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Karl Boerner’s Illness and Death at Ellis Island, 1899

September 24, 2011

Anna Marie Boerner Adermann (the grandmother of the writer of this blog) spoke of her older brother, Karl, who made the trip over from Gaulsheim, Germany but “died on the ship the day before they landed.” Yet, Ellis Island made note of Karl arriving on July 11, 1890 (see Passenger Record below).

Registration Certificate for Karl Borner, age 5.

Registration Certificate for Karl Borner, age 5.

On the ship’s manifest for the S.S. Friesland there are 30 lines on each page of paper. In the margin next to line 12 there is a notation that five-year old Linke Gross (passenger #12) died on the trip on July 3, 1899. Her name and information has a line drawn through it. That left 29 people to account for once they arrived at Ellis Island. Also on this same page of the manifest, there is a hand-written note next to the Boerner boys: “in hospital.” Immediately next to that is an accounting of 29 – 3 = 26. Twenty-six would have been the number of people the captain would have had to account for from that page of the passenger list. (Immigrants going through Ellis Island were tracked by what numbered line they were on a page of the ship’s passenger list. There were 30 lines on this page, #12 died, #28, #29 and #30 were the Boerner boys.)

Ship’s manifest showing the Boerner boys “in hospital.”

Both the ship’s captain and the ship’s surgeon had to sign affidavits at the bottom of the page listing the passengers that they had inspected each passenger and found them healthy enough to be allowed into the U.S. There were a few question on the manifest testifying to the health (or problems) of immigrants. All of the Boerners were listed as healthy. Yet, so was the five year old Linke Gross (#12) who died just two days after they left Antwerp, Belgium.

This suggests the possibility that there might have been something contagious on the ship to which children were susceptible; it suggests all three boys were ill (or feared to be) but it was fatal to only Karl. If they were all in the hospital at Ellis Island, what might have that been like for them?


After inspection, immigrants descended from the Registry Room down the ‘Stairs of Separation,’ so-called because they marked the parting of the way for many family and friends with different destinations. Immigrants were directed toward the railroad ticket office and trains to points west, or to the island’s hospital and detention rooms. During its half-century of operation over 3,500 immigrants died at Ellis Island and over 350 babies were born. Ellis Island Main Building

There were three suicides. While doctors, nurses, inspectors, interpreters, matrons, and other staff employed during the station’s peak years generally followed the directive to treat immigrants with ‘kindness and consideration,’ the process of inspection and detention – and the frightening prospect of exclusion – remained overwhelming.”

From → Boerner/Storch

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