Ancestry.com has an interesting database category called Immigration & Travel, which includes a variety of passenger list and passport application databases. I have used them over the years to track members of my family as they traveled to and from Europe, Central and South America, the Hawaiian Islands and the Far East, and I invariably find colorful details to flesh out the prosaic ones. (I also sometimes find exact dates and places of birth that I’ve been unable to find elsewhere.)
I like to use Facebook as an informal way to publish my findings, illustrated, where possible, with images of the people involved and the ships (or other vehicles) on which they traveled. I have an album on my Facebook page about some of these trips, and in time I hope to turn this project into something more formal, like a book.
My first post in this vein covered a number of my great-great-uncles and aunts who found themselves caught up in the early days of the First World War. Most were visiting Europe for the summer – for their health, or to travel during the school holidays – while my great-great-uncle John Steward and his wife Cordelia Jones Steward were expatriates right out of an Edith Wharton novel. They lived by choice in European capitals and spas, generally returning home to New York once a year, but in August 1914 they were in Carlsbad, and it took a month to get word on their safety back to their American relatives. (I have written about the Stewards here.) John Steward’s sisters-in-law, Katharine Lorillard and Helen Lyman (with Helen’s husband William), had gone abroad planning on a lengthy stay, but after two months in war-torn Europe they booked passage on the Lusitania, returning to New York at the end of October.
My mother was born in Baltimore; she made her first visit to California when she was a year old, when her mother traveled to join my grandfather, a career Navy officer. My grandparents evidently had a talk about my mother’s name during this period, as she had come home from the hospital as Baby Girl Bell and made the trip to the West Coast as Pauline G. Bell; she returned to Baltimore as Barbara F. G. Bell, a name that stuck. My mother’s maternal grandmother, Pauline Boucher Glidden (1875–1964), seems invariably to have lied about her age on official documents – at one point she claimed to be sixteen years older than her elder daughter (she was actually 28 when my grandmother was born), so perhaps she didn’t always think things through. In any case, she sailed from the Pacific Coast in April 1935, aged fifty, having shaved ten inconvenient years off her age!