Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Taking a closer look at ship passenger manifests

I'm not sure what made me go back and look at the ship passenger manifests for my great-great grandparents, Rudolph and Augusta Stutzmann, but that's what I'm doing today. Most people with immigrant ancestors will, hopefully, be able to find their person or people on a ship passenger manifest documenting their entry into the United States (or wherever your ancestor might have gone to). Rudolph Stutzmann was actually born here in New York, but because he was a rich bank president, he and his wife traveled extensively, and so I have them listed on 8 different lists from 1910 to 1932.

So, here's what I've looked at on them before - all the usual suspects such as birth date and place, ship name, arrival date in New York, departing port. Sometimes their home address was listed, sometimes his occupation, sometimes his passport number. She is listed on several manifests as "a citizen by marriage." (Augusta was born in Germany). Corresponding newspaper articles about the Stutzmanns helped me realize why some of these trips were made - once when they toured Germany and France with the German singing society they belonged to, once when they sailed to Bermuda for a "conference" for bank presidents and their wives (my job needs to have conferences like that!), once when Rudolph toured post World War I France as the representative of the Ridgewood branch of the American Red Cross.

Today, I decided to dig a little deeper. Why not? I think sometimes we focus so much on the details, on what we need to find or just on our particular people, that we forget that this is a historical document, that it contains a lot more information than what I think I have to look for. This applies not to just ship passenger manifests. This applies to every document we look at.

I started with a trip Rudolph made in 1932. I didn't know why he made the trip. I didn't know where the ship had sailed, as both departure and arrival port were listed as New York. And then I skimmed the entire page where his name was listed and saw that two names were crossed out because they had "departed at Havana."

So Rudolph had gone to Cuba.

I checked out the front page of the manifest and saw that yes, several passengers had embarked at Havana. I decided to look at other ship manifests - some were pretty obvious that they had sailed out of European ports, such as Hamburg or Cherbourg. But I noticed that some of them made more than one stop. One ship had orginated in Bremen. Another made a stop at Southampton, England. Many of these ships were carrying diplomats. One had a count. A couple of other ships were carrying actresses.

I'm starting to get a better feel for Rudolph and Augusta's world. So this is how they rolled, huh?

I'm still in the process of reading these manifests. This blog post is a reminder to myself, and hopefully you all, to apply this approach to other sources I both come across in the future and that I've already saved and only taken a glimpse at.

Happy Hump Day everyone - only 2 and a half more days until the weekend! :)

1 comment:

  1. Such a good point. I have also returned to several documents and find little nuances that I never noticed the first time. Thanks for the reminder!