How did Immigrants Pack to Leave Home Forever?

What would you pack if leaving your home forever? How would you feel if you did not have room for a favorite item?

Emigrants had to decide carefully what personal belongings to bring with them. Letters from their immigrant friends and relatives warned them that there was limited space available on their voyage, they only had room for the bare necessities. Items that families were able to pack often consisted of clothes, tools needed for a skilled trade, possibly a family Bible and a picture of their parents, family heirlooms, and necessary provisions for the trip. These items were typically packed in one trunk or perhaps a few suitcases to fit in the limited space that they were allowed. They stored their trunk in the ship’s cargo area. The early steerage passengers were given very little storage space near their sleeping area. They were allowed to carry only a few items that they could store on the beds. As the size of ships increased and sanitary conditions improved, shipping lines allocated more storage space in the steerage sleeping areas. Suitcases or carry-on items were stored in the sleeping area for the family to access during the trip.

Single males and females had accumulated less clothing and personal items to pack, but the selection process may have been difficult because they had to give away a favorite item.

How would you say goodbye forever?

The emigrant was leaving home, possibly forever.  Many had been traveling outside of their parish and their comfort zone for the first time. They were leaving their friends,  siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They had to say goodbye as if they would never see them again. Some of the emigrants had thoughts of returning; an estimated twenty percent did return. However, most emigrants would never see their loved ones or homes again.

My grandmother, Anna Chmielewska, told my mother “that after I had received Hipolit’s letter telling me to come to Camden New Jersey,  I cleaned and repaired the clothing that I was going to take with me, and I looked through my other things such as hair brushes, pictures and jewelry to decide what I wanted to take with me to New Jersey. The letters from Hipolit also included money that was used for the tickets and I also purchased a used suitcase for my things. When the day to leave came, Boleslaw put my bags on his cart and drove me the seven miles to the train station at Czyzew. We had waited about an hour before the train came for me to leave Boleslaw, my family, and Poland forever. I was crying, and he gave me his last hug and helped me onto the train.

As you write your family history, try to find the words that let your family feel some of the joys and sorrows that your ancestors felt. Exploring answers to some of the above questions will probably bring your ancestors alive.

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