Family Book



 The victims and survivors of the General Slocum steamboat disaster, New York City, June 15, 1904


This collaborative family tree was created to pay tribute to the thousand passengers of the General Slocum paddle steamer disaster who perished in the fire aboard or by drowning on June 15, 1904 in New York's East River, as well as a thousand of their survivors, aboard or not. It is managed by the Geneanet team with the assistance of volunteer contributors. Want to contribute? please read these instructions.
Summary

 1 - The Disaster

The entirely preventable disaster was the worst in New York City until September 11, 2001 and devastated New York's German-American community, which abandoned the neighborhood following the disaster, many settling uptown in Yorkville around East 86th St.

The General Slocum was a riverboat "palace" steamer known to all New Yorkers, named after a Civil War general and politician. That Wednesday morning, the Sunday school of St Mark's Lutheran Church on East 7th Street - the heart of New York's Kleindeutschland, Little Germany in the Lower East Side of Manhattan - had organized their 17th annual excursion and picnic to a site on the North Shore of Long Island, leaving from a dock at the foot of East 3rd Street. As it was a weekday, most of the fathers and uncles of the first and second generation German immigrant families went to work while their wives and children went on the trip. Of the nearly 1400 passengers aboard, nearly 1000 died from burns or drowning, nearly all women and children. They never had a chance - the ship's owners skimped on the firefighting equipment, the federal safety inspectors didn't check the condition of the ship's safety equipment, and the captain hadn't seen fit to test the equipment or train the inexperienced summer season crew in firefighting. The all-wood boat was routinely maintained with flammable paints and sealants; the inadequate lifeboats were wired and painted fast to the deck; the cheap hoses had rotted and burst immediately; the cork life preservers crumbled to dust, the straps in tatters. Flammable substances were kept in a small storage hold forward, the first mate never bothered to obtain his license, and the worthless life preservers were secured with wire mesh instead of easily breakable slats, beyond the reach of the childrens' mothers. Dressed in their Sunday best, few passengers knew how to swim. And finally, an accurate count of the ticket holders who boarded had not been made, every two children under age 14 being counted as 1 person.

The fire likely started in a storage cabin forward. Quick action by the crew with reliable equipment would have had the fire out quickly, but that didn't happen. The fire was visible from the shoreline before the steamer entered Hell Gate, the most treacherous channel in New York harbor, where the East River estuary meets the Long Island Sound, not far from the Harlem River. Hell Gate was lined with sharp rocks under the surface on either side (mostly dynamited since) and there are always treacherous currents there. The captain, who had ignored an early warning about the fire from a teenager, became aware of the seriousness of the raging fire when already in the channel so decided to steam full speed ahead, aided by the tide current, and to beach the Slocum either on the Bronx shoreline or on nearby North Brother Island. During those few minutes as the steamer raced north on a flood tide but into a headwind, the fire raged uncontrollably towards he stern, many crewmen abandoned their posts as the firefighting equipment failed, and passengers started jumping. The blazing ship ran aground on the island, but with its stern well out in the water; many passengers jumped and drowned only dozens of feet from shore. Tugboats and pleasure craft raced to the assistance of the Slocum and took on all the passengers they could, and staff from the island's quarantine hospital raced to save drowning passengers, but those who could not swim were doomed and of those who could, many were pulled down by panicking nonswimmers.

The injured were quickly brought to hospitals in Manhattan and the Bronx. The unharmed and lightly injured took the elevated train home. As news of the disaster arrived in Kleindeutschland from drenched survivors descending from the "El", and extra editions published by New York's penny dailies hit the streets, fathers raced to the hospitals and to the morgue seeking their loved ones. Some fathers learned that their entire families had perished, and took their own lives in the weeks and months following the disaster.

The St Mark's parishioners in the Lower East Side were a tight-knit community, connected by intermarriage. A typical family had both parents born in Germany, or one in Germany and the other born in New York to German parents. Some children were born in Germany with their younger siblings born in New York. One grandmother had arrived in New York only weeks before the sailing. All during the month of June 1904, victims were buried in Lutheran Cemetery (All Faiths Cemetery) in Middle Village, Queens and other cemeteries; one year after the disaster, a monument (https://en.geneanet.org/cemetery/view/9632846) was erected over the grave of the 61 unidentified victims. Many victims were never found. In the aftermath of the disaster, many widowed fathers with surviving children remarried the following year, while others went to live with a parent or sibling.

New York City's coroner produced a report in the year following the disaster with a list of the dead, missing, injured, and uninjured, which was the basis for this collaborative tree. However, the lack of an accurate passenger count on the day, the language barrier which saw most German names spelled several different ways, and the disruption to the Kleindeutschland neighborhood meant that this list is incomplete. To create these trees, more recent lists were consulted: from the website by Maggie Blanck (http://www.maggieblanck.com/Goehle/GeneralSlocum.html) and the book by Karen Lamberton (https://heritagebooks.com/products/101-l3827?_pos=1&_sid=5d37b7636&_ss=r), both descendants of surviving relatives; and New York's German Genealogy Group General Slocum database (https://www.germangenealogygroup.com/records-search/slocum.php). Contemporary, "instant" books from 1904, including one in Fraktur German, as well as recent books by Claude Rust, Edward T. O'Donnell and others have also provided information.

The catastrophe had a long-reaching impact on the US federal steamboat inspection system which had clearly failed the General Slocum passengers. However, after years of legal and political struggles by the survivor's association founded by bereaved fathers, the Slocum survivors were never compensated for their losses by Slocum's owner or by the government. And with Germany becoming America's enemy in World War I, memories of the disaster faded during the 20th century. The goal of this project is to remember the victims and survivors.

 2 - Notes on the data

 2.1 - Sources

The names, ages, and places in these family trees have been compiled from several contemporary sources and secondary books and resources:
  • City Report, New York, 1905
  • Denkschrift der General Slocum katastrophe, New York, 1904
  • New York's Awful Excursion Boat Horror by John Wesley Hanson Jr., Chicago, 1904
  • New York's Awful Steamboat Horror by Henry Davenport Northrup, Philadelphia, 1904
  • History of the General Slocum Disaster by John S. Ogilvie, New York, 1904
  • Journal for the Seventeenth Annual Excursion St. Mark's Evan. Lutheran Church, June 15, 1904
  • The Burning of the General Slocum by Claude Rust, 1981
  • Ship Ablaze by Edward T. O'Donnell, 2003, ISBN 0-7679-0905-4
  • Angels in the Gate by Karen T. Lamberton, 2016, ISBN 978-0-7884-3827-1
  • Maggie Blanck's website, http://www.maggieblanck.com/Goehle/GeneralSlocum.html
  • German Genealogy Group, New York, General Slocum database, https://www.germangenealogygroup.com/records-search/slocum.php

 2.2 - Concerning German names

The names of Germans and German-Americans were mangled by registrars and reporters alike. For example, a name like Ackermann appears in documents and in newspapers as Acherman or Ackerman; a name like Bensch appears as Bensh, Brusch, Bruseb, Beusch, or Denesch. Moreover, German names were often Americanized, given names more than family names: "Wilhelm Schmidt" might become "William Schmidt" or even "William Smith". This family tree has all encountered variants (from other lists, newspaper accounts, and documents) of family names listed, with the main family name as written by the families themselves (if known). That said, the German umlaut vowels - ä, ö, and ü - were rarely written by Germans in New York, and these letters are also problematic in today's searches from US keyboards. In consequence, these vowels have been rendered in the tree with a following e: ae, oe, ue.

As for first names, both erroneous names (found in newspaper accounts of the time, and today's online indexes) and nicknames are listed. Censuses often had nicknames for children, while birth, marriage, and death (BMD) certificates and registers usually had full names. In Germany, it was customary to baptize children with several names, often including a name which would not be used afterwards. To avoid confusion, Germans used a "Rufname" or called name, the preferred name they were called every day; this is sometimes underlined in documents.

Married women have their maiden names when known. However, in most cases this was sourced from a single document, a marriage certificate or child's birth. As a result, the known name may be a mangled version of a German name.

 2.3 - Addresses

Most listed addresses follow the 1905 City Record report. However, in order to keep families together during the original data import, these addresses were attributed to Predeceased and Unborn family members. So keep in mind that the address corresponds to a family's address in June 1904, and not a person's address at birth or death or the 1900 US federal census or the 1905 NY State census.
Index