The April Artifact of the Month at the Western Illinois Museum is a collection of six photographs and a passport from the Lubin Family who immigrated to Kewanee, Illinois.  This family collection was donated to the museum by Adella Edwards of Macomb. Adella’s maiden name was Lubin, and these materials tell her family’s immigration story.

Adella decided to donate material to the Western Illinois Museum because she had previously seen an exhibition at the museum that featured photographs of immigrants.  She felt the passport and photos had historical significance, and knew the museum would preserve them.
The collection consists of:

  • Photograph of Valera (also spelled Walera or Velera) Budyvtis, (also spelled Budytis, Budvitis, Budwitiek). This young woman would marry John Lubin and was Adella Edwards’ mother.
  • Wedding photo of the bride and groom, Adella’s parents, Valera and John Lubin on their wedding day, held on October 16, 1910, in Kewanee, Illinois.
  • Photo of Lubin wedding party of three bridesmaids and three groomsmen. It was a good-sized wedding party indicating the bride’s family could afford wedding expenses and was comfortably well-off.  Also, both the photograph of the bride and groom and the wedding group were taken in a studio by a professional photographer, showing that no expense was spared on this wedding.
  • Photograph of the family group in formal clothes. Presumed to be the bride’s mother, father and brother, taken on the bride Valera’s wedding day.
  • Photograph of the Lubin family, circa 1922.  Father, John Lubin, mother Valera, and children, Martha, 10 years old, and Adella, six years old.
  • Photo of the Lubin Family, circa 1926.
  • Family passport, 1922, never used. The family passport tells us that John Lubin’s birthplace was Lithuania, and his birthdate was June 5, 1885.  He was five feet, six inches and had blue eyes. His occupation was operator of an electric crane.

Adella grew up in Kewanee, Illinois, a town located about 120 miles southwest of Chicago.  Both of her parents were born in Lithuania but Adella said her parents did not speak much about their immigrant past.   Adella thought her father entered the United States through Ellis Island. Documents found on the Internet build a better understanding the Lubin Family story and the significance of the Lubin collection.  These supplemental documents tell us more about the family.

John Lubin’s social security record indicates he was born on June 5, 1885, and died June 1964, aged 79.  The Illinois County marriages record documents the Lubin marriage which took place on October 16, 1910.  It states John was 25 years of age and born in Russia.  His bride was 17 year old Valera Budwiteke (b.10/10/1893), also born in Russia. John’s father’s name was Mike Lubin and his mother was Tina Laf Kume.  Valera’s father was Theodore Budwitek, and her mother was Aga or Agnes Macrowski.

The 1920 census record tells us that John Lubin immigrated in the year 1905 and in 1920 John is age 35, Velera is age 24, Martha is age eight, Adella is age four. Wife’sname is listed as Velera.

John Lubin 1942 Draft registration card tells us that John Lubin listed his birth place as Kaulnus, Lithuania, and his employer’s name and address as Walworth Corp., Grey Iron Foundry, Kewanee. [Note: Town could be Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, which was a part of the Russian Empire from 1843 to 1917]

Knowing the birth date of John Lubin and the year he came to America through Ellis Island, helps locate the “Manifest list of Alien Passengers” from the U.S. Immigration Officer. A document called, the “Port of Arrival” for the SS Potsdam sailing from Rotterdam on June 10, 1905, arriving at Port on June 20, 1905, indicates on line six the details of John Lubin’s entry into the United States as a young immigrant.  The record states:

  • Name: Jonas Lubinas
  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: laborer
  • Race or People: originally Polish was written but then
  • Lithuanian is written over Polish
  • Final destination: Kewanee, Ill
  • Whether having a ticket to such final destination: Yes
  • By whom was passage paid? Brother
  • Whether in possession of $50, and if less, how much? $7.00
  • Whether going to a join a relative or friend and if so what relative or friend, and his name and complete address: Brother Thomas Liubin, 509 69th Street, Kewanee, Ill

Many passenger’s names were misspelled upon entry at Ellis Island. Despite the inconsistencies, the age, the year of entry and the final destination matches, making it probable that this is John Lubin’s immigration record to the United States. This entry describes a young man 20 years old who arrived in America with $7.00 in his pocket, on a ticket paid for by his brother, whom is he is going to join in Kewanee, Illinois to begin a new life.

During the nineteenth century, there was a mass movement of Eastern European immigrants which continued right up until the beginning of the First World War.   Thousands of men, women and children left Lithuania, mainly because of the lack of jobs and economic depression.   Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire at this time and young men were obligated to serve long military duty with the Russian army, another contributing factor for leaving the country.  Between 1868 and 1914, about one in four Lithuanians made this choice, with the main exodus occurring in the 1890s and 1900s. Many left Lithuania and came to America, and most entered the United States at Ellis Island.

When John Lubin arrived in Kewanee in 1905, it was a bustling manufacturing town, known widely for its production of fire-tube boilers. (The local high school’s sports teams are the Boilermakers.)  John Lubin was employed at Western Tube Company as a crane operator, and Valera Lubin worked there as a timekeeper.  Western Tube and the Kewanee Boiler Corp were the two largest industries and employers in Kewanee. Western Tube had about 4,500 employees in 1907. The population of the town was about 11,000, and this factory employed nearly half the town.  The company advertised in Europe and employed many immigrant workers for the arduous factory work.  They found willing and hard workers. In the early 1900s, employee notices had to be written in English and five other languages.   We can imagine that John Lubin or his brother before him had seen an advertisement in Lithuania saying come to Kewanee and work at the Western Tube Company.

In 1917, the Western Tube plant was purchased by the Walworth Company of Boston.  Walworth Company continued manufacturing fittings, valves, and other steam and water appliances and was a large part of life in Kewanee. The large physical plant covered 40 acres and its smokestacks and smoke,were visible throughout Kewanee. Western Tube immigrant employees lived in Kewanee.  The phone directory for 1907 is filled with Swedish, Polish, Belgian, Serbian, Lithuanian and many Eastern European names, most of them employed by the two main factories in town. Referred to as the Tube Company or later, Walworth, the huge plant would remain Kewanee’s leading employer for another 50 years. Walworth thrived during the 1920’s, suffered during the Depression years of the 1930’s, revived in the World War II period of the 1940’s and began a decline in the 1950’s, and in 1978 it closed completely.

Adella’s mother, Valera, told her that she had come to the United States with her parents when she was a little girl, aged 6 (circa 1899) and settled in Kewanee.   Adella learned from her mother that after her arrival in the United States Valera attended a local Kewanee school, receiving an American education, and she spoke English very well.  According to Adella, John and Valera’s families were from the same area in Lithuania.  Sometime between 1905 and 1910, John and Valera met and then married in 1910.  The three wedding photos of the bride and groom, of the wedding party and the family members, all show that the wedding in Kewanee was a happy, well-celebrated event between two Lithuanian families, documented by the 104 year-old images.

Valera became a leader of the Lithuanian-American community in Kewanee.  Adella’s mother told her stories of fellow Kewanee Lithuanians coming to her for assistance when they were going to a meeting with a lawyer or some sort of official and needed someone who was able to speak English well.

John and Valera worked at the Walworth Company and raised their two daughters, Martha, born in 1912 and Adella, born in 1915. At home, John and Valera spoke Lithuanian to each other, but Adella’s mother insisted the children speak English and behave like Americans. They lived in a neighborhood completely surrounded by other Lithuanian families. By 1922, both John and Valeria Lubin had become United States citizens.

As a citizen, John applied for and received an American passport for him and his family to travel to Lithuania. The family knew John Lubin wanted to return to Lithuania; that was the purpose of the passport.  John Lubin never really assimilated into American life.   He came to the United States as a young man; he never attended school in America, and did not learn English as well as his wife.  But, Valera did not want to go back; she liked America and wanted to stay. She was active in the community, spoke English well with little accent and was Americanized.  The passport was never used; it was never stamped, no travel visas issued.  Adella says the family never traveled to Lithuania, even to visit.  Even though John Lubin got the passport for his wife and children and himself to go to Lithuania, the trip never happened.  The Lubins lived the rest of their lives in Kewanee, and Valera passed away suddenly on November 15, 1941, when she was only 49 years old.

This family collection gives us a glimpse into the immigrant story of one of the region’s Lithuanian families.  The pictures depict the happy wedding of an immigrant couple beginning their married life in America, as well as other family images.  The images illustrate the quintessential story of many immigrant families: the parents coming from another country, working hard, settling down, and becoming a part of the melting pot that is America.  They record their becoming American citizens and raising their children, who become the next generation as Americans.   This family collection highlights a part of our shared history.  In towns all over Illinois, and indeed all over the United States, there are countless family stories of those who came from somewhere else to make a new home and left a mark building the region.

The Lubin Family photographs was on display April 1 – April 30, 2014.

Article by Heather Munro