Saturday, January 26, 2008

A little boy, a big ship, and a brand new world

Little Pista Tóth (Pista means "little Stephen" in Hungarian) was just shy of 2 1/2 years of age when he, his siblings, and his mother boarded the S.S. Pennsylvania in Hamburg, Germany on May 4, 1907. The family had left their home in northeastern Hungary to make a new life in America, where their father had already spent some time. István Tóth had been in Trenton, New Jersey during 1902 and 1903 and then returned to his wife Mária (Németh) Tóth and his two young daughters, Mária and Ilonka. István's young son and namesake, had arrived in 1904. István had then returned to America and awaited the arrival of his family, including the final child born into the family in Hungary: baby Lajos. (You can read more of this family's story here.)

This list of passengers departing Hamburg on May 4, 1907 lists Maria Tóth
of Gelej, Hungary with her children Maria, Ilonka, Pista and baby Lajos.
Father Istvan awaited them in Trenton, New Jersey. (Click to enlarge)

It is quite a picture to imagine this young family from the little village of Gelej, Hungary staying at the Auswandererhallen (Emigrants’ Halls) in Hamburg, Germany awaiting their ocean voyage to America.

Image of Hamburg's Emigrants' Halls thanks to
Ballinstadt Emigration Museum.
The BallinStadt, otherwise known as the Emigrants' City, was a multiple-building facility designed so that passengers arriving by rail from Eastern European countries could be directed straight to the port and avoid passage through the city of Hamburg. According to the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum website, "In the year 1907 alone, a total of nearly 190,000 emigrants departed from Hamburg into an uncertain future. Hamburg had become Germany’s number one emigration port."

The young Tóth family arrived at Ellis Island in New York via the S.S. Pennsylvania of the Hamburg-Amerika line fifteen days after departure from Hamburg. What a trip it must have been for a wiggly 2-year-old little boy, his older sisters, his baby brother, and his poor mother!

The Tóth family arrived in New York on the S.S. Pennsylvania on May 19, 1907. 

Thanks to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City and the Ballinstadt Emigration Museum in Hamburg, I can visit museums at both little Pista Tóth's port of arrival in America and his port of departure in Germany. What an amazing chance to get a personal glimpse into what this little boy might have experienced just over 100 years ago on his trip to a new world with his family.

Image of the S.S. Pennsylvania of the Hamburg-Amerika Line 
from the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives: The Future of our Past.

Note: The Staatsarchiv Hamburg has digitized passenger lists for those departing from the port during the years 1850-1934. These Hamburg passenger lists and their handwritten indexes are available through


  1. Lisa, that was cool, thanks. I also noted with interest your Hungarian-Trenton connection. I don't have any Hungarian ancestry (that I know of, anyway), but I'm now helping my sister-in-law with her genealogy. Her paternal side is 100% Hungarian, and they also settled in Trenton. I'll have to compare family may be related to my niece and nephew! Donna

  2. The photo of the S.S. Pennsylvania you have on your site is not the same ship built for the Hamburg America Line.
    The photo shows the S.S. Pennsylvania built at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Ltd., in Virginia. The ship was launched and operated by Panama Pacific Line and traveled regularly from New York to Havana, then through the Panama Canal, to San Diego, Los Angeles Harbor, and San Francisco. Note the twin funnels on the ship.
    The S.S. Pennsylvania launched for the Hamburg America Line was built in Belfast, Ireland by Harland & Wolff. This ship had only one funnel.
    You can view a photo of the ship, as well as the ship's interior at the following website:

  3. Thanks very much for the information. I did not realize that there were two ships by the name of S.S. Pennsylvania during this time period.

    I have updated the photo to include one from the correct vessel.

    If any readers are interested in seeing more photos of the ship, you might enjoy the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives: The Future of our Past webpage on the S.S. Pennsylvania. Most of the images are from areas of the ship that my steerage-passenger ancestors probably never saw, but it is enjoyable to view them anyway.

  4. Very good to see pictures of the Pennsylvania,i have a fantastic detailed model
    of the ship built by a master craftsmen.


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