Good Reads: Memories of the Red Star Line

Author Mark Lamster interviews 97-year-old  Morris Moel, who might possibly be the oldest surviving immigrant to come to America on the Red Star Line, whose ships brought thousands and thousands of immigrants to the USA. (Although my Grandpa Rudroff was a Hamburg American Line guy himself.)

Moel’s memories of his 1922 odyssey make it clear that the immigrant’s journey could be not only uncomfortable, but downright hair-raising. He remembers reaching the Russian-Polish border:

“The Russian part of the border was all forest. And we were stopped. I heard rifles being cocked while we were walking. Russian soldiers. And the soldiers searched everyone and took everything that was valuable and said you’ve got to go back, and I guess they [the guides] knew another route so we got through. And the Polish border was absolutely free, but it was all snow. I was so little and my older brother dragged me across that border.”

And this was only the beginning! Read the whole thing, along with Lamster’s Wall Street Journal article on the formation of a Red Star Line museum in Antwerp.


Wordless Wednesday: Coupla Buddies

My grandfather, John [Johann Georg] Rudroff, is the one on the right. We are not certain about the identity of the buddy on the left. I believe this picture was taken at some point in the 1930s near the Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) plant in Greenpoint, where my grandfather worked from shortly after his arrival in America from Germany to the time of his retirement. I like this picture because it’s a nice counterbalance to my childhood memories of Grandpa, who was not the playful, humorous sort around little kids. Not mean, just not a laugh riot.

John (Johann Georg) Rudroff and friend, 1930s

After the shift was up, we hope.

P.S. Standard Oil Company of New York was born out of the 1911 breakup of the gigantic Standard Oil monopoly. It later became Mobil, which became Exxon. There’s a little corporate genealogy for you.

P.P.S.: Apparently the Greenpoint Socony plant was the locale of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history. Sigh.


A vanished New York, in film

The Library of Congress recently made available for online viewing a vivid set of historic films of New York City. The collection, “The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906,” can be viewed at the Library of Congress YouTube channel. You can also download some or all of the 43 films for repeat viewing (I did it using iTunesU).

The clips are black-and-white, and silent, naturally. While the longest clip clocks in at just over 11 minutes, most are only one or two minutes long. But the brevity doesn’t spoil the joy of seeing New York as it looked at the turn of the century, when my dad’s ancestors were moving there from the Capital District. (And also when my German ancestors began arriving, too!).

The gems include the arrival of immigrants to the Ellis Island depot, taken by the Biograph Company in 1906.

Here is an Edison Company clip of a so-called “Street Arab,” a young street performer doing his thing in 1898:

The second clip is noteworthy in that it shows a child. For the most part, women and children are scarce in these clips. There are exceptions: a lovely skating scene, for example. But most of the clips show Events of Note: skyscrapers a-building, war heroes’ funerals, bridge openings in which mostly male dignitaries parade the span.

This is hardly surprising, if frustrating to the family historian who’d like to see more of the city’s entire population. But the filmmakers weren’t really documentarians — they were pioneers in an infant industry, flexing their muscles by training their cameras on a busy, crowded city. And we certainly benefit from the record.

(h/t to the Open Culture blog.)


Links 7.05.10

And the links march on as the weekend of the Glorious Fourth winds down. The Archaeologist observed the holiday at barbecues and beaches, but somehow missed the fireworks. Does being awakened by kids setting off firecrackers at 3 A.M. count?

Revolutionary findings: Before the Independence Day weekend closes, read this great house history tale from Long Branch, N.J. Current owner Ruth Ryan’s dogged research uncovered an old house’s fascinating Revolutionary War heritage, including the story of its first owner, a woman who was also a member of the local militia (one of 18 females in the company!). Intriguingly, the reporter also mentions that Ryan’s own ancestors might be connected to the house as well, although she did not realize this when she bought it.

Presence perfect: Freelance writer Diana Lynn Tibert contends that a Web presence is essential in linking genealogy researchers with common interests. Commenting on blogs and email lists and posting on community bulletin boards are simple steps toward creating an Internet trail of yourself for like-minded researchers to Google. For those who still find the idea of being Googled an unnerving experience, Tibert’s article is a nice overview of the positive side of the coin.

Jackpot!: Elyse reports one of those finds that keeps a person going: a treasure trove of family documents discovered in boxes that had been in storage for more than ten years. They include important papers relating to her mother’s parents, along with baptismal certificates, medical and estate records. I know it’s bad form to dream of the big trunk of genealogy goodies surfacing  in someone else’s attic, but gosh, it’s nice to read about when it actually happens.

Certified Irishness: I don’t know how I missed this — Ireland is kicking around the idea of a Certificate of Irishness?! The Irish Times brings us up to date, with some tongue-in-cheek humor thrown in.

Unearthing history: Temple University students are busy this summer excavating a South Jersey site called Timbuctoo, once a thriving community of free African-Americans (many of whom had escaped slavery). It’s notable both for its size and the degree of its preservation. Experts are excited at the prospect of uncovering evidence of the community’s daily life from the 1830s all the way up to World War II. Many descendants of Timbuctoo families still live in the area, including a 74-year-old woman who is assisting on the dig.

And now, on to the rest of July. Here’s hoping we all unearth genealogy surprises of our own this summer.


Doing the Time Warp in Street View

Fresh from the Department of Neat Ideas comes something called Historypin, best described as Google street view with vintage photos thrown in. The Flowing Data blog explains that it is the brainchild of the organization We Are What We Do, built in conjunction with Google and intended as an Internet experience through which older and younger generations can connect.

The idea is you can look up an address and see both the current street view plus a vintage street view of the same area, assuming somebody has uploaded one. The site seems to be in the beta stage, and there aren’t terribly many photos yet. But the potential fun and potential educational value are obvious, especially as more people upload photos. (Thanks to Actuarial Opinions for forwarding the item!)


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