American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • Roots and Branches: Ships of our Ancestors

    Miriam Weiner

    Published Date : April 1989
     Not long ago, I discovered the thrill of locating photos of the ships which brought my ancestors, along with millions of others, to these shores.  In front of me were the actual pictures of the ship on which my forefathers walked the decks, spent hours sharing what they had heard from others and finally experienced the joy of arrival at their destination.

    During the great pilgrimage by sea that our ancestors made to this country to seek a new life for themselves and for those who followed, they experienced many sleepless nights, afraid of the new life ahead, and yet fearful of the one they left behind.  Many of us have listened to older relatives describe these long voyages during which they suffered from sickness, poor sanitary conditions, and little food.

    To the generations that followed, this immigration experience of our ancestors was hard to fathom. We heard about it, we saw documents and passenger records; however, the fact still remains that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

    Not long ago, as a surprise for Father’s Day, I had[GAP IN ORIGINAL] Zuckt, Hamburg to Philadelphia, March 25, 1913, S.S. Prinz Oskar” and presented it to my father. That photo reminded him of the stories his mother told of her long trip from the village of Sudilkov in the Ukraine, with four small children, to her new home in St. Louis where her husband awaited her, having arrived three years earlier.

    The nostalgia of the past, sooner or later, infects most of us, more so as we get older.  Ancestors are very special people.  Because of conditions which they could no longer bear, many sought and found a new country where they made new lives for themselves and those who followed.  The most important and perilous part of their journey was over the Atlantic Ocean where each voyage was an epic in itself.

    Once I obtained photos of the ships which brought my grandparents to these shores, my curiosity extended to the vessels themselves. These photos represent a visual confirmation and tangible portrayal of the long journey to an unknown fnture.

    When I obtained a photograph of the S.S. Celtic (Liverpool to New York), December 19, 1912, I was facinated to read the ship description which included these facts: “First steamship to exceed 20,000 tons.  Maiden voyage: July 26, 1901 from Liverpool to New York. Went aground in a dense fog at entrance to Queenstown Harbor, December 10, 1928 and became a total loss. Dismantled by shipbreakers in 1933, as she was a danger to navigation.  Note: These liners were noted for their steadiness in bad weather.

    We are fortunate that there are societies and museums dedicated to the preservation of the history of ships which house extensive libraries and photo collections.  For a fee, it is possible to obtain data on your ancestor’s ship and a photo.  One of the largest collections is located at: Steamship Historical Society of America, University of Baltimore Library, 1420 Maryland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201.  They will advise you of the extent of their holdings and the cost of reproduction of photos and historical material.

    A valuable reference is the Morton Allen Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals for the Years 1890 to 1930 at the Port of New York and For the Years 1904 to 1926 at the Ports of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore (1931, rep. 1979, 1981, 1987).  It includes a chronological listing of ship arrival dates with name of steamship company, port of entry, vessel name, and port of embarkation.

    A friend recently introduced me to “postcard shows” and while browsing at a large one held annually in New York City, I found many postcards of ships.  One which captured my attention was of The S.S. Prinz Friedrich Willhelm which included a foldout set of smaller photos depicting the interior of the ship, the cafe, promenade deck, stateroom, dining rooms and staircase.

    I have since located advertisements for the shipping lines, menus, old steamship tickets, and other memorabilia from those trips.  My collection includcd copies of several “Passenger-Lists” printed by the Hamburg-Arnerika Line listing names of passengers [ORIGINAL BLOTTED OUT] storage of valuables, medical facilities, library, and barber shop.  Although there are many fine sources for ship photos and their history, you can begin with Passenger Liners of the World Since 1893, by Nicholas T. Cairis (1979), which provides a nostalgic look at 211 ships and their history. See also Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, by Eugene W. Smith (1978), which lists over 3,000 vessels and their histories from 1840 to 1977 illustrated with over 200 rare museum photographs covering all the major style classifications as well as the unusual.  Both books include an alphabetical index for easy reference.

    Miriam Weiner is known nationally for her knowledge of Jewish genealogy and her work with Rabbi Malcolm Stern.  For more information, write to her at 136 Sandpiper Key, Secaucus, NJ 07094.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society