But for me, this is the hundredth anniversary of the day -- June 18 1913 -- that my grandmother, Zipporah Levinton, boarded the ship in Liverpool, England that would take her to her new life in America.
As I imagine it, it must have been an interesting sight. Hundreds of steerage passengers lined up, clutching their belongings from little towns in Russia, Poland, Romania, and elsewhere, and holding kosher provisions for the voyage that were kindly supplied to them by relief agencies... my grandmother trying to keep her young children happy and occupied, while the first-class passengers boarded in luxury. The first-class passengers would have even received a little guidebook, detailing the many services of the ship and the names of the other first-class passengers, like the one shown here. First-class passengers would have eat breakfast at 8 AM, lunch at 12:30, dinner at 6 PM and 7:15 PM, and supper at 9 PM. But passengers like my grandmother probably had a menu something like this one.
The name of the ship was the S. S. Merion, built in 1902 in Scotland. It was 162 meters long and 18 meters wide, and had her maiden voyage on March 8 1902. For most of her career, she sailed for the American Line from Liverpool. Although most people have a picture in their minds of all immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York, in fact many arrived elsewhere, including Baltimore and (in my grandmother's case) Philadelphia.
My family did not save any records of that trip, or if they did, they are long gone now. But I managed to find a postcard of the Merion, and here it is:
If you look closely at the postcard, you can see what appears to be a rabbi in the front left section of the card.
And here is my grandmother and her children (and one from my grandfather's first marriage) listed in the Outwards Passenger Lists from the Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England: Transatlantic ship travel was not completely safe. Of course, it was just the year before that the Titanic hit an iceberg in the north Atlantic and went down. (My grandfather emigrated on the Pisa in February-March 1912; just a month later, the Pisa encountered ice and was in the general vicinity of the Titanic when it sank.) And the Merion herself had several accidents, including a collision with a tanker on December 24 1912, off the coast of Delaware.
In August of 1913, the ship's commander would have been J. Beattie Hill, and the outgoing passenger records indicate he was the commander for my grandmother's trip, too. The ship records show that the Merion stopped on August 19 in Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland to pick up more passengers. All together there were (from the records I have access to) 1,036 passengers on the Merion headed to Philadelphia.
In 1914, the Merion was sold to the British navy, where it was used as a "decoy", and outfitted to look like the British battleship Tiger. On May 29 1915 this decoy ship was sunk by a German submarine.
For now, I'll leave my grandmother on the Merion, as the whistle sounds and the ship slowly leaves the port in Liverpool...