Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming to America

Above is a clipping from a ship's registry showing my paternal grandfather's family arriving at Ellis Island in 1902. My father's father is little "Joh. Georg" born in 1895. The ship sailed from Hamburg, Germany, but their original point of departure is shown as the village of Norka, in Russia. They were "Volga Germans" trading in one adopted country for another. A couple years ago I wrote two installments of a fictionalized version of their departure from Russia, still on the blog here. The funny thing is that until I retrieved this document from the excellent and amazing Ellis Island registry set up with the aid of the Mormon Church, my little offshoot of the family had no idea that Hamburg was not the point of my family's origin: my grandfather was as tight-lipped to his estranged son as my own father proved to be to this estranged son. When I discovered this document I managed to contact distant Horst cousins who knew the whole story and even gave me a photo (I'll put it up later) of my great-grandparents. There's an entire subculture out there of descendants of Volga Germans and they even organize occasional tours back to the motherland, even though courtesy of Stalin and Hitler very very few people of German ancestry remain in the villages of the Volga region. They keep track of which Russian villages each family came from, though there's scant information on where these families originated from in Germany back in the 17th-century. It turns out a huge part of the wave of German immigrants to the U.S. in the turn to the 20th-century were actually from Russia, with no less than Lawrence Welk counted among the famed American progeny.

My great-grandparents settled in Denver, but my grandfather lived most of his adult life in Michigan, which is where he met my grandmother Dorothy Scott, who I've posted many pictures of. I'm not sure I actually have a photo of my grandfather: I will have to look.

(I found this scan on my old computer: my veteran PC just passed away -- it's all my fault for taunting it just a few short posts ago. Never, never tempt fate! This is from a fairly clunky old mac. We'll see how it goes until a brand-new replacement computer materializes.)


  1. I've done a little bit of this old family history, but always in bits and pieces which makes coming back to it almost like starting over. Completing the 'family tree' is #3 on my to do list - I'd better get a move on with #1 and #2 or I will run out of time.

    I must comment on the handwriting of the day it is so beautiful. Did you know that cursive is no longer taught in the schools. Just a quick exposure to it in first grade and that's it. We have become a nation relying on the printed-typed-text world.

    Sigh...those beautifully written loved letters of the past will be no more, yielding to saved text messages in our cell phones.

  2. I saw someone on the subway writing cursive this morning -- not beautiful but at least legible and consistent -- and I was shocked. My own handwriting would qualify me for employment as a doctor. This old-fashioned script here is exquisite.