Monday, March 30, 2015

Setting Sail With Ancestors

While I found it so rewarding to finally discover the name of the ship my father’s grandmother arrived on, just knowing the name wasn’t enough. If I could have touched the ship, itself, perhaps it would have sufficed me. Since I can’t, a voracious appetite for every miniscule speck of detail screams to be satisfied.

So, I went looking.

The Internet is a fascinating resource, standing at the ready to satisfy such eclectic research whimsies. In my quest for details on the S.S. Wieland, I found several sites with mentions of the vessel.

A British website—albeit ad-heavy—informed me that the S.S. Wieland was built by Alexander Stephen and Sons in Glasgow, and launched on Tuesday, June 16, 1874—fifteen years before eight year old John Laskowski left his homeland with his mother, his brother and his baby sister. Although my family most certainly wasn’t Scandinavian, their vessel was included in the helpful Norway-Heritage website, complete with a timeline of the ship’s voyages, including the family’s 1889 arrival in New York, noted as February 15:
Arrived at 16:00 afternoon, Capt. Barends.

Thanks to results of a Google search, I discovered another researcher was peering into the details on the same immigrant ship—his post included recollections of his family’s trip, mixed with some historic detail. The website also provides a better photograph of the Wieland, taken from a 1983 book entitled Ships of Our Ancestors, compiled by Michael J. Anuta.

While I’m grateful for having discovered—finally!the passenger records, thanks to, it was also interesting to see the passenger records from the other end of the journey. includes the Hamburg Passenger Lists, from the Staatsarchiv Hamburg, showing that same record for Marianna Laskowska and her three children.

The accommodation type, listed for the Laskowskis’ February 3 departure from Hamburg, reminded me of the difficulties the family faced, despite the shorter transit time than immigrants of past generations endured. It would be hard enough for a young mother, traveling alone, to corral two restless boys—one only four years of age at the time—plus look after an infant. Her passage, listed as “Zwischendeck,” indicated that she, like so many others who had made that journey, traveled in “steerage.”

There were probably more reasons than one that passengers since 1886 were so cheered to see the Statue of Liberty looming as their ship approached New York harbor. Even a tiny apartment in the poorest sections of Brooklyn wouldn’t be as confining as a twelve day passage in steerage.


  1. I can't imagine being in a cramped ship for 12 days - let along the even scarier thought of being in a 2-3 month sailing ship voyage.

    1889 was when Hitler was born and there was a huge outbreak of anti-jewish violence in the area that is now Poland. Not to mention a huge outbreak of Influenza in Posnan itself.

    1. "World War II's brutality interrupted the placid interwar period. The territory of the Diocese of Wloclawek was annexed to the Third Reich. Persecution of all things Polish and of the clergy was intense. Of 432 priests serving in the diocese at the outbreak of the war, 224 perished, as well as the Bishop, Michal Kozal, who died in the Dachau concentration camp. Many churches were destroyed or desecrated."

    2. Knowing about all this devastation shrinks the discomfort of that twelve day voyage immensely--and makes it all the more incredible to to realize that one part of this family, having made it all the way to America, subsequently opted to return home after the first World War was settled. If only we could know what would happen afterwards...

  2. 12 days to a new life, I am certain there were other Mothers as well on that ship...that must have been some comfort and support...but with sea sickness...etc...I am certain it was not a comfortable journey:(

    1. That is a good point, Far Side: other mothers. In fact, often immigrants traveled in groups--either extended family or people from the same village. Maybe I should take a good, long look at the rest of the names on that passengers' list.


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