Mar 032011
Albert and Mary Pohl

Albert and Mary Pohl, about 1909

Who would have thought the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could answer questions about family history?  I used NOAA to help solve a mystery about the immigration of my great-grandparents, Albert G. and Maria “Mary” (Pittner) Pohl.

According to the United States census for the years 1900, 1910 and 1920, they immigrated to America in the early 1890’s. Since each census gives a slightly different year of immigration, I could only conclude that Albert Pohl arrived first, followed a year later by his wife Mary and their children.

Person1900 Census1910 Census1920 Census
Albert Pohl189318941892
Mary Pohl189418951892

With that assumption, I searched for Albert Pohl in the ship manifest records at Ellis Island, New York. There I found an Albert Pohl, traveling alone, aboard the steamship SS Dresden. This ship arrived at the Port of New York on August 23, 1892. His voyage started at Bremen, Germany. An ocean voyage at that time took about 12 days. The ship arrived at New York, where some passengers disembarked, and the remaining passengers continued on to Baltimore, Maryland, where the ship arrived two days later on August 25. Albert is listed twice: First at New York among the passengers bound for Baltimore, and second at Baltimore when he arrived there. Since he was bound for Baltimore, it is doubtful he was processed at Ellis Island.

This Albert Pohl is likely my great-grandfather. If his wife and children were listed in the manifest, it would have made a more certain match. However his age and native country are consistent with the census records. According to my hypothesis, I would expect that he arranged for his wife and children to arrive as he did, at the Port of Baltimore the following year.  Unfortunately there is no record of a Maria or Mary Pohl arriving at Baltimore in 1893.

I decided to check other ports of entry.  Indeed a Maria Pohl did arrive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania almost exactly one year later.  Her three children matched those recorded in the census. Maria, age 27, and her three children Leopold, 6, Maria, 4, and my grandmother Adelheid, age 2, were aboard the SS Scandia, which departed Hamburg, Germany on August 12, 1893. Mary states she was never in the United States before, and that she had a ticket to her final destination, for which her husband had already paid. She was going to Woodville, Pennsylvania to reside with him there. Woodville is a suburb of Pittsburgh.

But why did her ship arrive at Philadelphia rather than at Baltimore, Maryland?  In support of my hypothesis, I learned the SS Scandia was indeed originally bound for Baltimore. It was diverted to Philadelphia, where it arrived on August 29, 1893. Their voyage was very likely delayed and rerouted due to four storms in the Atlantic during this time.

According to a chart for the year 1893 at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of these storms was a hurricane that hit New York City on August 24 with 85 mph winds. In good weather the ship probably would have reached Baltimore on August 24. The ship’s manifest was prepared for Baltimore, but this was later crossed out and Philadelphia inserted.

1893 Hurricane Chart

1893 Hurricane Chart

Mystery solved!  A hurricane affected the immigration of my great-grandmother Mary Pohl and her children, including my grandmother Ida (Pohl) Stewart.  Their adventure that year was probably re-told in many stories through the years, but those have been lost to history.

So develop a hypothesis, but keep an open mind as to where you can find the answer.  If you have an immigration mystery, check historical weather records.  Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A would of caution:  Keep digging and be persistent in your search. There are numerous different agencies, laboratories and divisions involved here.  A search of one may not yield results, but a search at another may.

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