Monday, December 12, 2016

Finding Theresa Helburn: Strategies for Finding Those Elusive Passenger Ship Records

Frequently it can be difficult to find passenger ship records for people who emigrated to the U.S. in the 19th century.  Name misspellings on the manifest or a misspelled transcription of the manifest passenger name make discovery less likely when searching using a name index, e.g., with an passenger ship record search. You can bypass the use of an index by browsing a record collection, but immigrants often specified a variety of dates for their arrival to the U.S. making browsing ship manifests by dates a very time-consuming effort.  Also, many passenger lists from this time period have been lost.  For example, most of the 19th century passenger lists of ships departing from Bremen were destroyed due to lack of space in the Bremen Archives.

But we continue to search, because finding these ship records can be positively riveting, even for those of us who have discovered and saved thousands of records for our ancestors.  The manifest may show not only the family group but sometimes the place of birth as well as final destination.  Something about seeing your ancestor's name on a ship manifest brings the emigrant's story to life in a palpable way that few other record types do.

After decades of research, the only passenger ship manifest I had found to date for my nine ancestors who emigrated to New York in the 1800's was the one for my 21-year-old Norwegian grandmother, Anna Anundsen (aka Anna Olette Olsen).  She arrived from Kragerø, Norway in 1897 to visit her uncle Andreas Roberg (A. Roberg) in Brooklyn. (see line 1).  My grandmother's record had eluded me as Anna Olette variously used the surname Olsen, Anundsen, Olavsen or Anundsdatter.  The transcriber of the passenger manifest below recorded her name as Anne Amundsen.

 Anna Olette left behind her parents and four sisters in Norway.  We believe that she intended to return, but she met my Swedish grandfather, Axel Strom, in New York. They fell in love, married and raised their seven children in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Eluding me still were the passenger ship records for eight additional ancestors arriving in the 19th century:
  • my Swedish grandfather, Axel Strom (b. Hjalmar Axel Oscar Ström, 1 Jan 1867, Stockholm, Sweden)
  • my Jewish great grandfather, Simon Zweighaft (b. 15 Dec 1845, Gostynin, Poland), his wife Sofia Hirschberg (b. Zysia Hirszberg, abt. 1844, Pilica, Poland) and their infant son Bernard Zweighaft (b. 23 Dec 1865, Pilica, Poland)
  • my Jewish great grandfather Fabian Sachs Kaliske (b. Fabian Sax, 15 Mar 1833, Kalisz, Poland)
  • my Jewish great grandmother Theresa Helburn (b. Therese Hellborn, 14 Aug 1855, Dettelbach, Germany) and her parents, Isaac Helburn (b. Isaac Hellborn, 1813, Germany) and his wife, Nanette Feldheim (b. Brünette Feldheim, 9 Aug 1819, Dettelbach, Germany)
A couple of weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to spend several hours with the genealogy and local history collections at the Milstein Division of the NY Public Library (NYPL) in Manhattan.  Frustrated when my research turned up nothing, I used the last bit of time strolling the Milstein Division stacks.  One set of books I've looked at many times before is Germans to America. (Ira a. Glazier and P. William Filby, editors, Germans to America (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1991)  But this time, rather than focusing on the name index, I browsed the ship arrivals by date, honing in on the emigration date of March 1, 1864.  I had recently seen this date of emigration stated on an 1899 passport application made by Theresa Helburn's older brother, Julius Helburn.

It only took a few minutes browsing the ship arrivals by date in Germans to America, and there on page 176 was my great great grandmother and her six children:


TO:       NEW YORK

HALLEBON, NANETTE           44
    EMILIE                              17
    JULIUS                              14
    BERTHA                              9
    THERESA                            8
    HUGO                                  5
    SELMA                                6

Seeing the entry with the spelling of the family name as HALLEBON rather than HELBURN or HELLBORN makes it clear why I never found this record on using a name index search.  The index is only as good as the spelling used when the index was created. Going back to and browsing the ship passenger records using the exact date and the ship name of Bremen turned up the original manifest:

Among our family papers was a copy of a handwritten record of Helburn family births.  This section was clearly written by my great great grandmother Nanette Feldheim Helburn.  She listed her six living childrens' names along with two sons who had died.  (Youngest son Hugo's name is under the dark strip which was probably a piece of tape.)   A perfect match to the ship manifest.

Nine years after arriving in the U.S. at age eight, my great grandmother Theresa Helburn married 40-year-old Fabian Sachs Kaliske, a widower. Theresa gave birth to five children:
    • Martin Saxe (b. Martin Kaliske, 28 Aug 1874, N.Y.)
    • Blanche Sachs (b. Flora Kaliske, 15 Mar 1876, N.Y.)
    • Julian Terris Saxe (b. Julian Terris Kaliske, 17 Jul 1877, N.Y.)
    • Arthur Cutting Saxe (b. Arthur Cutting Kaliske, 28 Feb 1879, N.Y.)
    • Belle Saxe (b. Bella Kaliske, 14 Jul 1882, N.Y.)

Theresa lived to be 91.  Here she is presiding over a 'Family Dinner at the St. Moritz Hotel in New York' as depicted by my father, James Fabian Bernard Zweighaft in 1944.

So keep looking for those passenger ship records!  You will eventually be rewarded.  Some strategies to use while searching:  
  • Review stated emigration dates and ships on multiple records for not only your ancestor, but also collateral relatives - parents, aunts, uncles, cousins
  • Browse book and digital collections by ship arrival dates in addition to searching using an index
  • Browse ship manifests for ports of departure as well as arrival ports
  • If it's unclear when and where your ancestor's ship arrived, review passenger ship arrival statements in the local newspapers for several likely inbound ports.  For example, if you are not certain what into what port your New York ancestor arrived, search local newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore for ship arrival notices
  • Look for unusual spelling of the family names.  Sometimes searching on a given name using wildcards for the surname may be the breakthrough if the surname is badly mangled.