It’s hard to imagine the conditions our ancestors faced in Europe and even harder to imagine what finally happened in their lives to ultimately get them to commit to leaving their homes and families. I’m sure there had to be the promise of opportunity, but this was a much heavier decision than “Applebees, Red Lobster or Olive Garden”. When they finally did make the commitment, did the whole family come? Individuals? Extended families? How did they decide who stayed? Was it a lack of funds that forced some to stay?
I’ve known for a couple years that my 2nd great grandparents, Fritz & Dora Rathkamp arrived in the US in 1868. Tonight I finally found the passenger list. They arrived in New York on the ship New York on August 17, 1868. They, along with their daughter Johanna, were three of 637 passengers. The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be commissioned for another 18 years.
Two years ago, I would have looked at the passenger list and only recognized them. Today though I recognize some other names as well as some other towns near their village of Oeftinghausen in Germany. The villages of Wesenstedt and Schwaforden are also represented. Other surnames include Wetenkamp, Hulsemann, Meyer, Halbemeyer, Finke and Windhorst. Wetenkamp is a name I’ve seen repeatedly. In fact, Christian Wetenkamp eventually married Johanna Rathkamp. That’s a story for another post (hint: juicy story).
There are a couple things that interest me about this list. First, the oldest traveler in their group is 35. Second, it seems everybody on this list ended up farming in Minnesota except for Fritz Rathkamp. He remained in Milwaukee his entire life. My theory is that there was a lot of opportunity for a carpenter in the rapidly growing town of Milwaukee. Was this the plan all along? I see the attraction from both perspectives. Fritz was trained as a carpenter in Germany, but his occupation was listed as “Heurling” or hired farm hand. The last thing he probably wanted to do was work on another farm. For the others, the thought of going to Minnesota and homesteading 160 acres was probably also attractive.
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