Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for nearly 40 years, including 23 years with The Times. She's a native of Merrillville, but has lived in Portage for 39 years. She covers municipal and school government in Porter County.

Remember your Roots: Getting started

The German ship Havel brought my great grandfather to America. Immigration and naturalization records are some of the most sought after records for a genealogist.

Both of my maternal great grandparents immigrated from Germany in 1893.

Johann Ernst came over in April and Fredricke - with three small children in tow - came over in August. I've found proof of their immigration on passenger lists found both on Ancestry.com and on the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island (libertyellisfoundation.org). 

The information provided included the date they left Germany, from where they departed, when they arrived, occupation, intended destination and even the number of pieces of luggage they brought with them.

Like censuses, I find it interesting to fan out from my specific family at times and look at the entire list. On Fredericka's passenger list there was literally the butcher, the baker and the dressmaker coming to America. Most were from Germany, but there were a few from Russia. They were headed all over the United States - Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Cleveland.

It may be just me, but I find it an interesting read.

The passenger list also tells us the ship on which they arrived. For Fredricke, it was the Ems and for Johann, its was the Havel.

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The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation site also contains information on the ships. Another interesting read if you want to get a better idea of how your ancestors got here.

My great-grandfather arrived on the Havel. It was 463 feet long and 52 feet broad and held just over 800 passengers. She was built for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line and sailed between Bremen, Germany and New York City  from 1891 to 1895. Each trip, I would imagine, brought over 800-some immigrants looking for a new life.

She was later sold to Spain and became an armed cruiser.

My great grandmother and my three eldest great aunts and uncles - Theresa, Richard and Wilhelm, came to America aboard the Ems. Built to hold some 1,200 passengers, it was also owned by the North German Lloyd line and cruised the Atlantic from 1884 to 1905. It was sold to a British line in 1901.

The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation site allows you to purchase a copy of the passenger list along with a picture of the ship and a passenger record. I have not made any purchases as the passenger lists were available through my Ancestry.com subscription. Still, belonging and supporting the foundation is something we should consider. The membership is reasonable and there are perks and discounts along with the membership. It will be the next group I join on my genealogical journey.

Let me know about some of your recent finds. Drop me a note at joyce.russell@nwi.com with a story, tips or advice I can share. Look forward to hearing from you.