|The New York Times, 1861|
The most popular posts I have written have been about the German emigrants’ travel from their home city or village to the Atlantic Port of Le Havre or their letters about the trip to people back in Europe. I may have said before that the Le Havre passenger list roll is one of the most sought after documents for the descendants of French, German, and Swiss immigrants. It is almost totally accepted that the Le Havre passenger lists have been destroyed but somehow the word hasn't gotten out to a lot of genealogical seekers.
Many of the comments or e-mails I’ve received from genealogical searchers who were looking for the actual Le Havre lists do thank me for painting a word picture of the struggles that confronted an emigrant family on their way to the port of Le Havre. It made them so much more aware that their immigrant ancestors were real people facing great difficulties even after they made their decision to leave their homes for an unknown land.
But what about the journey once the immigrant families' feet touched the earth of what was to be their new country.
I was looking through my genealogical files a few days ago when I found some notes that I made not too long after I started writing the Meier-Rauls family history. On the front page of the New York Times I had found what month and day their ship, the Rattler, had arrived in the Port of New York. The group of people from Irsch, including my ancestors, took their first steps on American soil at the Castle Garden receiving station, the place where the City of New York made a concerted effort to help immigrants feel welcome in their new country. To me, that date was a major event - 9 May 1861. That arrival determined I would be born an American citizen instead of a dweller in one of the villages on the Sigfreid Line during World War II.
I read the pages of the New York Times for May 9 and 10, 1861. Here are a few things that the New York Times believed were worthy of a story, happenings which may or may not have attracted the attention of my ancestors and the other immigrants from Irsch as they walked out of Castle Garden and on to the sidewalks of New York. I can imagine them seeing sights that made them wonder if there were more difficulties ahead than they had anticipated, difficulties that would keep them from their final destinations in Ohio, Pennsylvania,Wisconsin or any other states, especially southern states like Texas.
Men and women were standing on street corners, collecting money for the men who were about to be placed in harm's way by the Civil War. The New York Times warned in that morning's edition of the newspaper that the majority of these people were swindlers. However, maybe the new arrivals thought that their new country had many beggars, contrary to what they had been told about the wealth in America.
There were boxes containing 3,600 military garments that had been made by the famous Brooks Brothers New York store on the corner of Grand and Broadway. They consisted of coats, jackets, and pantaloons.* These had been carefully folded, packed for delivery and were being loaded onto wagons and sent off that morning. The Times does not say where they were being taken. Did the immigrant group from Trier peer at the wagons, wagons that were probably very different than those they used in their former villages. Did they wonder what was in all of those boxes?
On May 10, the New York Times editorial called for three-year volunteers to be trained, especially new arrivals from a number of specific places; men who were "thoroughly drilled who have seen action in Schleswig Holstein, in Baden, in Italy, in Hungary and in the Crimea. The laws of their country required the most constant drill. They are hardy and vigorous men." There were immigrants from Baden on the Ship Rattler.
Prussia also had universal conscription. From what I've found in my research, many men from Prussia were probably not as desirable as U.S. soldiers. Since the Prussians considered many of them too short to wear the uniform of the Prussian emperor, Prussian peasant farmers were freed from military service if they were shorter than 5' 2".
To have your ancestors come alive. check the day they arrived in the United States in 1846 or 1873 or some other year. If you can find a local newspaper from the day of their arrival; or a story on the web from a major newspaper on the day those ancestors made their way along the streets of New York or New Orleans, or Montreal Canada. Walk with them for awhile. You will learn a lot.
*Historical men's close-fitting breeches fastened below the calf or at the foot.
New York Times, May 9 and 10
Engels, Friedrich, The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party,