Monday, January 13, 2014

Travel Tuesday - The Date an Ancestor Left for America

Sailing the English Channel near Le Havre

This blog post is different from most.  Rather than writing about the  social customs of the people of the Saarburg Kreis, I switched gears for this one time.

My average blog post has about 25 hits shortly after it is posted.  These probably come from followers who are interested in all aspects of German culture. Then, depending on the subject of the piece, numbers increase as a subject is searched and one of my posts is thought to have potential to give the information needed.

Until last year, my posts about the customs of Christmas in the Rhineland area, especially about Knecht Ruprecht, the not-so-kind companion of St. Nikolaus, were the most popular. As you can tell from that last sentence, I do check my statistics which are calculated for me each day by Blogger.

Last year a new blog post began to receive a surprising number of hits. I had written a piece about the Port of Le Havre, describing the struggle to reach the port and then find a place to wait for the ship as it arrived, usually with merchandise from the last country visited.  Often the hold of the ship was refitted for a new cargo - the emigrants. Almost every day, that particular post about Le Havre had more views than any other post and so it continues. In addition, the comments were more numerous than any other post I had ever written.  Do not let any genealogical expert tell you that Hamburg and Bremen are the only important ports for German immigrants.  Le Havre saw an enormous amount of Bavarian, Swiss, Austrian and Rhineland immigration.

One of those comments left on the Le Havre blog post asked if I had any information about the amount of time it took for a ship to reach New York after it left Le Havre. It was the same question that had bothered me many years ago - before the days of the Internet search and all the data sources on Ancestry, Roots Web, etc. I set out for the Wisconsin Historical Society Library to try to find additional information on the ocean voyages that brought some of my ancestors to the port of New York. I knew the names of two of the ships - the Rattler and the Albion - their dates of arrival, and their ports of departure. What I didn’t know was the length of the voyage and the registry of the ship. That information was not required on the form for ship arrivals which each ship captain submitted.  Thus, it is also not on the microfilms of “Registers of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports.”

My German Bohemian ancestors’ ship, the Albion arrived in New York in August 1856 (with Elizabeth and Anton Luniak and their children).  On May 9, 1861 (with Magdalena and Johann Meier and their children aboard) the ship Rattler reached New York's port. The Luniaks were arriving from Liverpool and the Meiers from Le Havre. There was no clue to tell me when either of those ships had set sail.

I tried another route but none of the published books about sailing ships, some with pictures and good descriptions of immigrant ships, listed the ships on which my ancestors sailed.  If a wonderful library like the Wisconsin Historical Society's library, holding records and books from every state east of the Mississippi, could not help me; there was nowhere else to turn without a trip to Europe, or so I had begun to think.

Then I took the step I should have begun with.  I asked the reference librarian if he could point me in the right direction. "Did they arrive after September 18, 1851?" he asked. When I said yes, he told me to look at the front page of the New York Times newspaper.  I know I gave him a confused stare! To my surprise, I learned that ships arriving at the port of New York were always reported there, giving details such as country of registry, the owning company or individual, the port of departure, the length of the journey and the type of cargo. In addition, the listing sometimes gave other details about the voyage. Here are the entries I found for my two ships:

May 9, 1861 - “Ship Rattler, Almy (the ship’s captain), Havre, 32 ds. (length of trip) with mdse. and 197 passengers to Wm. Whitlock Jr. (the ship’s owner)” This means that they left on the 8th of April in 1861. (Easter was on March 31 so they celebrated the important Catholic Feast Day just one week before they started out for Le Havre).

August 9, 1856 - “Ship Albion, Williams (the ship’s captain), Liverpool, July 11, (date of departure) with mdse., and 621 passengers to Tapscott and Co (the ship’s owner).  July 14 (three days out of port) James H. Simpson, of Newport R.I., fell from the mizzen topgallantyard and was drowned.”  I assume he was a crew member but the newspaper doesn't say so.

By looking at information on other ships arriving from European ports the same day, I learned more about the crossing. I could surmise that the Rattler probably was rocked by storms like other ships in that day’s list since several ships were "in ballast" when they arrived.  This meant that heavy material had to be placed in the ship’s hold to enhance stability. An entry for another ship arriving from LeHavre the same day noted that it was in ballast and that the ship “has had heavy westerly gales for the last 10 ds.” My heart ached for my great great grandmother who was in the early months of her pregnancy.

So if you’ve found your ancestor’s ship in the New York passenger lists, or in Germans to America, and the date is after 18 September 1851, I recommend checking the New York Times Newspaper on microfilm or online to get “the rest of the story.”  The online heading you are looking for is under the "ARCHIVES" tab of the newspaper and the subject you want is "marine intelligence (month, day, year)

Once I had information on the owners, I wanted more information about the shipping companies.  I did a web search.  I learned that the owner of the Albion was the Tapscott Company.  They were described as “systematic villains,” a fact so well know that this was immortalized in a sea shanty, a song sung when the ship was being “warped” out of harbor at the beginning of a voyage. (To find out more about the shipping lines, such as Tapscott, there is good information at "The Ship's List."  Even if your first search is not successful, new information and lists are being added to "The Ship's List" regularly as I found just now when I went back to check for this post.  The passenger list of the ship Rattler, which carried my ancestors, has now been transcribed.  If your ancestor arrived at the Port of New York before September 1851, this site may help you.

A word of warning.  If you are an e-mail subscriber to the free New York Times Newspaper headlines, be aware that your 10 full articles per month are counted whether you click on their e-mail headlines of the current day in 2014 or find a New York Times article in 1861 while doing an on-line search.  I just lost all my free articles for the month of January by checking accuracy of New York Times articles used in this article in the NY Times Archive on line.  Evidently even a headline from May of 1861 meets their restriction criteria.

According to the last comment received on this post,, a for-profit website, has records for the New York Times going back at least as far as 1832.  That is where a reader of this post found the arrival of her ancestors' ship.  I thank her very much for taking the time to share the information.