Journey to America


With his brother Albert's words of encouragement beckoning him to America, Henry, one fateful day, said good-bye to his wife and baby daughter and set out on his quest to start a new life in America. He was 27 years old. He and Anna had agreed that Henry would go first, find a job and a house and then send money to Anna so that she and baby Annie could join him at a later time. Henry's excitement of leaving was mixed with the sadness of knowing that he would probably never see his father and mother, or his brothers and sisters ever again.

Henry traveled, probably by train, from Zurich to the port city of Le Havre on the English Channel. At Le Havre, Henry purchased a ticket for the steamship La Gascogne of the French Line. The La Gascogne had accommodations for 1,055 passengers but according to the ship's manifest, during Henry's crossing, she carried a total of 943 passengers.

The La Gascogne's Manifest. Line 32 shows that Heinrich Ochsner, age 27, male, arrived from Switzerland bound for Joiliet, Illinois, carrying one bag.
Henry's Manifest
Ellis Island archives

The La Gascogne arrived in New York Harbor on February 27, 1893. After a boarding inspection by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration, ships would continue their journey into the harbor. Slowly, the tip of Manhattan would come into view. By now, all passengers were crowded onto the deck, waiting to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Just beyond the statue, to the northwest, was Ellis Island.

The first Americans to greet the immigrants were interpreters who directed them toward the Baggage Room, where they were to leave their trunks and suitcases until they had completed the examination process. Immigrants did not realize it but as they climbed the stairs leading to the Registry Room, they were taking their first test. Doctors stood at the head of the stairs watching for signs of limping, exhaustion, and heavy breathing that might indicate a heart problem. Immigrants were also tested for diseases such as trachoma and typhus, and checked for lice. They were also given mental exams to measure their ability to think, plan, and reason. Immigrants who were suspected of any type of physical or mental defect were marked with one of seventeen different chalk marks. Those receiving a mark were set aside for further examination. Finally, immigrants were asked a series of questions about their name, age, occupation, who their friends were, where the friends lived, and what they expected to do in order to earn a living.

Those that passed were given a curt nod and a landing card and were told to move onto the Baggage Room to reclaim their baggage. Just a few minutes more and it would all be over. In order to return to the Baggage Room, all immigrants had to descend a flight of stairs known as "The Stairs of Separation." For most, this would be a joyous journey. It meant that they would soon be on their way to their final destination. For others, it would be the saddest and most difficult part of the journey. It meant that some family members would be free to go; others would be held for detention and possibly deportation back to their mother country.

Anna and Annie

Anna was a young, fairly new bride with a child less than a year old when she received word that it was time to join Henry in America. When Henry's letter arrived telling her that the time had come, Anna began to carefully select the items she would take with her. Even though her newly purchased trunk was large and could carry many items, she knew she must pack with care. The first item to go into the trunk was the quilt her mother had given her on her wedding day. Anna had promised her mother that she would take good care of it, and that it would serve her well in her new home. Next, she put in a change or two of clothing for herself and the baby, plus blankets and other things the baby would need. A few pots and pans were put into the trunk as well as other household necessities. After debating with herself, she decided to pack the tea service Henry's parents had given the couple for a wedding present. Among the last items to go in were a few small mementoes of the family she was leaving behind, and some of the letters Henry had written while she waited for his call to join him in America.

Anna's Trunk
Anna's Trunk
Maurice and Charlene Carson collection

Anna's trunk has been passed down as a treasured family heirloom. It is now in the possession of her great-great-granddaughter, Patricia Carson Wyatt.

According to the Ellis Island Certificate of Registry, Anna Ochsner, age 27, arrived at Ellis Island on the 20th day of May 1893. The ship of travel was the La Touraine of the French Line. After Anna and Annie completed the immigration procedures at Ellis Island, they were taken to a New Jersey rail station where Anna purchased a ticket for a train bound to Joliet. Annie remembered her mother telling her that the trip to Illinois was a difficult journey. Anna spoke no English, was traveling alone with a babe in arms, carrying three pieces of baggage including a large trunk, and had only fifty cents in her pocket.

Book Exceprts

Germany and Switzerland
Journey to America
Joliet, Illinois
Tillman County, Oklahoma

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