Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pauline Ilg: Brave & Courageous - Part 1

     Have you ever known someone, whose life was so full of tragedy that you have no clue how they survived? For me, that person is my 2nd Great Grandma, Pauline Ilg. When I look at her life & see all she endured, my heart aches for her. From illnesses to many deaths, to not having enough money to care for her children to a second husband who was not very nice. By the time she was in her 30s, she had buried so many of her family, including children, I don't know how she was able to face each day like she did. I wish I could go back in time just to give her a big hug. I wish I could show her that her family line has continued on because of her sacrifices. That I am proud to have her as a grandma. I've already told some of Pauline's story when I wrote about her son, William Ilg. But I didn't get to tell you everything. So that's what I'm going to do now. Her life deserves to be memorialized, so her sacrifices were not made in vain. So sit here with me (and a box of tissues) as I tell you the story of my strong and brave 2nd Great Grandma, Pauline.
     Pauline Wilhelmine Kimmerle was born on February 11, 1865, in Calw, Oa u. Unterreichenbach, Württemberg, Germany to Jakob Friedrich Kimmerle and Friederike Wilhelmine Keller. She was the middle child in between her brothers Paul Wilhelm & Karl Friedrich. She was baptized in the Lutheran Church on February 19, 1865. At this time I am unable to tell if she had any other siblings. Karl sadly died a few months after his birth in 1867 and I can't find any more information on Paul. I am currently researching German records from the Lutheran church to find more information on the family. I do know, sadly, when she was 8 years old, her father passed away just before Christmas in 1873 from complications relating to Tuberculosis. So even from an early age, she had already experienced great loss. [k][l][m]
Pauline's baptism record

    I can't imagine her life was easy after this event. It didn't help the German economy when the world had all of a sudden spun into a depression that same year, otherwise known as “The Panic of 1873”.
"The Panic of 1873 was a financial crisis that triggered an economic depression in Europe and North America that lasted from 1873 until 1877, and even longer in France and Britain." [f]
“The prices for agricultural and industrial goods fell precipitously; for six successive years the net national product declined. A sharp decline in profits and investment opportunities persisted until the mid-1890s. About 20 percent of the recently founded corporations went bankrupt. In agriculture, the deeply indebted Junker elite now faced severe competition as surplus American and Russian grain flooded the German market. Among the more immediate consequences of the crash was a burst of emigration from the depressed provinces of rural Prussia. During the 1870s some 600,000 people departed for North and South America; this number more than doubled in the 1880s.” [e]
   Germany hasn't exactly had the best economy for as long as I can remember. I was surprised to learn about the Panic of 1873 and the effects it had on not just Germany, but the world. It all started with the end of the Franco-Prussian War (May 10, 1871). The cost of the war had been so huge that Germany could not afford to spend Gold to buy Silver to create coins anymore. So the German Empire made the decision to cease the minting of silver thaler into coins, which then, of course, led to the drop in demand and the eventual decrease in value of silver. The results of this decision were felt globally, with most of the impact felt in the United States. To make matters worse, the United States passed the Coinage Act of 1873 that demonetized silver, which then led to the collapse of the silver dollar. From here it was just a downward spiral into what would be considered the Longest Depression, lasting for about 26 years. [p]
     So the Panic of 1873 continued through Pauline's life in Germany. It probably made it harder for her family to make a living. Unfortunately at this time, I don't have any records of her life in Germany after her baptism. Without taking a trip to her home town, I probably won't find anything. One thing is clear, life was hard and she probably wanted a chance at a better life. So like millions of other Germans, she decided to take that chance, and emigrate to America. According to Family Search Wiki, emigration had become more affordable while political and economic problems continued.[g] So this probably helped fuel the idea of leaving her home town and starting a new life in the prosperous United States. Letters, stories, and rumors would have floated around town talking of the successes many of their former neighbors would have in their new lives. To add to the "Emigration Fever", books were published by Germans describing all the opportunities and beauty that lie in the new land making it sound like a utopia.[o] It sounded like a dream. An escape. So naturally, it's understandable why Pauline would choose to take this journey. Whatever the reasons were, all I do know is that she would board a ship called the EMS in Bremen, Germany sometime before May 29, 1887, in hopes of a better life. [n] 

Foreign Ports
Steamer EMS sailed from Bremen hence for New York
May 29, 1887

EMS June 1887

          Can you imagine how she must have felt? What she must have been thinking? While traveling by ship had evolved over the years, it was still pretty primitive compared to today's conveniences. Food had to be preserved specially for the trip. No modern plumbing, so no bathrooms. And according to the manifest, she traveled in steerage. Definitely not first class. Have you ever been on a huge ship? You better not have motion sickness. Of course, that would be once you are actually able to get on the ship. But first, you have to get to the port from your village. Purchasing a ticket was just the first step of the journey. And the easy one compared to what was to come. Three types of accommodations could be purchased to travel on the ship: First class, Second class, and Steerage. The latter being the most affordable to traveling immigrants with tickets costing an average of $30.[h] Still quite a bit of money, but I'm sure everyone thought it was worth it as an investment in their future.
Advertisement for the ship EMS
“Since all steerage tickets were sold without space reservations, obtaining a ticket was easy. Principal shipping lines had hundreds of agencies in the United States and freelance ticket agents traveled through parts of Europe, moving from village to village, selling tickets....."
“For many, it was a family affair. Advice was sought and help was freely given by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends and even entire villages. It was not unusual for an entire family to work to earn the money for a single family member who wanted to make the trip.” [h]
Sample Steerage Passage Ticket

     When I read the ship manifest, I saw no other Kimmerle's making the journey with Pauline. Although there was a Theresa Ilg, age 14, on the ship with her in the same accommodations. They both were in Steerage Comp VI. I also noticed that their cities of origin were very close in distance. Pauline was listed as Seitingen and Theresa's was Oberflacht. You will find out later why that name has some significance. So off she went, heading from Seitingen to Bremen. [n]
Passenger List of ship EMS

map of Seitingen and Oberflacht
“For many, simply getting to the port was the first major journey of their lives. They would travel by train, wagon, donkey or even by foot. Sometimes travelers would have to wait days, weeks and even months at the port, either for their paperwork to be completed or for their ship to arrive because train schedules were not coordinated with sailing dates. Assuming their paperwork was in order and tickets had been purchased, some provision was usually made for the care of the emigrants waiting for a ship. Steamship companies were required by the governments to watch over prospective passengers and, at most ports, the travelers were housed in private boardinghouses. Some port cities even boasted their own 'emigrant hotels.' ”[h]
     Emigrants from southern and western Germany departed from the port of Bremerhaven in Bremen. By the mid- 19th century Bremen was known as "the suburb of New York".[a] Bremerhaven is the seaport of the City Municipality of Bremen, a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the River Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area. Bremen is some 60 km (37 mi) south from the Weser mouth on the North Sea. With Bremerhaven right on the mouth, the two comprise the state of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. While technically, passengers embarked and disembarked in Bremerhaven, the passenger lists all state Bremen and the origination or destination port.[b]
Bremen/Bremerhaven ca. 1880

     Sadly, since the majority of all the records that were held at the Bremen Archives were destroyed to free up space [c], there are no details about when Pauline actually took off from Bremen. The trip itself on the ship would sometimes take between 10 and 15 days depending different factors such as weather, stops, etc. [i] [j] [h] That's definitely an improvement over the 6 weeks it used to be, but still quite a long time to be cooped up on a ship in very tight, unsanitary quarters. The companies that ran these ship routes were not so concerned with the health and comfort of the passengers on board as they were about seeing how many they could cram onto the ship to make more money. The conditions were so bad, laws had to be put in place. The United States Immigration Commission wrote in a report to President William H.Taft in 1911:
“The open deck space reserved for steerage passengers is usually very limited, and situated in the worst part of the ship, subject to the most violent motion, to the dirt from the stacks and the odors from the hold and galleys... the only provisions for eating are frequently shelves or benches along the sides or in the passages of sleeping compartments. Dining rooms are rare and, if found, are often shared with berths installed along the walls. Toilets and washrooms are completely inadequate; saltwater only is available.
The ventilation is almost always inadequate, and the air soon becomes foul. The unattended vomit of the seasick, the odors of not too clean bodies, the reek of food and the awful stench of the nearby toilet rooms make the atmosphere of the steerage such that it is a marvel that human flesh can endure it... Most immigrants lie in their berths for most of the voyage, in a stupor caused by the foul air. The food often repels them... It is almost impossible to keep personally clean. All of these conditions are naturally aggravated by the crowding.” [h]
Steerage Compartment

     Other reports by passengers included:
“Food provided by the shipping companies included bread, biscuits and potatoes. This was usually of poor quality. One government official who inspected provisions in Liverpool in 1850 commented that 'the bread is mostly condemned bread ground over with a little fresh flour, sugar and saleratus and rebaked.' Travellers often complained about the quality of the water on the journey. The main reason for this was that the water was stored in casks that had not been cleaned properly after carrying substances such as oil, vinegar, turpentine or wine on previous journeys. One immigrant travelling in 1815 described the water as having such 'a rancid smell that to be in the same neighbourhood was enough to turn one's stomach.' " [i]
     Not to mention the dangers for women traveling onboard the ships. There were reports made by women that they had been abused and mistreated by the captains onboard the ships. Threatened with no food or water unless they complied. Even though reports were made, there were no convictions ever recorded. Luckily, Pauline's journey only lasted about five days. [i]
     Even with all these hurdles and dangers, immigrants like Pauline still held onto faith that their future would be full of hope. This would be before the Statue of Liberty was built, so she didn't have the joy of seeing that lovely lady welcoming her into the Land of Opportunity. But I'm sure she still had tears in her eyes when she arrived. That date would be June 3, 1887.

What's going to happen next? Where will she go? 
Does she have family waiting?
 You will just have to wait and see.
To be continued...
Read Part 2 now!

To read more first-hand accounts of the conditions in Steerage, visit the link below:

[a]: German's Immigrate to America - RootsWeb
[b]: Port of Bremen Passenger Lists - GG Archives
[c]: Bremen Passenger Lists – Staats Archiv Bremen
[d]: Encyclopedia – Panic of 1893
[e]: Germany from 1871 to 1918 - Encyclopædia Britannica
[f]: The Panic of 1873 – Wikipedia
[g]: German Emigration & Immigration – Family Search Wiki
[h]: The Immigrant Journey – Ohranger
[i]: Journey to America – Spartacus Educational
[j]: Sea Route & Distance –,germany/port-of-new-york,united-states/
[k]: Lutheran Church Records - Ancestry
[l]: Missouri Death Certificates – MO Digital Heritage
[m]: Personal Records
[n]: New York Passenger Lists - Ancestry
[o]: German Settlement in Missouri; New Land/Old Ways by Robyn Burnett
[p]: Panic 1873 | Armstrong Economics


  1. What a story. I've researched a lot of my family history with similar situations. I think the thing about having a tough life is that you're always in survival mode and dont have time to sit and be depressed about it. You're just fighting to get to the next day. Thanks for sharing her fight.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comments! I am glad you enjoyed her story.