Monday, August 24, 2009

Passenger Ships That Carried My Grandparents to New Lives in America

These vintage postcards and photos depict the passenger ships that carried my Polish ancestors to America. Pictured against a rosy sunset is the Russian American Line's SS Lituania, on which my maternal grandfather, Aleksandr Prokopowicz, sailed from Libau (now Liepaja), Latvia, to New York in March 1910. Launched in 1889 as the Lancashire, the vessel was originally intended as a cargo ship with accommodations for only 12 passengers; it was converted in 1892 to carry 70 passengers.

My maternal grandmother, Stefania Ruscik Prokopowicz made the crossing aboard the White Star Line's SS Arabic with her sister-in-law, Maria Prokopowicz, in February 1913. Stefania brought her daughter Pauline, 5, and son Joseph, 2, with her; Maria traveled with her youngest child, another 2-year-old named Joseph. They were among a thousand passengers traveling in steerage (third-class accommodations). In August 1915, the Arabic was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland.

In September 1913, Stefania's 18-year-old sister, Stanislawa Ruscik, sailed from Liverpool to Boston on the Cunard Line's SS Franconia with Aleksandr and Stefania's oldest son, Adolf, 14. He had apparently been ill and unable to make the trip with his mother and siblings earlier that year. He fared better aboard ship than his aunt, who was seasick most of the trip. Throughout her life, Stanislawa spoke of how well Adolf tended to her during the voyage. The Franconia was a relatively new ship, having made its maiden voyage in 1911. Of its 2,850 passengers, 2,200 traveled in steerage.

The Cunard Line's SS Caronia is represented here in two images: a postcard depicting a crowd at the landing stage in Liverpool, and a black-and-white photo of the ship at sea. The Caronia and the nearly identical Carmania were dubbed "the pretty sisters" of the North Atlantic route when they were launched in 1905. My paternal grandmother, Anna Blaszko, then 20 and single, sailed from Liverpool to New York aboard the Caronia in October 1913.

The North German (aka Norddeutscher) Lloyd Line operated the SS Koln, launched in 1899. My paternal grandfather, Julian Prokopowicz, 19 and single, sailed on its Bremen to Boston route, March 25-April 9, 1914. The German shipping company maintained that the Koln and its six sister ships were a significant improvement over earlier models in having portholes installed to afford better light and ventilation in steerage. The Koln could carry 1,850 third-class passengers.


  1. Hello Basia,
    This post would make a fabulous addition to the next Festival of Postcards for which the theme is "white".
    If you're interested please leave a message at my blog and I'll include it in the next edition!
    Evelyn Yvonne Theriault

  2. Hi Evelyn, I'm sorry I missed the festival. I haven't yet gotten involved in any gen blogging types of events, so I'm not really up on what they're all about. I look forward to exploring your Canadian Family site. Coincidentally, though my family is 100% Polish, I'm also researching my children's paternal French Canadian roots.