Ellis Island & Chasing Ancestors
Having only been to New York once getting to the famous Ellis Island had high priority. The place is connected with a hope of a better future for millions of immigrants until it closed. At some periods it was like the opening of an eye of a needle to come through.
I had insisted on getting a so-called New York pass and wanted to use it. It brought us in a never-ending queue even though we had these prepaid tickets. We waited two hours in the Battery Park harbour, but what was that compared to the uncertainty the poor immigrants had to endure?
In my eagerness to see the immigrant museum I gladly passed the Statue of Liberty. We could have gone off there and been in another queue there.
The museum on Ellis Island was made very alive with many historic photos of what had gone on in the different rooms.
The most dreaded was the eye examination. Each eyelid was turned with a hook. Just imagine the fear and the risk of diseases spreading via instruments and doctors hands.
The other dreaded thing was to be diagnosed with some mental illness or retardation and not knowing what that chalk sign on your back meant. To come as a family and then one or two was denied entrance must have devastated them.
I saw a documentary that Irish and Jews and Italians were not as wanted as Scandinavians. The immigrants were rated like that. I guess the more poor, the less wanted.
My father had an uncle Valdemar who came by boat to Ellis Island in 1912. He was 19 years old, educated as a dairyman and one out of many brothers and sisters. His father was a captain on a steamship going between Island and Denmark, and he died in 1901 after a night in very rough weather steering the ship through himself.
Nine years old, Valdemar was fatherless in 1901, the next youngest out of ten surviving children. He saw as a young man a chance for a better living in the States. He started as a lumberjack in Iowa and spent the rest of his life in Seattle working in a dairy and being active in a Methodist church.
Imagine travelling alone to the New World and maybe never see the nine siblings and his mother again.
I knew that I had an “uncle” in the States and he seemed a very seldom kind of person as he willed an equal amount of money to every family member left in Denmark. I was not used to more money than maybe one dollar at a time. I still remember that I bought “Clark desert shoes”, a lambswool grey sweater and a pair of blue jeans for the money. It was about $150, and clothes were still expensive in 1965.
The outfit I got from the money from my father’s uncle
A cousin went to Seattle a few years ago and managed to find a few people who remembered him in the nursing home where he had been. This made such an impression on her to meet those who had been friends with the uncle she had heard so much about but never seen.
He had written loads of letters and sent gifts home, but nothing is kept. A treasure about life just thrown out, after the receiver of the mail has died. What a waste.
I have written another post on this issue on immigration
Ludmila had to flee The Soviet Union because of hatred of Jews. As a Scandinavian Valdemar was an attractive resource to the States a hundred years ago.
I would like to get the response from you about your experience with immigration.