Friday, March 04, 2016

Walking with the Immigrant Ancestors

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 wanted to see what other newsworthy events had happened on May 9, 1861 in addition to the arrival of the ancestors.  My 2nd great grandparents and the other passengers, most of them Germans, disembarked from a ship that had been sailing for 32 days right at the beginning of the Civil War in America.  On May 9, some southern states were still deciding whether to secede from the Union. Did my Ancestors know of that when they came ashore? Whether or not they did, they could not have missed seeing a great many soldiers on the streets of New York.  There were signs posted at Castle Garden, written in German, that offered money to young German men who were willing to enlist in the Union Army.

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.

Volunteers for the Union Army, perhaps in uniform or perhaps in their ordinary clothes, marched along the sidewalk. Those men could have been the Wisconsin volunteers who, the Time says, arrived in New York that very day. Wisconsin was the state all of the Irsch immigrants had as their destination. Did the two groups, one at their destination as soldiers, the other on their way to be farmers in the state the soldiers had just left, meet along those very streets?  Did they talk to these former countrymen?

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.

Sources:
New York Times, May 9 and 10
Engels, Friedrich, The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party

6 comments:

  1. Kathy:
    My great-grandfather, Jacob Fisch, and his parents Mathias Fisch and Magdalena Lauer Fisch arrived on the Rattler May 9, 1861. They moved to St. John in Calumet County. Other surnames of my ancestors dating back as far as 1650's in Irsch and surrounding environs are: Shu; Wagner; Braun; Schmitt; and Reimers; I also have Probst ancestors. I'm looking forward to reading the wonderful history you've provided in your blog!

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  2. Hi,
    Thank you for your comment and the information about our connections. I'm so delighted you wrote. I would like to connect with you about the Irsch records you have found. My e-mail address is kathleengosz@gmail.com. Hoping to hear from you.
    Kathy

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  3. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Hi Kathy, I am also a descendant of Mathais and Magdalena Fisch. How did it take me so long to find this blog? It is wonderful. I am in contact with Fisch's in Irsch. I have a copy of a beautiful family tree that was made in Irsch. If you are interested I could send you a picture of it. Jane

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  4. I would love to see that. Also thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found it. Anything I can do to help people find what I did, even if they don't read any German or have relatives in Irsch as you and I do. So glad you wrote. Kathy

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  5. I know we are connected in spirit. MY 3rd great grandmother was Susanna Britton. Perhaps have was an ancestor of the man that helped rebuild the farmhouse. The world is so small and you have brought it even smaller for me. I WILL CONTINUE to read your blog and make connections.

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  6. Thank you for commenting. Probably we are connected. The Heinrich Brittons were part of the group from Irsch that emigrated together with my Meiers in 1861 and settled for awhile in St. John, Wisconsin. Kathy

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