Re: Deaths on board ships taking immigrants to USA from Hamburg #general

A. E. Jordan

Original Message From: Ira Leviton <>:
I believe that there will almost always be records of deaths on ships
at the next port of call. .......

I say "almost always" because in case of an accident, say somebody jumped
overboard, the investigation and recording of the death may have been done at
the closest port, but if the ship didn't dock there, it's not the next port.
Maritime law gets very complicated.......

that deaths were registered in the country of origin,.....
I am a maritime person even before I am a genealogist. First off I would say
start with the passenger list and the notes at the back of the passenger list.
If someone died en route they would have to be crossed off the list or it
otherwise noted because otherwise the immigration officials are going to be
looking for that person.

The ship in its daily log would have noted any deaths. But unfortunately for
us it is going to be nearly impossible to find a copy of an individual ship's
daily logs. Most of them went with the ship. The ships did not have to file
any types of reports when they arrived in foreign ports or even returned to
their home port.

Ellis Island had a very advanced for its day medical operation but I don't
know if its records were kept and if they extended on to the ships at all.
However if a person died at sea and the ship had to report it the medical
authorities would have been concerned if it was due to any infectious or
communicable disease. The ships had to report to the local authorities if
they had any disease aboard and if so the ship could be turned away or help
in quarantine. So you can see why a ship would want to keep a death quiet
and be able to report there was no disease aboard.

I would not venture to guess if a ship 100 plus years ago would do an at
sea burial or take the body on to the next port of call. Regardless the
investigation, if there were one, would only be at the next port of call
or maybe at the port of embarkation. If someone died or jumped or fell, a
ship would not be radioing on to the nearest port or any such thing to
prompt an investigation or paper work at "nearest port."

Remember until well into the 20th century the ships had no means of
communications and then it was the wireless at first not radios or
telephones as we think of it today. The ships at sea were self government
entities with little or no international supervision. The captains would
not want to do anything to delay or extend the voyage so other than a quick
search to try and recover the person or body they would go on their way.

The ships would have felt only slightly more responsibility to a crew
member who died at sea versus an immigrant they were transporting. So
they might have been more likely to report back to their home country
the death of a crew member.

Paperwork however would have been the ship's enemy and a time consuming
task the crew would have preferred to skip. So filing lots of papers and
reports would have been avoided as much as possible.

Finally remember that a lot of the ships that sailed to New York for
example did not dock in New York. A lot of the piers were in New Jersey.
That said I have never seen a death report in New Jersey for a person who
reportedly died at sea on a ship that later docked in New Jersey.

Allan Jordan

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