows the truth. It is never been told. Strange thing.

  9. Hello, both my paternal grandparents came from Lebanon, Mount Lebanon and Ballbeck, altho the name changed we are known as Carbage, I have heard of other versions, Karbage, Kerbage, Korbage, and Herro, My Grand father Carbage, first left Lebanon with his parents and immigrated to Australia, then to Canada, where his widow remarried and had a new family. My Grandmother moved as a teen to the US with her brothers, then on to Canada to marry my grand father. Both were christians, little is known about their lives as we were not to question and my father spoke little of his parents. My Aunts however as they got older told us a bit they knew. We were raised to believing we were Syrians, and by the time I was a teen in the mid in the late seventies, I was told I was Lebanese …Its a very interesting history, I have my dna done and I am 50% Levian….I often wonder why they left, they were very strong religious people, two of my great Aunts came to the US and Canada and joined the convent. Anyone with any family info please feel free to send me a email, Thank you and as always Stay safe.

  10. My grandfather, Amin Abbas Nasser (Nasr), came to America twice. I cannot find documentation on the 1st arrival, but I think it was around 1898. He was from Kfarshima in Mt. lebanon area. I do not know why he eventually landed in Seattle, but he ended up buying wool socks in great quantities and took them to the Yukon where gold had been discovered. He did quite well, but not as a gold miner…. as a merchant selling woolen clothing. He made enough money to “retire” as a business man in Tacoma, WA. I suspect he knew other Lebanese in that area. He went back to Lebanon and married my grandmother, who was from Hadath area in Mt. Lebanon. I did find their Ellis Island passage from 1909. My grandmother was, Antoinette el Murr and she was only 17 yrs old, and spoke no English. On their documentation It says they are from “Turkey -Asia”. But now Lebanon. Family Lore says my grandmothers family died of starvation while protecting Armenians. I am still tryng to find the proof but, researching in that part of the world, has been difficult. I am very interested in my grandfather’s lineage, as 3 of his siblings also joined him in Tacoma, WA area during the first part of the century, but he was the only one who had children. I am pretty sure their name was spelled NASR, but was phonetically spelled when they landed on Ellis Island. I went to Lebanon last year and did some research but could only find info on my grandmother’s side.

  11. My great grandmother was born in Syria, around 1854 and her name was Essene Etta Edith De Cozen or Dah Dah. My aunt said that she was princess of Syria but I’m still trying to find out. Her husband name was Saed …..either Dah Dah or De cozen. They had 6 children. And they immigrated to the USA at the beginning of the century 1900. How can I find out more?

  12. My Jiddo had a farm in Mt. Lebanon. He fled to America because they wanted him to join them. The only way he could escape the Turks was to leave. He gave his farm to a cousin and when he got situated he sent for his Sister Maary. My Jiddo’s name was Joseph Abdul Haddad. He resided in Toledo Ohio. He was married to Loretta Boukissen and after her death married Sitto Lily Zahab.I wish I would have asked him more questionw obout our heritage

  13. My Jiddo had a farm in Mt. Lebanon. He fled to America because they wanted him to join them. The only way he could escape the Turks was to leave. He gave his farm to a cousin and when he got situated he sent for his Sister Maary. My Jiddo’s name was Joseph Abdul Haddad. He resided in Toledo Ohio. He was married to Loretta Boukissen and after her death married Sitto Lily Zahab.I wish I would have asked him more questionw obout our heritage

  14. Excellent article. This supports my research and teaching about the Middle East and immigration. My grandfather Mansour Makarious, who became Sam Nemer in Akron, Ohio, emigrated from Khirbet Qanafar in 1907 for economic opportunities. If anything, my grandfather said the priests were too powerful and the church controlled everything. Emigration from his mountain village started in 1888 and peaked about 1910. I often sat and talked with my jiddo about those days. He farmed in Ohio until 1981. His farm was the center of many annual Lebanese festivals since the 1920s and I’ve many documents and even films from the 1930s of these events, called the Khirby Mahrajan!
    I look forward to reading more from you. Your work is appreciated.

  15. My family left Hardine Lebanon during the diaspora in the early 1900s, and settled in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. We have placed ourselves on a paternal family tree dating back to Father (Khoury) Anthony Tabbit in Hardine in 1670. We are trying to find the lineage of my Great Grandfather Roman Thomas. Does anyone have information from Hardine? Or of the Bu Assad -> Thomas -> Roman line?

    1. Hi Sheri,

      I’m definitely interested in this lineage (and your family tree) as I believe I’m apart of it
      and I’m curious to see Anthony Tabbit’s descendants.

  16. This is so interesting. Do you have much information about Lebanese people who came to South Africa around that time? My great-great-great grandfather was called Assad Mahowed. I predict he came to SA in the mid to late 1800s. He was a Christian so probably would have come from down South or Mount Lebanon. He left his wife and children behind, but never returned. His original family ended up in America, having gone over with his brother’s family, I think. He had a second family in SA of which I am a descendent.

  17. Thank you Dr Khater for sharing your research. It provides me with a logical explanation of the reasons of our ancestors emigration to the Americas. My grandfather emigrated to Argentina. I am trying to trace my ancestors but is proving difficult as we have incomplete information. My grandfather Abdo Mohamed Rasul (his real surname was Sama but changed it) he said he was from a place somewhere rural (he said he was a goat/sheep farmer) between Damascus or Homs. He arrived in Argentina, Buenos Aires around 1920, married and settled in Rosario, Santa Fe. I had my dna test and found 3rd and 4th cousins in North America mainly in Canada who seemed to originate from Beqaa, Lebanon so this adds to my confusion. Their surnames don’t match ours, as they are Hamouda, Aboughoushe and Rahall; thought the later sounds similar to Razul. Then, I know he used to read the Coran (at his local islam society) to others who couldn’t and carry a cane when performing a traditional dance. I hope one day to be able to be able to find out where he came from. Regards,

    1. Excellent information. I really appreciate the research made. My father was second generation Argentinian. Both sets of his grandparents emigrated to Argentina from the Damascus/Homs/Mount Lebanon area in the latter half of the 19th century. Their surnames were Abdón, Taier (Tayer), Califf, and Derre. I also am trying to trace my ancestry. My DNA test found a distant cousin who currently lives in Tripoli, but we have been unable to find the connection between us.

  18. Re the tattoos – my great grandmother and grandmother had tattoos on their wrists / hands that were documented when they registered as aliens in 1939 in Australia. One was an infinity sign, one was a chain around the wrist. My godmother told me that these were religious symbols and because they were so poor they could not afford to buy crosses, rosary beads etc. there was usually someone in the village or near the village that would provide this service. In our village it was the fashion until early 1900s

  19. Hello I have a picture of my great grandpa from Lebanon. You can see tattoo on his hand. I was always very curious about it. I will need to re read to see if I missed where it explains more about this. I was told it had something to do with his order or rank in the family. I can find out his name. Very nice to find out more information about my heritage. I think his name was Niame Toma??

  20. Dr. Khater, Thank you for your article and insight. I have been trying to determine why my great grand father Khalil Abdallah Abou Haider brought his entire family from Lebanon to Lawrence MA in the 1890’s. The family had a mercantile block on Elm Street in the Plains region of Lawrence in the early 1900’s. The family being Christian may be the reason they immigrated. My grand father was Abdallah Khalil Hyder who died in 1944. Abdallah married Marion Boutros a young girl who came to this country as part of a group of young women who were to be brides for the young Lebanese men already in America. I remember the three Christian Lebanese Churches in Lawrence. My grandmother who died in 1972 belonged to the Syrian Orthodox Church, St George’s. Very interesting was the discussion of the tatoo on the hand in this discussion chain. I remember that exact tatoo on my grandmother’s hand. I have been trying to learn more about family history in Lebanon. I believe Khalil’s father was Abdallah Abou Haider, can you provide any hints or leads on how to research further family history in Lebanon?

  21. Dear Dr Khater and team, Thank you for an illuminating, nuanced piece. I was wondering if you might have come across Syrian-Lebanese (Greek Catholic, Rum) families that moved to Sudan? My forebears left the Aleppo region for new lives in the Sudanese hinterland, a city called Al-Obayed, before settling in Khartoum/Omdurman around the turn of the 20th century. There was a sizeable community of Syrian-Lebanese in Khartoum, many of them cloth merchants and entrepreneurs, until the mid-1970s when regime change and nationalisation pushed them to leave for Australia and Canada. I can see how economic pressures might account for the first wave of migrants to Sudan but am also wondering what would compel people to leave Mount Lebanon for a town in the middle of a vast arid country so different to their own. I’d be grateful for any insight you have on the subject. Many thanks.

  22. My family left Lebanon in the early 1900s specifically for economic realities, and my great-great grandfather was a silkworm farmer in Lebanon. My grandfather was born in Lebanon but served proudly in the US Navy in WWII.

  23. John Gabriel left Syria in1906at age16 and came to New York and eventually settled in Wethersfield Ct.his father George Gabriel had come over earlier and had a farm in Ct and sold it to his son John and went back to Syria. John Gabriel ,my grandfather told me he lived on a mountain that overlooked the sea. I don,t know if I am Syrian or Lebanese? He said he was Syrian,but that was before Lebanon became a separate country. if anyone could help I,d appreciate it.

    1. Hello Mr.Lapenta, the question of whether my family identified themselves as Lebanese or Syrian has puzzled me. This lead me to your reply to Dr.Khater. I recall seeing this tattoo. My family were Maronites. Came to Cambridge, Ohio then to Detroit. I can relate to your response. The history of that region is rich. Would enjoy your thoughts.

  24. My grand father left lebanon for Colombia, early 1900’s
    Do you have any records for Colombia?

  25. HI! My Great Grandfather Elias Joseph Moukarzel left Lebanon ( Syria) in the early 1900’s for South Africa….I never met him but my gran would always say he left Lebanon because of family issues…and he would speak about bloodshed….His two cousins Salloum and Naoum left for the USA and started the Al-Hoda newspaper…I still have a few letters written between my great grandfather and his cousins…I have always wondered why he would come to South Africa and I dont know if he had any siblings….so much I wish I could know!

    1. Hello Linda, my name is Anne Seba Hakim and my parents in law were from Bsharri, Mount Lebanon. They emigrated to South Africa in the early 20th century. Their clan name was Rahmi. Do you have any information about this family?
      Regards Anne Seba (Dr)

      1. Hi Anne, Unfortunately I see no name like that here in South Africa. Although there is a large lebanese community here in SA there is no mention of that name. Perhaps they changed it? or had no more sons to carry on the name. All so very interesting!

      2. Hi Anne Seba Australia especially Sydney has a lot of people from Bsharri in our community… Taouk, Succar, Geagea, Rahmi etc.

  26. My grandfather’s brother and cousins were Druze who left Mount Lebanon during the mid 1890’s to live in South Australia. They left due to previous Druze sending back accounts of making money in South Australia.
    My grandfather’s 3 cousins known as the Rasheed brothers started small businesses in rural areas selling goods to local people. All brothers over 30 years amassed over 1 million pounds (Australian currency)-one brother became the biggest horse trader in the world selling to the British army in India-they were friends with the Governor and were accepted everywhere-not bad in a time of racism within the British Empire.

  27. that is a very rich article.
    my Grandfather was born in Argentina after his parents immigrated in 1910.
    i am trying to find family members in Argentina. the name is SAAIBY. his name was ROUKOZ YOUSSEF SAAIBY. from Batroun north Lebanon. but so far i failed.
    can you help in any way ?
    thank you

  28. I have just been made aware of my Syrian Lebanese heritage – possibly thru my grandmother who came to us from Buenes Aires, Argentina (we always assumed Spanish – but not) We thought her name to be Adel Antonio(a) then found another name attached Paradi ? Did these immigrants migrate from Syria to south America?

    1. In addition to coming to the US, another 200,000 “Syrians” emigrated to South and Central America. In fact, Argentina was the second largest recipient of these immigrants. Here last name is likely Baradi instead of Paradi, because there is no “P” sound in Arabic.

  29. My great grandfather and his son who was a stowaway on the ship they sailed came to the U.S. sometime after 1890. My grandfather was left in Mexico until he could gain entrance around 1904 at the age of 14. They became peddlers with a horse pulled wagon in S.E. Oklahoma. Later built a general store, then a lumber mill, then lumber yards. They came from AinZhalta or Ainshalta which I can find very little info on. Sine Hassan appears to be my great grandfathers name, changed to Sine Ollie. They appear to have left because of the continuous fighting in the region. Any info you have would be much appreciated.

    1. Hi Gary, I have been researching the Syro-Lebanese in Oklahoma for OU and I have some general information on your family–maybe no more than you’ve found out by now, but I would happy to share what I know. Also, I am trying to locate a picture of the mill or Ollie Lumber in LeFlore County, if you know of any photos? The Ollies had family connections to Syro-Lebanese immigrants in Fort Smith, AK. Please feel free to contact me. (I’ve tried to include my email, with no luck. Perhaps someone could connect us? Thank you.) Best, Kristin Shamas

  30. My father was born in New Mexico, Jose Ramon Tabet, he was the son of Josifina Silva and Raymond Tabet, the Tabet family were from Lebanon, I don’t know much more about them because my grandfather Raymond Tabet died in an automobile accident when my father was 1 or 2 years old. My father was disowned by the Tabet family because my grandmother would not give my father to the Tabets so we never knew that side of the family. Now my father has passed away and I am trying to trace our roots. Do you have any information about the Tabet Families and how they came to be in New Mexico?

    1. Thank you for your comment. We have forwarded your quarry to the center’s archive. A researcher will take time to look into your request and respond within 4 to 6 weeks (given the holidays). Thank you for your patience.

  31. What book for the general reader would you recommend to provide cultural history as a supplement for an exhibition on immigration that includes a community of Lebanese families from the Kfarsghab area to Easton, Pennsylvania? Am having trouble finding information past about 1990. Your counsel will be much appreciated.

  32. I’m trying to locate my grandfather Elias Moukarzel who emigrated to Ecuador in 1926.

    1. Thank you for writing to us. We have done a brief search of our records and don’t have any information about settlers in Ecuador at this time although our collections are constantly growing. As of now, most of the South American records we have gathered refer to Argentina.

      1. Hello, I’m looking for my family (if any still remain) in MT Lebanon. My great grandparents migrated in the 1890s to Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada. Their names were Joseph Mansour and Lucy bsharra. For some reason they seemed to have disconnected from the homeland after arriving in North America.

  33. I was told that Lebanese Christians were compelled to wear a yellow fabric cross on their jackets before going out on the streets (like the Nazis made the Jews wear the yellow Star of David. I have attempted to research the issue, but have not been very successful. Can you advise, please?

    1. Thank you, Dr. Khater. It was my educated guess seeing a few cousins from Hammana on my 23andMe ancestry list. I am fascinated with the intersection of history, science, and religion. A distant cousin (thanks to 23andMe) from Tannourine also translated Qordahi family name from my great grandmother’s side.

    2. Thank you, Dr. Khater. It was my educated guess seeing a few cousins from Hammana on my 23andMe ancestry list.

  34. ….On another note, I’ve located a manifest that shows “Hamene, Turkey”. Any guesses on what that is today? The name has been impossible to track…lost in translation as they didn’t read or write in English.

  35. My grandparents never discussed “persecution.” My father/grandparents never mentioned Islam. My dad did say “the Jews are my brothers.” Ironically, my oldest DNA identifies Ashkenazi Jew via 23andMe. I was told my grandmother left because her father thought there would always be fighting in that part of the world. My father and his parents were more concerned with earning a living, farming, and making the best life possible for their family. Early in life, the Maronite identity was linked to their successful assimilation.

  36. My research subject from Qoub Illyas, Bekaa, Lebanon in 1910, to a job in the woolen mills in Lawrence Mass. I’ve been looking for any information on his surname with no luck. Aberizk surname. Mispelled and changed in numerous forms since arriving in America. Just asking, never know from where knowledge will come. Following your study with great interest.

      1. Hi Omar. I’m doing family history research on the Asker (Askar, Oscar) and Harraty (sp?) families from Keb-Elias. My husband’s grandparents emigrated from that village to Canada in the early 1900s. If you have any leads for me on either of those families, we would be so grateful!
        Warmly, Nicole and Terry Gamble

  37. So relieved to find a lead on a family I’m researching/genealogy. My nephew an unacknowledged son of a Mount Lebanon descendant (long story). We are looking for the immigration story. Our first known immigrant to America was Jaberan Daher Aberizk in 1910. He was a weaver in the woolen mills in Lawrence Massachusetts. It’s my only lead that has some substance from the early years. Just met up with an Aberizk uncle for the first time, Nov 2018. He was told the conscription into the Syrian Army story as for their leaving the country. I’ll be following your study with interest. If you would like the Aberizk families contact information, contact me.

  38. My father’s family also immigrated to the US from Mount Lebanon area – and we always have been told it was due to religious persecution. In fact – my Tita had a tattoo on her hand (some family say on her wrist while others say on the skin between her thumb and fingers (pal side) that was used for identification with other Christians in secret.

    I find it difficult to believe that this was not the case.

    1. Both my late Grandmother – Maronite Catholic – and late family friend – Syrian (n/k/a Anthiochian) Orthodox – had such tattoos. I thought that perhaps it was to to “identify” Christians to the Turks. Grandmother – who arrived in the US at age 14 about 1901 – was from Lebanon – and the family friend from Syria. Both passed away generations ago. I thought it was to identify Christians to the Turks. Grandma would never address her tattoo even when asked.

    2. Hi. My grandfather, Michel Nader Haik, came to America in late 1890 or so. He too had a small tattooed cross on his right hand near his thumb. He told me that it was to identify him as a Christian. He and his family came to the US to avoid persecution from the Muslims. I think he was either Orthodox Christian or Greek Orthodox. My family eventually became RomanCatholic. He originally settled in Gulfport Mississippi and then Bogalusa Louisiana.

      1. I was born in Bogalusa, as my Dad. His Dad was a merchant, mostly textiles. Always assumed that came from the old country but know nothing of my great grandfather who made the journey from Beirut.

    3. Prior to the closure of the borders between Lebanon and Israel, it was common for Christians from Lebanon to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. They had crosses tattooed on their wrist to mark that event in their life. My aunt has one commemorating her pilgrimage.

  39. Very interesting article!

    My great-grand father immigrated through Mexico, and into the US in 1917, but he was born in Mount Lebanon. I am having a difficult time researching his surname, which was changed to Cutar. I have found documents from Mexico, which says Catar. I can not find any reference to either of these names in Lebanon. Do you have any idea on what this name originally could have been? I would love to find family documents in Lebanon, but need to find his ‘real’ last name first! Thank you for any suggestion!!

    1. There is a well known federal politician in Australia by the name of Bob Katter. His forebears arrived in the late !800’s from Lebanon. It appears the name Katter has not changed spelling. Perhaps your great grandfather had the same spelling and the name/spelling became corrupted over time. Anyway, just a thought. Good luck.

  40. Fascinating article. Many thanks for sharing. I have a great-aunt who traveled with her husband, in the early 1900’s, through Ellis Island on their way to work at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Other members of my family traveled around the same time to Nova Scotia, and many others later (including my father) to Brazil, Argentina and Australia. I have recently been trying to research our family’s history, but have found that the details start getting fuzzy the further I look beyond 1900 or so. Not only does it get harder to track families and lineage (with records being scarce), but I have found that a lot of migration appeared to have happened in our family within the Mount Lebanon/Syria area. (For example, my Maronite great-grandfather left the Caza of Jebail to re-settle in Akkar around1860 — supposedly because of Turkish oppression or taxes, or both). I recently got my hands on a bound Chater family history which was put together by a distant cousin about 30 years ago. I’m having to work through it slowly (because my arabic is painfully bad) but I found numerous mentions of difficulties imposed by the Turks. Thanks again, Joe

    1. Hi Joseph, my great grandparents w/ the same last name also migrated to Nova Scotia around the same time. I believe they were traveling w/ members of the Shediac(Chidiac) family.

      From what I can find they were hoping to go to Reedley, Calif but were unable to-eventually settling in Vancouver, BC.

      I have been searching for over 3 years now & have also hit a wall & have been unable to find any information-village, family etc. back in Lebanon.

      I am on Ancestry, familysearcch & 23andme & others and have been unable to trace Michael JeBailey & Amelia Joseph(great grandparents) back to Lebanon.

      Anything you could help w/ info etc. would be greatly appreciated.


  41. You are most welcome. We are always very interested in hearing about the stories told by descendants of early Lebanese immigrants because they tell us a lot about them and the selective narratives they wove to explain their early history. We would love to hear more about your family’s history!

    1. My name is Zachary Ellis Abraham, my Dad. Michael Ellis Abraham, his mother, my Granny passed a few years ago. Her name was Julie Ellis Abraham. Her parents my Grandparents on my Dads side migrated from Lebanon in the late 1800s I’m assuming. I’m very curious about alot of things my Dad knows alot more information if anyone is interested, and might know more or have some questions give me a text at 12055971866 it’s History. Most of the Abraham family are in Georgia

    2. My great grandfather Wehbe Kamel left Batroun Lebanon with wife and daughter in the 1880’s ending up in Minneapolis where he lived and prospered quite well. His only son Chehwan followed in 1911, he decided he didn’t like it and found his way back quickly, it wasn’t until the early 60’s that Chehwan’s family left for the U.S first to Minneapolis then to Michigan, Windsor Ontario and Los Angeles.

  42. Really interesting to read this. My Great Grandfather immigrated to the US in 1918 through Ellis Island and, to my knowledge, had always maintained that he was forced to do so due to persecution of Lebanese Christians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Although I never met my Great Grandfather, my Grandpa writes a lot about the memories he passed down from Lebanon. Still, these memories are few and most come with unanswered questions about my family’s history. I suspect this is because of a mix of my Grandpa having been placed by his father into a Lutheran home for children during the Depression and of having been a child of mixed race and immigrant background at a time when the US became very isolationist. The things I read here help me piece together these stories. I don’t think my Grandpa has done a lot of digging and I’m not even sure he realizes his Dad might have been lying. It’s also interesting to consider what a man’s motivations might have been to maintain these violent stories when discussing his past with his kids. Thank you for the enlightenment.

    1. This is an incredible article. My great grandfather was Hassan Aziz (Azeaz) Ganem, son of Maroun Ghanem from the village Almane in the Chouf district. My family left the village due to famine. I have connected with distant cousins there and one of them in particular was very excited to meet me and moved to tears when we had a video call. He said he grew up with his father and grandfather always saying that the cousins would return to the village again one day but that they never came back and didn’t keep in touch. I recently found the name of my great grandmother Mary Elias. She was from Hammana and her father was John Elias. This side is a mystery to me because all of the records were burned and lost under Turkish rule. Do you have any information on Mary Elias from Hammana? Shukran!