When I was in New York City in May, we visited Ellis Island. There are several different tours. We took the one the focused on the experience of being an immigrant coming to New York. I was particularly interested in doing that one because my great grandparents, Louis and Marie (Huelster) Eitelbach came through Ellis Island on May 1895 with four of their children, Walter, Louis, Maximillian and John. That visit inspired me to further research their experience.
When I thought of them coming to American, I always thought their arrival. So I decided that my research need to begin with their leaving Germany. If they followed the typical pattern of immigrants, Louis Eitelbach contracted with a local steamship agent, who made the arrangements for their immigration. That would have included transportation to the port, a hotel room while waiting for the ship to sail, if necessary, and passage on the steamship. Many Germans left through Bremerhaven or Cuxhaven (Hamburg). However, that was not true for the Eitelbachs. They sailed from Antwerp,
on the Red Star line ship, the Rhylander. Why Antwerp? It was the port that was closest to Barmen, where they lived. Before they were able to board the ship, they would have had to pass a medical examination and answer a series of questions. That process insured that they were fit to enter the United States. If the immigration authorities at Ellis Island denied anyone entrance, the steamship company had to take them back to Europe at the steamship company’s expense.
In the family that keeps sentimental things, I have my grandfather’s ticket locked in my safety deposit box. I cannot find when they departed, but I know from the passenger list that they arrived on May 23, 1895. According to the Red Star Line’s webpage, the voyage took from 7 to 10 days, depending on the weather. Looking at the passenger list, I learned that they came third class or steerage, their quarters were in the stern of the ship and they brought 5 pieces of luggage with them. I also saw that Louis described himself as a locksmith.
Once the ship arrived in New York, the Eitelbachs would have been taken by ferry to Ellis Island. The ferry was divided into sections and the letter they were given, told them which section to stand in. Once at Ellis Island, they would have been directed to the main building. Right inside the door was the baggage room, where they would have had to have left their five bags. They, then, proceeded up the stairs to the Registration Room, also known as the Great Hall. The Hall was divided into lines by railings. Given the size of the room—200 feet long and 102 feet wide—and the very large number of people in it, all speaking different languages, the noise may have been overwhelming, especially for the two youngest boys, Max and John.
In the Great Hall, the Eitelbachs would have been quickly been examined by a doctor to determine if they were healthy enough to enter the United States. Had the doctor had any suspicions that they
Next was the legal inspection. A registration clerk, who had the ship’s manifest in front of him, would ask the same questions of each person e.g. name, age, occupation, destination, amount of money, the name of a friend or relative, etc. that they were asked when leaving Antwerp, That was to determine if any answers were different. I am pretty sure my great grandfather and great grandmother each answered the questions. I do not know whether or not the children were questioned. Since they entered the United States, I can assume that their answers were satisfactory. Once cleared, they would have gone back downstairs, claimed their baggage and probably met by a relative. I do not believe that Louis Eitelbach had any relatives in New York. However, Maria’s two brothers, Frank and Joseph, had both emigrated in 1893 and well could have been there to meet them.
I regret that I never talked with my grandfather about his coming to the United States. I would love to know why they came, what the trip was like, what was their experience in going through Ellis Island, and who met them.