Lately, I have been looking in Ancestry.com, at immigration records for many of my ancestors. As I looked at the different ships they sailed on and the different locations they came from, I began to wonder about what it was really like to immigrate back them. I decided to do some research on that subject, and I was amazed at some of what I found.
Of course, the biggest obstacle they faced was the cost…especially for a family. What doesn’t sound like much to us today, was really a lot of money back in the 1800s, and before. My great grandfather, Carl Schuhmacher spent seven years saving the $50.00 that it cost for one person to go. Many times, the whole family would work to send one person over so they could see if the opportunities were really there, and then that person would work t pay for the rest of the family to come.
For people who had to travel in steerage class, the journey was going to be a rough one. There was no limit to the number of steerage tickets sold, and the cost was usually $30.00 per ticket, which tells me that maybe my great grandfather had not traveled in steerage class…which is a relief to me after what I have read. Since there was no limit to the steerage tickets sold, the people were packed into the steerage area like cattle. The cost to feed each one was about sixty cents a day, so they could potentially make a net profit of $45,000 to $60,000 for each crossing. This was money made at the expense of the health, welfare, and even lives of those steerage passengers…a fact that I find shocking to say the least!!
Even when the immigrant wasn’t in steerage, the rough weather often made everyone sick. I don’t think that ships back then had some of the stabilizing features ships have today, and since they were smaller, they were probably tossed around more. Not good if you get sea sick…or even if you normally don’t.
Immigrants were told to be at the docks a day ahead of the departure date, because they had to be examined by American doctors before they were allowed to board the ship. I have no idea where they waited if they didn’t get examined the day before they sailed. I also have to wonder if they had to be examined again when they arrived here, because so many of them were sick on the ship that I would still think they brought disease to America.
Arrival in America didn’t necessarily mean they were set either. Because of language differences and strange sounding names, they were often subject to verbal abuse and discrimination. To fit in they would need to learn English…something I do agree with, although I don’t agree with discrimination or verbal abuse…or any other kind of abuse. I think they needed someone to teach them, without belittling them. Most wanted to fit in, but didn’t know how to learn English, or simply didn’t have a way to learn it.
Any time you make a decision to move to another country, it is a life changing decision, but in those days, it was a much bigger change than it is these days. Had it not been for necessity, due to famine and poverty in their ow country, I have to wonder just how many people would have taken the risk.