Sunday, August 31, 2014

From Moselle to the Port of Le Havre

Covered wagon similar to those used to travel from Moselle to Le Havre
(Roscheiderhof Open Air Museum)

Department of the Moselle

Some time ago, I wrote, with a great deal of help from my sister Marilyn, a blog post about the port of Le Havre. She has an excellent command of the French language and was willing to do some research for me using French sources. That post has proved to be one of the most popular posts I have ever written. For those of us focused on finding out about the lives of our Rhineland, Bavarian, or Swiss emigrant ancestors, Le Havre is obviously a much more important emigration port than the usual genealogy texts or expert speakers at German genealogical conferences recognize. 

My sister, to help me with research for my novel, compiled and translated some other information on Le Havre-related subjects. These articles are in my files but also translated in full on her own blog, "Californie en français." Since you may not have found them there, let me give you a summary of one of them. I think that after I whet your appetite for further details, you will want to read the full article (right column, bottom of column) written by two descendants of an emigrant family from the French 
Department of Moselle in the Lorraine (Lothringen) region of France. It is called "Leaving for America" by Philippe and Giles Houdry. 

Thanks to Europedia, I learned that the Moselle is a department of the Lorraine region, and owes its name to the river of the same name. Moselle has a population of 1,024,000 inhabitants, and is divided into nine administrative districts (Arrondissements in French) for a total of 51 Cantons and 730 municipalities. It borders (clockwise from the North) the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, as well as the French departments of the Bas-Rhin, and Meurthe-et-Moselle. This area, with its combination of residents with French or German ancestry - sometimes both - still today speak a language that is a close cousin of Luxembourgish, especially in the northern part of the Moselle.

The Houdrys write that Pierre BREM and his family emigrated to New York, in the United States of America. These were ancestors of the Houdrys. Pierre and his wife Elisabeth (Boutter) Brem and their children, came from their village of Hargarten-aux-Mines. This zone in the north of Lorraine was German-speaking. The notaries of the region would record their documents in French which was the official language, and they were also required to indicate that said documents had been read in German by both the participants and witnesses.

The Houdry article goes on to spell out the many reasons why so many people, including those from the Moselle, emigrated to America. It is an excellent list. What the Germans called America letters; that is, the letters from friends and relatives already in America, exerted influence in the Moselle as well. America was considered as a country of liberty and of democracy, where the recognition of the individual was based on his competence and not his birth, things which many in the Moselle felt was not true of their homeland.

Pierre BREM left in 1844 to scout the United States, leaving his family in safety at Hargarten-aux-Mines. In 1846, Elisabeth and her two children, Anne Marie and Michel, left from Le Havre to join him. On that occasion that Elisabeth received power of attorney from her husband, sent from New York, to sell their possessions and thereby pay the voyage for the three of them. The sale occurred in Hargarten-aux-Mines, in the family house itself, the 13 March 1846. Piere Brem must have had great confidence in his wife who had a difficult road ahead of her, both in their selling the possessions which were still in the village of Hargarten-aux-Mines and in making the trip to Le Havre with two young children. Not only did she have to sell all of their land and personal property, converting everything into the money to take with her; she also had to obtain two passports; one for permission to leave France for America and another to allow her to move freely from her own Canton to any others she might cross in and out of on her trip to Le Havre. Making arrangements for the trip with some kind of travel company or service also was required.

The majority of immigrants made the voyage in wagons up to the port of embarkation at Le Havre. The Houdry's conjecture is that Pierre in 1844 and Elisabeth and the two children in 1846, would certainly have traveled to the coast by wagon so as not to waste the precious savings scraped together in Lorraine. It is also likely, as is often the case, that they would have joined a convoy of other Lorraine emigrants, which made the trip much safer, especially for a woman with two children and no husband. In addition to the safety factor, it also maintained a familiar environment in foreign surroundings. On bad roads, the convoys moved slowly. For a trip of approximately three weeks, most travelers would have placed canvas or sail-cloth over the arches of the wagons to protect the passengers from bad weather and to more comfortably spend the night. What did the wagon look like? The wagon picture above, taken at the German open-air museum in Roscheid, would be very similar. With more than one such wagon, the travelers would have resembled Hollywood movies about wagon trains headed west.

The wagon trip from Moselle to Le Havre took about 3 weeks. The railroad line Metz-Nancy did not open until 1850, that of Nancy-Paris not until 1852. The line Paris-Le Havre itself was only slightly older; it opened in 1847.

Many of the emigrants, when they reached the port, especially before 1850, were not able to embark right away. In bad weather, the ships were clustered close alongside and prevented from departing because of the direction of the winds. Sometimes it was necessary to wait for the arrival of the ship. The travelers often had to stay one or more weeks in one of the auberges of the city.  The money that Elizabeth carried with her could have easily been depleted by the need to eat, to buy provisions for the long ocean voyage, and to pay for shelter in an auberge/Gasthaus until the day of departure.

The auberges, especially those which were cheapest, gave a foretaste of the steerage section where the emigrants were going to huddle during the roughly one-and-a-half-month length of the crossing.


  1. Thank you Kathy! As we all know, one answer begets two (or more questions). The wagon route to Le Havre from the Moselle département must have gone through —or skirted past— the city of Paris. I would think more likely through the city, as all roads led to Paris, the seat of government and the focus even of the Catholic church.

    At one time, I guessed that part of the trip might have been up the Mosel from my forbears' homes in Igel and Wasserliesch (both on the Mosel). That would be about 60 miles by barge.

    However, they emigrated at 1855, 1865, 1867, and 1872, and rail transportation was available from the middle Mosel to Luxembourg and, I think, to Metz and Paris. By rail, the milage is around 175 miles to Paris and 110 from Paris to Le Havre. I would guess that rail travel could shorten the trip to a week or less, to include awaiting connections for transfers along the way.

    It's amazing that the 19th C had seen rapid development in the realm of transportation. —We have led ourselves to believe that only our own times consist of continual change! Thanks for helping us understand more about travel in the mid-19th C, and for establishing a basis for understanding that all our research must be closely related to the times of our ancestors' experience.

  2. Tom, thanks for sharing your information and surmises about the trip to Le Havre. I also think that our ancestors went to Paris and then moved on from there, maybe taking the Seine as their final part of the trip. I keep wondering whether those mostly rural village people had a chance to marvel at the spectacular city - maybe even spend a little time walking on Paris streets - before they departed again for Le Havre.

  3. Also, thank you for reminding me of Roscheider Hof, the German open-air museum in Roscheid. I'm now making last preparations for a research trip in August (2017), and I had forgot to check out that museum's times.

    Here are more detailed websites about it:

    1. Have a wonderful time on your research trip. I hope you find a lot of new information. Also, thanks for sharing the website information about Roscheider Hof.

  4. Now long returned from my research trip, I learned one very important aspect. Don't expect an August visit to result in a lot of local contacts in the Standesämter and parish offices. Many offices were lightly staffed, while half of the people were on vacation.

    Nevertheless, I did glean a lot of contact names for later emails.

    My research trip took me to the homes of five great-grandparents and to two large libraries for recording information from books that are generally not available in the U.S. In detail: Königheim and Breisach-am-Rhein in Baden-Württemberg, Wasserliesch and Igel in Rheinland-Pfalz, Brakel in Nordrhein-Westfalen, the Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, and the Nationalbibliotheck in Frankfurt. I met researchers of the localities and a few researchers of my family lines, and I came away with two Familienbücher and six locality history books. Oh, and 8 bottles of wine from the regions.