When I recently saw the movie Brooklyn, one of the most poignant scenes was, as I recall, soundless. The harbor scene where the young Irish girl stands on the deck gazing sorrowfully at her mother and sister standing on the dock far below. She knows she may never see them again.
As I said, if there were sounds I don't remember them, didn't hear them. And as for movement, my memory is of the entire scene taking place in slow motion. Such stillness with each figure frozen in his or her own separate anguish. And it goes on and on, the camera panning the faces of the passengers and of the ones staying ashore. There is none of the exuberance and chaos of most movie ship-launching scenes—the throwing of confetti, the waving of handkerchiefs, the tossing of caps in the air, the wild cheering. Just this endless, dreamlike montage of heartbreak. This documenting of families coming apart at the seams, and wanting things to be different.
It all put me in mind of each set of my ancestors and their leave-takings from their respective homelands. I had often wondered about the circumstances that brought each family to that point, but I had thought of each departure separately. Being bathed in this movie scene, I felt the full impact of separation experienced by all my families and all the families of anyone who ever emigrated.
|Presbyterian Cemetery, Northampton PA|
|Leonard in his later years|
|Syver and Barbro|
|A bark like the Drafna|
Last to arrive was my Swedish great-grandmother Stina Ellstrom. In April of 1880, just a few weeks after her twentieth birthday, she boarded the steamship Marsdin in Gothenburg to come to "Amerika". In contrast to the Guttormsen family's experience of making the crossing as a party of twenty, Stina was embarking on a solo voyage. I looked at the lines before and after her name on the passenger list to see if maybe she had another young woman as her travel companion. Someone to help her through the imagined hard times of rough seas, frightening storms, menstrual cramps, sea-sickness, unwanted attention from a randy deckhand. There was no such companion. But I did see, just above her name, the names of a slightly older couple who were also traveling from her little town of Elfsbacka. Maybe they were shepherding her through the process. Once they arrived in the New York harbor, however, they parted ways—the couple's destination being Chicago. Stina, according to the passenger list information, was heading to Moline, Illinois. When I checked for other Ellstroms in Moline, I found that she had at least one brother and one sister waiting to welcome her at the end of her long journey. Over the next few years, all but two of her seven siblings had emigrated to the Moline area.
|Stina (front left) with her siblings in Moline|
So all these families separated themselves from their former lives, braved the seas, survived the conditions of traveling steerage class, and arrived in unknown territory. They made their way westward where somehow they found each other, connected, and combined into new families. And so... here I am!
Drafna image courtesy of Norway Heritage