Traveling to North America in the 19th century was extremely difficult especially for an immigrant. In many cases, language barriers as well as the physical stamina of crossing the Atlantic alone made the trip to the new country extremely challenging. This was especially true in the early days of travel aboard wooden ships where conditions were extremely unsanitary. As a result of these conditions and the spread of diseases, many immigrants never survived the trip. The introduction of steam vessels in the late 19th century, made the journey across the Atlantic quicker and slightly more tolerable. Still it was a difficult trip across the ocean for the millions of immigrants who set their sites for a new life in North America.
For those with physical and emotional disabilities, the journey presented a whole new set of challenges. In many cases and especially in the early days of immigration to North America, the captain of the vessel could make the decision not to allow you onboard if you were appeared physically or emotionally unable to survive the trip.
My great grandmother Reva (Rebecca) Frost arrived into the Port of New York in June of 1895 along with her husband my great grandfather Hirsch (Harry) Frost and six of her children from the Galician provincial town of Ulanow. Along with her family was her brother Herz Frost who was born around 1862. It appears that both Reva and Hirsch shared the same last names before getting married so Herz also shared the same last name of Frost. The Passenger arrival list from the Port of New York confirms the family's arrival including Herz who is listed as a "labourer" and is 32 years old.
After his arrival into the U.S., Herz was placed in a state hospital, first in Elgin, Illinois and later at the Watertown State Hospital near East Moline, Illinois. The 1900 U.S. Census shows Herz as a patient at the Northern Illinois State Hospital for the Insane in Elgin. The 1910 U.S. Census later describes the facility as the Elgin State Hospital in which Herz is listed as an inmate. The 1920 U.S. Census lists Herz as a patient in Watertown. His disability was never determined in any of the documentation.
There is no doubt that Herz was not the only immigrant with physical or emotional issues to have had to face the many challenges to succeed in their journey to North America. But to what level did these immigrants reach in order to get onboard these ships to leave their homeland behind? This is where Herz' story becomes more interesting. The transcription of the passenger manifest from the immigrant ship SS Marsala which departed Hamburg, Germany on 29 May 1895 lists the Frost family including Rebecka and Hirsch and their children. This also included my grandmother Lina Frost who later was known in later years as Lillian. Hamburg was a very common exit port for many European immigrants during the 19th century. What is interesting is the fact that Herz is not on this passenger list but rather Sara Frost who is listed a born around 1863.
According to the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, the SS Marsala, which was operated by the Hamburg America Line, arrived in the Port of New York on 15 June 1895. This list contains the names of Hirsch, Rebecca and family. The transcription lists the name as "Trost" however the actual ships list that is available on Ancestrylibrary.com does list the name "Frost." The copy is a bit difficult to read and it appears that the first letter listed in the surname is an "F" and not a "T" as indicated on the transcribers list. Both documents contain the name of Herz right after Rebecca's name on the passenger list but there is no Sara listed. So, what happened to Sara and how did Herz get on board?
A cousin suggested since we had a tie in England, perhaps Sara got off the Marsala in Liverpool or whichever English port they may have stopped. She would have joined family in England and Herz would have boarded before the Marsala sailed onto North America. However, the transcription of the Marsala's passenger lists indicates that the ship only stopped at Le Havre, France and then sailed on to New York. It never made port in England.
So, what would this mean? Does it suggest Rebecca was the unofficial guardian of Herz and was not going to leave him back in Ulanow? Who knows what would have become of Herz had he been left behind in Ulanow. So, did Hirsch fudged the name of Herz when purchasing the tickets to board ship Marsala? This would mean Hirsch had Herz listed as Sara when boarding in Hamburg only to list him later as Herz as they arrived in the Port of New York. One could only guess if Herz had to wear a babushka and woman's attire just to get onboard in Hamburg. Then he would only be allowed to return to his traditional man's clothing which he surely would have been more comfortable wearing once they were safely out in the Atlantic.
We may never know that part of the story. But looking at both documents does suggest that Hirsch went through great efforts to make sure his brother-in-law would be allowed on board the Marsala. It also suggests how strongly our immigrant ancestors felt about their family and the lengths they went through to make sure they all made it safely to North America.
I might add that Hirsch had actually arrived in the U.S. prior to this in 1892 and lived in Chicago for a few years. He then returned a few years later to Galicia to bring back his family to Chicago. It was very common for the head of the household to leave for North America first and establish themselves. Then after a period, the remainder of the family would either immigrate on their own or like Hirsch, wait for the newly established resident of North America to bring them to their new homeland.
As I mentioned, Herz was committed into the Elgin State Hospital shortly after his arrival where he was later transferred to Watertown State Hospital near East Moline, Illinois. He died in October 1923 and is buried next to his niece and two graves away from his sister Rebecka in the First Hungarian Cemetery at Waldheim Cemetery near Chicago, Illinois.
"ISTG Volume 9 - SS Marsala," Transcription of the SS Marsala with the names Frost, online (Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, http://immigrantships.net/v9/1800v9/marsala18950615_01.html), accessed 7 May 2017.