Due at Her Pier…

One of my favorite subjects in family history is immigration and passenger list research. Not only the compelling personal stories of our ancestors as they leave one life behind to begin another, but also the infinite array of research possibilities: the ports of arrival, the ships and vessels themselves, the genealogical value and evolution of the records, and of course, the various spelling permutations of our ancestor’s surnames.

Many researchers are understandably focused on the manifests themselves as they begin their immigration research, yet by doing so, they overlook a potential key source of information. Many port city newspapers maintained a shipping column in their pages, a daily list identifying what ships are coming, going, or expected to arrive in the next day or two. This Shipping & Mails column is particularly helpful in verifying the date of arrival of an ancestor’s ship, much like the Morton Allan Directory, but can also provide unique one-of-a-kind information detailing a ship’s arrival.

Let’s take a closer look at the Shipping & Mails column, using Stanley Piotrowski, my great-grandfather, as an example. Born in Kolo, Poland in March 1886, Stanley immigrated to the United States in April 1909, arriving at Ellis Island aboard the President Grant. Here is the entry from the Shipping & Mails column in the 15 April 1909 edition of the New York Times, indicating the ship’s expected arrival that day:

“Incoming Steamships,” New York Times, 15 April 1909, p. 16, col. 7.

It’s a bit smudged, but the article above also shows that the President Grant departed Hamburg on April 4, thus making the trans-Atlantic voyage in 11-12 days. Further down the column, additional information on the President Grant‘s arrival at Ellis Island can be found.

“Reported by Wireless,” New York Times, 15 April 1909, p. 16, col. 7.

An extension of the New Jersey coastline, Sandy Hook is just south of the entrance to New York’s harbor, meaning that the President Grant was still more than 300 miles out to sea the day before arriving at Ellis Island. More importantly, because of this newspaper article, I now have the approximate hour (2 p.m.) when my immigrant ancestor first set foot in the United States. What a find!

The manifest itself reveals information on Stanley’s life, occupation, birthplace, who paid his passage, final destination, and much more, but this Times article sheds a whole different light on his arrival at Ellis Island, offering a level of detail not found in any other source, save perhaps a personal diary or family oral tradition. We all strive to make those personal connections with our research, linking the past both to the present and future. Like the example here, perhaps the local newspaper can make those connections for you and your immigrant ancestor.

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Intersecting Ancestors

Our family narratives are full of fascinating stories of heroism, romance, joy, tragedy, and so much more. These dramatic tales become even more compelling when our ancestors’ lives overlap at unexpected moments, events, or places across generations. In my family, one such intersection occurred before and during World War I, in the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Stanislaus Piotrowski, my paternal great-grandfather, immigrated to the United States aboard the liner S.S. President Grant, arriving at Ellis Island on April 15, 1909. Originally from Kolo in Russian Poland, Piotrowski lived briefly in Chicago before getting married and starting a family in Gary, Indiana. Here is a snip from his arrival record, showing his name, age, and occupation.

Closeup of Stanislaw Pietrowski arrival record at New York, 15 April 1909.

The President Grant was constructed in 1907 in Belfast, Ireland, and served the Hamburg-America Line for several years until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Here is a picture of the ship taken in 1919, courtesy of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS President Grant, c. 1919

The President Grant remained in New York until the United States entered the war, was then transferred to the U.S. Navy, and during the course of the war, ferried nearly 40,000 troops through the treacherous waters of the Atlantic Ocean and to the European battlefields.

William Alderson, my maternal great-grandfather, enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard in April 1917. Originally from Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania (just south of Pittsburgh), Alderson served overseas during World War I, largely in Paris with the Finance Division of the Ordnance Department. The 19 February 1918 excerpt from Alderson’s diary, written aboard the USS George Washington during his Atlantic voyage en route to France, reads: “I awoke this morning at 6:45, dressed, I went to the deck to see the ocean, there was no land in sight….All I could see was water on every side and the water was rough….There is seven other ships besides our own, three of them are the, DeKalb, Pres. Grant and Pres. Lincoln, they are very good ships and carrying soldiers on board. It is estimated that 30,000 troops on board the ships and it some of the ships are carrying mules and cargoes of supplies.”

What a great story! The ship that carried one great-grandfather to the United States was in the same troop convoy that brought another great-grandfather back over to Europe to serve his country. I never anticipated that Piotrowski-Alderson would overlap as they did; indeed, nearly 50 years after the President Grant intersection, Stanislaus Piotrowski’s grandson would marry William Alderson’s granddaughter, linking the families together on the pedigree chart.

As my research continues, I look forward to discovering new connections, remote or otherwise, in my family’s journeys through the generations.