Passenger lists are important records for tracing immigrant ancestors. Before air travel became more common in the 1950s, ships were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. Passenger lists usually included passenger name, place of origin, birth date, departure date, arrival date, and the ship name. Using this information, a search through Newspapers.com may shed light on your ancestor’s immigration journey with new details not found in a passenger list. Here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself when researching ancestors that immigrated aboard a ship.
- Why Did Your Ancestor Immigrate?
A search of newspapers might provide insight into the events that led to your ancestor’s decision to immigrate. For example, a search of Irish papers in the 1840s reveals countless articles about the Irish Potato Famine. The famine led to more than a million deaths between 1845-1849 and prompted many emigrants to leave Ireland.
- What Was Your Ancestor’s Voyage Like?
Newspapers can yield details of your ancestor’s journey. For example, on August 24, 1848, the Ocean Monarch departed Liverpool, England, bound for Boston. A fire broke out on board, and after attempts to extinguish it failed, passengers began jumping into the sea. Several ships came to the rescue but not before 180 perished. The following month, Boston papers reported as survivors from the Monarch began arriving in Boston aboard a different ship. Search newspapers for the name of your ancestor’s ship, then search the departure and arrival dates. You might uncover a story about their journey.
- Can Newspapers Reveal the Story Behind Those Who Were Born at Sea?
Thousands of mothers gave birth to babies during their immigration voyage. Babies born at sea are often listed at the bottom of the ship’s manifest or on the final page. This Boston Globe article from 1895 reported that a baby born at sea aboard a ship flying the American flag was entitled to automatic citizenship. In 1900, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiled nine city residents, all born at sea, and shared their individual immigration stories. If you have an ancestor born at sea, you might find details of their experience in the newspaper.
- What Was Happening at their Port of Arrival?
If you had an ancestor that arrived in New York City in August 1906, you might learn that the city was experiencing a terrific heatwave. The New-York Tribune reported a temperature of 106 degrees and described the impact the heat was having on immigrants. At Ellis Island, immigrants from Russia arrived in heavy clothing, coats trimmed with fur, and cumbersome boots and shoes. Some collapsed from the heat, and the paper published a list of heatwave fatalities. Meanwhile, anchored in the bay, nearly 5,000 passengers waited in sweltering ship holds for Ellis Island to open after a Sunday closure. The paper described the “haggard faces of the immigrants and the almost physical collapse of many women and children” as they finally disembarked the hot holds of the ships. Search the news at your ancestor’s port of arrival to learn more about their experiences after arriving in America.
- Did Newspapers Publish Ship Schedules?
Yes! Newspapers can be used as a cross-check for immigrant departures and arrivals. Shipping companies endeavored to maintain a timetable, but sometimes unforeseeable circumstances led to delays. Newspapers reported on delays and when ships finally arrived at their destination.
- What If you Can’t Find a Passenger List for Your Ancestor?
Sometimes you may be unable to find ship records for an immigrant ancestor, perhaps because the records no longer exist or were destroyed. One example is the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which flooded the island and destroyed the building that housed immigration records. If you can’t find a passenger list, you can search newspapers. Sometimes papers published the names of arriving passengers. You might also find immigration details in obituaries or other published stories. On a few occasions (and for various reasons), immigrants arrived as a stowaway or traveled under an assumed name. Newspapers may provide the clue necessary to unlock that immigration mystery.
To learn more about your ancestor’s immigration experience, explore Newspapers.com™ today!