Sunday, August 7, 2016

Walking in Their Footsteps: The Wessmans at Ellis Island

A few days ago I stepped off the ferry onto Ellis Island and walked up the path to the immigration building. I'd been there before, so I was surprised by the emotion that overtook me as I walked the path taken by my grandfather's father, Henry Wessman, in July 1893 and Henry's parents, Amanda Hall Wessman later in 1893, and Johan Bengtsson Wessman three years after that. 

Amanda was about my age when she left Sweden for America with her four-year-old son Joseph. She had already sent her daughters Fanny and Bertha and her sons John and Henry ahead. 

John shared the following memory of the trip. 
July 1st 1893, I and my brother Henry left Sweden for America. My father took us to Copenhagen. We were there for two days and took a steamer for Hull, England, and from there overland to Liverpool. I remember an incident there. There was a fight of several men, and a squad of bobbies was sent to bring them in. It became a general fight between bobbies and civilians. They were dragged to the jail. We stayed in Liverpool for five days, and we then boarded a vessel called the ‘Alaska’ for America. When we were 2-3 days out, three large whales came to the surface for air. Many flying fish followed the steamer to get the offal for food, and when we got to the banks of Newfoundland, the sirens and the horns kept blowing continuously that we didn’t get much sleep that night. 
In entering New York, we saw the statue of liberty and landed at the dock six and a half days from Liverpool.
John doesn't mention why Amanda and Joseph traveled separately to America several months later. I have not been able to find John (Johan) or Henry (Harry) Wessman (Westman) on any ship's register., including the voyage of the Alaska that matches John's description. They may have been traveling with other adults, using the names of the family.

When Amanda left Sweden, she left behind her husband, who would come three years later, and their two deceased children.

Amanda and Joseph traveled on the ship Alaska. Here is the ship's register. They are number 16 and 17.

Just as my family and I did, they would have walked down the gangplank onto the dock, walked into the immigration building, and walked up the gray staircase to the great hall, probably carrying all their earthly possessions.

We have mother Amanda's immigration record, and father Johan's, and Joseph's, and hopefully someday someone will locate the immigration records for the four Wessman children: Fanny, Bertha, John and Henry.

Here is Johan Wessman's Ellis Island record. He is on the next-to-the-last line, and his name is written "Westman."

Here are some of the textures in the immigration building.

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