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Started: 2022-07-28 09:56:34

Submitted: 2022-07-31 20:02:19

Visibility: World-readable

Tracking my family's history through Ellis Island as new immigrants more than a century ago

On April 22nd, 1905, a family of six boarded the passenger steam ship La Lorraine in the French port city of Le Havre, along with more than a thousand other people. Seven days and 3080 nautical miles later they arrived in New York City to begin new lives as immigrants to the United States. This family was the Weng family:

  • Janos, age 38
  • Suzanna, age 35
  • Janos, age 11
  • Gustav, age 8
  • Eduardo, age 5
  • Ernestine, age 1

According to family lore, Suzanna was pregnant and spent the entire trip miserable. The family's youngest child, Esther, was born three years later in 1908. Esther was my maternal grandmother; Janos and Suzanna were my great-grandparents. I found the family in the passenger manifest filled out by the shipping line and handed off to American immigration authorities, now digitized and searchable by The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation. This is my most tangible family connection to the American immigrant experience and Ellis Island.

La Lorraine ship's manifest including Janos and Suzanne Weng

The manifest was an important record of the immigrant's experience. While visiting Ellis Island I saw a wall full of the manifest pages from one particular ship on one specific sailing. The US admitted millions of immigrants (almost entirely from Europe) during the peak immigration years early in the twentieth century, and I found the records to show that my great-grandparents were among them.

Passenger manifests from RMS Teutonic
Passenger manifests from RMS Teutonic

On the manifest, the family gave their last permanent address as Pressbourg, now part of Bratislava, Slovakia; then part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Janos was a farmer; on the manifest indicates that they planned to travel to Janos' brother-in-law Matthias Weigel in Hygiene, Colorado, a farming town in Boulder County north of the city of Boulder.

Between them, the family had $600, more than enough to establish themselves in their new country.

This was not Janos' first time in the United States. The manifest indicates that he had visited Colorado a year earlier, in 1904. Perhaps he had visited his brother-in-law and laid the groundwork to move his family to Colorado a year later.

In the United States, the family adapted American names. Janos went by John and Suzanna went by Susie. These are the names I know them as from family lore.

The Wengs lived in Hygiene for the rest of their lives; they're now buried in Hygiene Cemetery (and I visited them again ten years ago). John Weng died in 1909 in a swimming accident. Susie lived into her nineties, long enough for my mother to know her as Großmutter.

Finding this one piece of family history made my trip to Ellis Island that much more meaningful for me.