The most interesting thing I discovered about my Uncle Emil was that in spite of how many people knew him and how many lives he touched, we didn’t really know anything about his origins My cousins(along with the rest of us) didn’t know that their father was born in Syria until after his death. When they would travel over the Canadian border to visit an Aunt, Uncle Emil would say he was from Buffalo. They knew their Sito (Grandmother) spoke with a thick accent as did their Uncles. Sometimes Uncle Emil would speak French. For a long time they thought he had been born in Lebanon – that was close. Uncle Emil was actually born in Syria on August 28, 1914, his family was likely from a French speaking part of Syria. As the Ottoman Empire expanded, the country’s landscape changed and in 1925 the area did become Lebanon. After Uncle Emil’s death they received a letter stating there was still land in his name in modern day Lebanon! The real breakthrough came when my cousin Yvonne was going through a box of her father’s papers and she came across a document that she couldn’t read. She sent it to the Rochester Institute of Technology where they translated the Arabic document and found it to be Uncle Emil’s Baptismal Certificate.
Emil was born to John and Tameny Mattar Kimaid. John Kimaid was born in 1875 in Syria, Tameny (Mary) was born in 1887. John was a successful Tailor and the family owned a home overlooking a bay. With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, the family suffered financially and they decided to move to Australia and rebuild their business. Their first 2 children Antoine (1905) and Yvette (1908) were born in Australia. Tameny was was approx 17yrs old when her first child was born. The family was again very successful with their business and after several years they made the decision to move back to their homeland. Their next 3 children were born in Syria, Paul (1911), Emil (1914), and Victoria (1921). The family again suffered financial losses under the Ottoman’s. They decided to leave their homeland for good. The family emigrated to the United States in 1923, my Uncle Emil was just about to be 10yrs old. I was able to find the arrival of Tameny, Boulos (Paul), Emil and Victoria. They came through Ellis Island arriving in the US on August 1, 1923 aboard the Madonna from Beirut, they listed Sahel-alma, Syria as their last place of residence.
The family made their way to Western NY and settled in Buffalo – that had to be such a drastic change from their warm homeland! The family again set up shop as Tailors, they owned the successful Kimaid-Mattar clothing stores in Buffalo. My cousins remember making the drive to Buffalo to visit their father’s family while he had new suits made. According to an ad in The Courier Express, in 1954 a new suit would set you back $50.
As with many immigrants – their surname went through several variations. The earliest version is Kmeid and is still used in Lebanon today, when the family came through Ellis Island they were listed as Kemeid, and finally Kimaid.
The family was active in their South Buffalo community and church. Two of the sons, Antoine and Paul went into the family business, Yvette married and raised a family, Victoria became a Nun and Emil graduated from Canisius College in Buffalo and went on to Medical School. He paid his way by working at a steel mill. He did his residency at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo and that is where he met my Aunt Lillian Marshall. Aunt Lil went to the nursing school run by the Nuns at Mercy Hospital. I didn’t know that part of their history until my mom mentioned it – after I had accepted my first job as an RN at the very same hospital! I actually met another Kimaid relative while I was there. Once I knew the story, I was so thrilled to be walking the same halls they once had.
With WWII approaching, like many couples of the time Uncle Emil and Aunt Lil were married quietly, with little fanfare and no family present. Uncle Emil was stationed down south before going overseas, Aunt Lil flew down and they were married. They spent a short time together before he left for Europe and didn’t see each other for a couple of years. It was said that the families weren’t especially thrilled at first, both of Emil’s brother’s had married girls from Lebanon and Lil’s family was German. Sentiments ran high on both sides. Uncle Emil was sent to Germany as an Army Doctor, he served under General Patton. While overseas he met his brother in law, Ronald Hermance for the first time. Uncle Ron had married my Aunt Claire but the two didn’t actually meet in person until they were in Germany. They were close for the rest of their lives.
After being discharged in 1946 Uncle Emil and Aunt Lil moved to Leroy, NY and he joined the medical practice of Dr. Paul Welsh. The two men served the area for many years, they were small town Dr.’s in every sense of the word. I picture a very Norman Rockwell practice. They made many, many house calls and did everything from delivering the babies to caring for people at the end of their lives. Leroy was just an hour or so drive from his family and a 20min drive away from the Marshall’s in Batavia. Uncle Emil also worked at the Catholic Hospital, St. Jerome’s in Batavia – there are a couple of good stories of him laughing while tending to some foolish injury of my family (usually one of my brothers). My mom was an x-ray tech at the same hospital and they were always close. He also served as the County coroner for many years. In fact he was called to the scene of the fatal car accident where my Grandfather, his father in law had a heart attack at the wheel. My grandparents had been on their way to his house when the accident happened. He was also one of the first people allowed to go into Attica Prison after the famous prison riot in 1971 He wrote an official, approved report for the State, but he took the things he saw behind those walls to his grave. It had to be a heavy burden for him to bear.
I was just about 5yrs old when Uncle Emil died, but I have vivid, happy memories of him, He had a huge model train set in the basement of their home, I remember being mesmerized by it and the wonderful man who wore a train conductor’s hat while running it. My memories are of him smiling often, while calling everyone “honey”. When people spoke of him, it was often about Aunt Lil and how much they loved each other. My mother and her sisters always said that Emil died first so that he could make sure everything was ready for Lil. My Aunt had battled cancer on and off for several years but Emil was diagnosed and died fairly quickly. He spent about a month at St. Jerome’s before he died (Sept 4, 1978). My mom would go visit him and spend time during work. Sadly she also did the same just 4 months later for Aunt Lil, she passed away on January 11, 1979. They left behind their 3 children, Suzanne, Yvonne, and Paul who were all their 20’s. Their family continued to grow and at the time of this writing they have a legacy of 3 children, 5 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren.
Addendum 2/18/17: So right after I published this I found a really interesting article from the New York Times published on August 2, 1923. The article was about the overwhelming numbers of immigrants who arrived to Ellis Island on August 1 – the very day that Emil and his family arrived! The article says that 15,000 immigrants arrived that day. 16 ships, 35 nationalities were represented. They had to send ships to Boston and Philadelphia just to deal with the sheer numbers.
Kimaid and Mattar Ad. (1954, November 25). Courier Express, p. 71. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from fultonhistory.com
Obituaries. (1978, September 07). The Leroy Gazette News, p. 8. Retrieved February 15 , 2017.
Ellis Island Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://libertyellisfoundation.org/passenger-result