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Journey to America

One of the most sought after record is that of a passenger list showing when and how an ancestor arrived in America.


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Resource: Tracing Lines
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One of the most sought after record is that of a passenger list showing when and how an ancestor arrived in America. Of significance is the date, the name of the vessel, the ports, the master of the ship and the names of passengers, some of whom could be related. They are all valuable clues that lead to more records and help us to learn more about the ancestor and his or her homeland.

Have you ever considered the voyage and the process your ancestor went through to get here? Many immigrants did not come directly to America. For example, the French Huguenots often stayed for periods of time in Germany, Switzerland, England and Holland. In 1709 Palatines came to New York after spending time in Ireland and England. If you have German ancestors, they may have sojourned for a while in Russia or even Brazil.

Plans for migration were made well in advance of the departure of ships. Tickets were purchased normally through emigration agents, some appointed by churches or emigration groups. In colonial times, many emigrants could not pay for their passage and sold themselves into service for the cost of that passage. If they made arrangements through an emigrant agent in their native country, they were referred to as indentured servants. Their contract was carried with them in their belongings, eventually sold to a person in America who desired to use their labor.

Redemptioners were people who did not have a contract before sailing, but sold themselves to the highest bidder once they arrived here. A rule of thumb is that English emigrants were usually indentured servants and German emigrants were usually redemptioners.

After the preparations were made, the long journey began. With advances in ship building, the sailing time and conditions improved over time. The journey was shortened by the advent of steamships in the mid 1800s. In colonial times German emigrants had to travel down the Rhine to Rotterdam or Amsterdam to begin their journey by sea. This could take months, depending upon the conditions and hardships. From Rotterdam they would usually sail to England, normally to a port called Cowes, located on the Isle of Wight. Other ports that received immigrant traffic bound for America were London, Plymouth and Dover. Several days were normally spent in these ports waiting for clearance and good winds.

When the vessel finally departed from England, the journey took from seven to twelve weeks. Passengers were packed into the steerage decks. There often was not adequate water and food. The mortality rate was high and disease and deaths were common on the journey. It was not until the mid 1800s that government authorities required adequate provisions on vessels.

Once on American soil they were delayed at the port for examination. Colonial emigrants were then taken to the port's city government where they rendered an oath of allegiance to the King of England. Some were bought for labor after announcements were put in newspapers. Eventually they were able to set foot permanently on American soil.

Their journeys have generated many records. While there are few colonial passenger lists available in comparison with later lists for U.S. ports, it is not impossible to find information on your colonial emigrant ancestor. You may be able to find information in church and civil records in their native village. Of course, this means researching until you determine where they lived.

Some colonial records have been published, such as Pennsylvania Germany Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia 1727 to 1808, 3 volumes by Ralph Strassburger and William Hinke. This is a popular set of books found in many libraries.

The following are some web sites you should use for research.

Finding Passenger Lists Before 1820

Passenger Ships from Ireland to America 1732-1749

Guide to Passenger Records Your Guide to Finding and Using Passenger Records

Genealogical research is a journey. Don't stop with dates and locations, but give thought and study to the journey your ancestor took to get to America. You will appreciate your heritage all the more.

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2011.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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