Have you got a family story that you first heard as a child. A story that is passed on from one generation to the next. Oral history can be a powerful reminder of how our history was and is transferred through time.
The story that I heard as child was that my great, great grandfather travelled to America in search of a fortune and took his eldest son with him. I knew that he returned at some point, without his son. He returned to Glasgow and lived the rest of his life in Scotland. No one knew what happened to his son.
It was only with the creation of the internet and having access to records from Ellis Island. That a family history could be clarified and become a reality.
I decided to find out, if this story was accurate and had actually happened. What I discovered was truly amazing. The discovery of my great, great grandfathers records of his journey with his son on May 4th 1892 on the ship Wyoming from Liverpool made me gasp with sheer delight. After all this was just a family story.
Looking at the details on the screen of his journey in 1892 to Ellis Island, New York made me incredibly emotional. I had visited New York in the mid 1990’s. On this visit was a trip to Ellis Island. At that time I didn’t know that my great, great grandfather with his son, would have stood where I was standing, just over one hundred years later.
I cannot imagine how they must have been feeling. A new world awaited them. I find it incredibly brave to travel to another country like they did and 12 million migrants like my relatives went through Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954.
Being a migrant. Leaving behind what you know. Leaving behind your family, friends. Leaving behind the security. That’s courage.
When my great,great grandfather Murdoch Nicholson and John Nicholson, who was only 8 arrived in New York, unlike their wealthier passengers on the Wyoming. They would have gone through the wooden building at Ellis Island. That was sadly burned down, losing all the records. Which is a great loss. It would have taken many hours to be processed. The wealthier passengers would have had a much faster processing system.
I do know that the journey that my relatives took on the Wyoming. Would be its final trip. The ship was scrapped in 1893. One of the reasons why the Wyoming and two other ships that the Guion Line owned were decommissioned was due to a Chlorea outbreak in 1892 in New York and they mainly took steerage passengers. The steerage passengers like my relatives were considered to more likely to have health problems, due to being poorer.
One of the crew did die of chlorea on the Wyoming in 1892. I don’t know if that was the same journey that my relatives were on. But not only did they have to deal with the long journey and the fears of going to a new country. They may also have had to deal with an outbreak of cholera. Hard to imagine what they had to contend with.
What I do know. Murdock married Mary J Mills in New Jersey on the 6th August 1897. He went on to have two children. His daughter Jesse M was born on the 21st July 1898 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Sarah born in 1899. Two of Murdoch’s nieces move over to New Jersey. They were daughters of his brother Roderick. Remarkably my cousin, also called Roderick has been in contact with one of their relatives who is still living in the same place in New Jersey. Murdoch returned to the U.K. in 1906. Murdoch died on the 5th July 1914 at the age of 69 in Glasgow. Sadly his son John has disappeared into the mists of time. The story is that he became lost. Which seems horrific when he was only eight years old. I always try to imagine that he somehow survived.
And this is why oral history in families should be passed on. One day you may discover that what you heard as a child reveals a history that is inspiring and retains significance today.