Overland Emigration Routes to Eurropean Ports for passage to U.S. #usa

Adam Sugerman

The David Rumsey Map Collection is a fantastic site for downloading period maps, including thousands from Eastern Europe with detail of rail lines and transportation routes. I can't recommend it enough if you're looking for a picture of how folks traveled overland – for instance, this map covering Vilna to Podolia in 1883 (including Minsk) and this one of Eastern Europe in 1886. There are a lot of sea maps too, like this one of transport routes in the North Sea, and this map showing similar routes in the Black Sea and Mediterranean (including Odessa).

For an view of early emigration routes from Germany to North America, this map from 1853 in the Library of Congress provides insight into the burgeoning emigrant trade – though perhaps nothing is as illuminating into how Liverpool became an important point of embarkation as this data visualization of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, whose demise left shippers in need of something to ship.

For Lithuanian maps, the well named lithuanianmaps.com site is also brilliant.

Adam Sugerman
Kilauea, HI

Zuckerman/Sugerman in Kovno
Torlowsky/Tarlovsky in Grodno
Goldstone in Bialystok
Goldman in Izabelin, Belarus
Sandler in Vilna and Bielozorka
Miller in Vilna




A lot of travel information can be found in old passports.  My wife’s great uncle, Jack Ostriak (Jakob Austrjak) immigrated in 1920 from Ciechanów, Poland, to Ellis Island at age 14, accompanied by his older sister Helen (age 16), younger sister Dora (age 12; my wife’s grandmother), and mother Ida.  They joined their father/husband William (Volf), who had migrated in 1912 and settled in northern NJ (Hoboken, then South Amboy).  The reunited family soon after put down roots in Philadelphia.  According to oral history, the family had lost contact in the intervening years due to WW-I, but after the war, Volf reconnected and sent passage money for the family to come to America.  Ida and the kids traveled by train from Ciechanów to Rotterdam, and the route can be deduced from the visas within the Polish passport.  This is the chronology:



7/8/1920: Polish passport issued from Warsaw.

10/20/1920: American visa issued in Warsaw: $9 for the visa stamp and $1 for the application stamp (for each family member).

10/23/1920: Dutch transit visa issued in Warsaw (for travel enroute to the USA).

10/25/1920: German transit visa issued in Warsaw for travel via Berlin to the Dutch border.



11/4/1920: Entered Germany at Soldau, East Prussia (now Dziełdowo, Poland); passport stamped at Soldau.

11/4/1920 (est.): Re-entered Germany at Schneidemühl (after crossing the Polish corridor.

11/6/1920: Exited Germany at Bentheim (passport stamped) and entered the Netherlands at Oldenzaal.

11/6/1920 (est.): Arrived at Rotterdam.

11/23/1920: Embarked on the S.S. Rotterdam (HAL).

12/4/1920: Disembarked at Ellis Island.


Bill Marmer

Fort Washington, PA


MARMER (Baranivka, Ukraine)

şi/Jassy, Romania)
SHULDINER (Žagarė, Lithuania)

OSTRIAK and FRIED/FRID (Ciechanów, Poland)
FINKELSTEIN (Suwałki, Poland)
ți/Belts, Moldova)

Arlene Beare

Dr Nick Evans is the guest speaker for Latvia SIG  at the Conference.  We hope to welcome many to his presentation as he is an authority on shipping routes from the Baltic and travel routes in general. The title of his talk - Baltic migration from the Port of Libau.  We are called a Research Division by Jewishgen  but at the Confernece called Latvia SIG.


He will also be giving another presentation at the Conference -Jewish migration to the UK between 1793 and 1914.

Arlene Beare
Co-director Latvia and Estonia Research Division.

James Hannum

You might be able to make the town names legible by trying this: 

1.)  Put the atlas into bright, but indirect, sunlight; and

2.) Get closer up and take 4 photos, one of the NE (North East), NW, SE, and SW.  It's OK if the 4 overlap each other a little.  Dividing the subject into 4 pieces allows you to get closer and capture more detail.

These two techinques will give you much higher resolurion (pixels), so the town names will be legible.  
--James Hannum


My gf was from the Minsk area.  He emigrated in 1904 to escape the Russo-Japanese war draft (both my gf's did that).

His petition for US citizenship gave the detail that he arrived on a ship from Trieste.  During that time period it was part of the Hapsburg empire (Austro-Hungary) and is now in Italy.  This was a long trip too.

I finally found someone listed in the manifest who fit my grandfather's description but with a different first name (possibly his brother's or cousin's).

The manifest had quite a few people from Minsk. I couldn't easily read the other towns listed.

Jessica Schein

Barbara Balaj

You pose an interesting question about overland routes to sail to America. My grandfather left Koretz, Russia (now in Ukraine) in 1905 and went to New York via Glasgow, Scotland, sailing on the S.S. Furnessia. However, I do not know how he traveled overland from Russia to Scotland.

Barbara Balaj
Washington, DC

Alan Shuchat

See https://avotaynuonline.com/2008/04/coming-to-america-through-hamburg-and-liverpool-part-ii-crossing-the-atlantic-by-harry-d-boonin/ 
for Part 2 of Harry Boonin’s article about how his relatives left Slutsk. Part 1 focuses on the overland part of their journey, but this seems to be available only in print: AVOTAYNU, Vol. XXII, No. 4, (Winter 2006), pp. 15–22
Alan Shuchat
Newton, MA

SHUKHAT (Talnoe, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Odessa, Balta (Abazovka), Pogrebishche)
VINOKUR (Talnoe), KURIS (Mogilev-Podolskiy, Ataki, Berdichev)
ZILBERMAN (Soroki, Kremenets), BIRNBAUM (Kamenets-Podolskiy)
KITAIGORODSKI (Zvenigorodka)


I'm not sure I have ever linked to my blog about my ongoing research into  my mother's family from the Slutsk area, but in it I mention with gratitude Michael Steinmore's Mestechki of Minsk Gubernia. He extracted this from a gazetteer published in 1909 and its beauty is that not only does it specify the size of  the many small villages (my grandmother came from Semezhevo which I'm not sure could be considered  much of a shtetl since it only had about 25 Jewish families in a town of several thousand) but also lists the nearest railway station and which line it was on. In this way I could determine that my grandmother, who came alone to the US as a 17 of 18 year old only had a 46 km trip to the nearest train station Lyakhovichi for the  Polesskiya railway line  Her eventual husband, from nearby Vyzna, had a journey of 63 km to the same station.  She sailed from Rotterdam.  My grandfather (and his eldest brother)  sailed from Hamburg.

Ronni Kern
Melnick, Blistein, Kern, Derechinsky

Jill Whitehead

There was a lot of smuggling in the 1860s and 1870s between the  Polish and Lithuanian lands that bordered East Prussia, into East Prussia/Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad) as escapees from both the draft and the ten years of extreme Baltic famine tried to get away.  Many had families who lived on both sides of the border that helped this. This was the case with my family. When they left there were few or no railway trains in this area (as they had not yet been built) and sailing ships were only just giving way to steam ships, which made the Baltic trips hazardous. 

But a lot of British shipping companies started offering migration services in the mid 19th century to  take emigrants to Hull, Leith or other ports on the East Coast of England or Scotland. Some later offered transmigration services from Liverpool and Glasgow on the West Coast of the British Isles to go to the East Coast of North America, mainly Quebec, Boston and New York (in 1870s approx).  

As Britain was an early railway pioneer, it already had railways going from Hull to Liverpool and Leith to Glasgow to pick up transmigration services when the Baltic journeys started.  

Many Baltic ports were involved including not only Hamburg and Libau, but also Konigsberg in East Prussia (as in my family's case), Riga in Latvia, Gdansk/Danzig now in Poland, and Rotterdam to name but a few. A number of services stopped en route via Swedish ports to Britain. 

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK

Michele Lock

It seems every couple of months, similar questions are asked about how immigrants ever made it from Russia to European ports and then onto America (or other western countries).

They would have taken trains to the Northern European ports. If they didn't live close to a train station, they could hire what was known as a 'cab man' or 'cart man' or 'draught man', who had a horse and wagon for hire, who would take people or goods to wherever they needed to go. I have two great great grandfathers who made a living doing this, in both Zagare and Dotnuva, Lithuania. [Nowadays we do something similar, using what is call a taxi or Uber or Lyft].

The one reason I can see for an immigrant staying off of the trains within Russia, was for young men of military age, who might spend more of their journey walking, until they made it out of Russia.

There is one eye-witness account that I know of, written by Mary Antin, who came to Boston with her family in 1893, from the town of Plotsk, now in Belarus. The book she wrote is available online at the following site; it is the chapter called 'Exodus' that covers their journey. She says they took a train to Vilnius, then onto the Russian/German border, where they got on a special immigrant train, that only stopped to take on more immigrants. The train went all the way to Hamburg, and the immigrants were not allowed to get off until arriving at the port.

My Lock grandmother came to the US in 1913, from Joniskis, Lithuania to New York, via Antwerp. I had always wondered how she made her way by herself all the way across Europe. It's pretty clear to me that she was on one of these immigrant trains; she was most likely told by the shipping company when and where to get herself to the German/Russia border, so she could be picked up by one of these trains.
Michele Lock

Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock and Kalon/Kolon in Zagare/Joniskis/Gruzdziai, Lithuania
Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock in Plunge/Telsiai in Lithuania
Rabinowitz in Papile, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia
Trisinsky/Trushinsky/Sturisky and Leybman in Dotnuva, Lithuania
Olitsky in Alytus, Suwalki, Poland/Lithuania
Gutman/Goodman in Czestochowa, Poland
Lavine/Lev/Lew in Trenton, New Jersey and Lida/Vilna gub., Belarus

Phil Goldfarb

I can tell you unequivocally that my great grandfather who was a pharmacist in Ekaterinoslav, Russia (before Ukraine became an independent country) and his family (wife and 3 sons) took a train from Ekaterinoslav to Hamburg in 1904 in order to take their ship to New York. I don't know how many stops that they made or if they changed trains anywhere, but that was the preferred method of transportation to the Port if one could afford it.

Phil Goldfarb
Tulsa, Oklahoma USA

Harvey Kaplan


Unfortunately, few immigrants spoke in detail about the journey or wrote down these details - and probably their children or grandchildren didn't ever ask them.  I wish I could ask
my ancestors the direct routes they took.

I would imagine that they had to go by horse and cart to a railway station. I just Googled and found that there was/is a railway station in Keidan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C4%97dainiai_railway_station . Don't know if they went from there by
train to Libau - or somewhere they could get a connection to Hamburg (or another of the Baltic or North Sea ports). Maybe you could go by train from Kovno. There will be
information on line, I think, about train routes at this time.  Maybe they went by horse and cart to the border and someone had to bribe a border guard.  From there, I suppose
horse and cart to a railway station, then to the port.

Hope this helps,

Harvey Kaplan


Barbara Hemmendinger

One more thing, Jewish emigrants from the former Russian empire would have needed an official Russian external passport to depart from Libau.  This could have been difficult for men to obtain who were avoiding dreaded military conscription and for political activists, so many of those individuals “skipped” the Russian border to flee into Germany or elsewhere in the Austro-Hungarian empire where they could board ships from non-Russian ports.  My husband’s paternal grandfather and the grandfather’s brother, both Jewish men from Russia of draft age, did just that in 1891 and departed from Hamburg.

Barbara (Elk) Hemmendinger 

Elliot Philipson

Harvey- how did they get to Hamburg? By horse draw carriage or train? My family came from Keidan in Lithuania in 1886 and 1895- thx- Elliot Philipson, Cleveland, Ohio

Jill Whitehead

All four sets of my great grandparents (and one great great grandparent) came from the Suwalki Lomza gubernias in NE Poland between 1865 and 1875 via either the ports of Konigsberg in East Prussia (most likely) or possibly Libau in Lavtia to Hull in Yorkshire or Leith the port for Edinburgh on the British East coast (one or two may have come via a stop in Sweden).

One set travelled overland to Warsaw and thence onto a Baltic port (Gdansk/Danzig?) to Leith. Two sets travelled west by trains from Hull  to Liverpool and Manchester. 

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK

Harvey Kaplan

Good to confirm with a specific journey.

My great great grandparents from Lithuania travelled to Hamburg in 1902, then by ship to Grimsby, then to Glasgow, where they joined family members.

My grandmother and relatives from Kaminets-Podolsk in Ukraine travelled to Rotterdam in 1906 - not sure where they sailed to in Britain, but they came to Glasgow to join my grandfather.

Harvey Kaplan

Barbara Hemmendinger

In response to Mr. Kaplan, my grandfather, originally from Starodub, Russia (then part of Chernigov guberniya) traveled from the year-round, ice-free port of Libau (now Liepaja, Latvia) to Hull, UK, then by train to Liverpool, and finally boarded the SS Lusitania on July 29, 1911 for the transAtlantic crossing to New York, arriving in the US on Aug. 4, 1911.  I also have a digitized copy of his ship’s manifest for this package journey. 

Barbara (Elk) Hemmendinger 

Richard Cooper

Here is a picture from my 1911 atlas which may help
Ric Cooper
Midhurst, UK

Eva Lawrence

In the early 1900s,  horse-drawn vehicles might also have been used for overland travel particularly in rural areas. Until the 1950s,  lorries  drawn by carthorses were a common sight even on London roads.

Eva Lawrence

St Albans, UK.  


Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

Harvey Kaplan

From the 1890s, Libau in Latvia was a popular emigration port. Many passengers would arrive at Hull or Grimsby in England and go by train to Liverpool or Glasgow
for an onward ship to the USA etc.

Harvey Kaplan
Glasgow, Scotland

On Tue, 7 Feb 2023 at 15:40, <kdomeshek@...> wrote:
I agree with Jean Lachaud's reply regarding the cost-effectiveness and practicality of overland travel options from the Minsk area to the ports of Europe, and would like to add the following:  Agents who represented the steamship companies traveled to the shtetls and offered package deals for aspiring migrants.  It seems odd that those agents would try to sell longer and presumably more expensive overland travel components, when many migrants from this part of Europe were poor and scrounged money just to afford a steerage-class ticket on the boats.  I have the travel records of a dozen of so family members, including two passports that leave no doubt.  These ancestors represented different ancestral lines, with one common theme...they were all from Minsk gubernia (the same starting point in the original query from Judy Cohen).  They arrived alone or in groups over a 30 year span.  In every instance, the European departure port was either Hamburg or Gdansk.

Hamburg was the more common option.  That probably reflected the brutal conditions of the North Sea from Gdansk during the winter months.  Gdansk/North Sea was generally not open for passenger travel in the winter.  Hamburg was open for passenger travel most if not all year, reflecting better conditions at the port and on the Baltic Sea.

Thinking out loud...I wonder how much the time of the year affected our ancestors' decisions.  Did winter port/ocean conditions in the Baltic and North Seas prompt some eastern European migrants to undertake longer overland travel to western European departure ports like Rotterdam and Amsterdam (Atlantic Ocean), as queried by Judy Cohen? 

Ken Domeshek
researching Damesek and Braverman from Nesvizh.  Kartorzynski and Sinienski from Nowogrudek, Korelitz, Negnewicze, Lyubcha, and Wsielub.