Proof of Titanic letter-writer's fated trip found in findmypast.co.uk's passenger records

July 27, 2010

A letter from a first class passenger aboard the Titanic to his wife fetched a reported £55,000 at auction on Saturday 17th April at Devizes, Wiltshire, and we’ve found the author in findmypast.co.uk’s passenger lists.

The letter was written by an Adolphe Saalfeld, a 47-year old German manufacturer of perfumes living in London and was dated 10th April 1912, the first day of the ill-fated trip. He described in detail a near collision with another liner at Southampton, the lunches and dinner he enjoyed, and the comfort on board. According to the auctioneers, it is the most detailed first person account of life aboard the Titanic in existence.

Mr Saalfeld’s passenger records, along with all those who travelled on the Titanic, can only be found on findmypast.co.uk. Saalfeld’s passenger transcript states details of his port of departure at Southampton, and expected port of arrival, effectively verifying the letter. He did in fact arrive at his expected destination of New York, having boarded a lifeboat and been rescued when the ship hit the iceberg.

Here you can see the passenger list for the Titanic:

Titanic passenger list

Titanic passenger list

Debra Chatfield

Debra Chatfield

Debra Chatfield, findmypast.co.uk’s marketing manager, said: “When we heard about this amazing letter, we were keen to look up the original passenger record for Adolphe Saalfeld online at findmypast.co.uk. Passenger lists are so useful for finding out when people travelled and to where, for example when and where they emigrated or travelled on business.

There are so many details you can see in the records, from who travelled with the passenger, to exactly when they left, their year of birth and their occupation. In this case it proved an important historic document as it meant the letter was hugely likely to be the genuine article.”

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Finding Alexander Fleming

March 16, 2009

Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming, the nobel-prize winning scientist who discovered the antibacterial effects of penicillin, travelled extensively during his lifetime and crossed the Atlantic several times, with the journeys logged on the Passenger Lists.

Fleming was born in East Ayrshire, Scotland in 1881. This event, along with many other Scottish records can be found on our sister-site, ScotlandsPeople.

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Fleming spent the first four years of his career working in a shipping office, but after being left an inheritance by an uncle, he decided to follow the career path of his elder brother, Tom, a physician.

He studied at St Mary’s Medical School, London University from 1901. Fleming can be found on the 1901 census, living in Marylebone, London, as a medical student (click image to enlarge):

Fleming on the 1901 census

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After qualifying with distinction in 1906, Fleming joined the research department at St Mary’s as an assistant bacteriologist.  He served throughout the First World War as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps, working in battlefield hospitals on the Western Front.

Fleming was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ (a report that was issued in the London Gazette, which recorded noteworthy actions) for his conduct in the war. Many soldiers who served or died in the First World War can be found among the findmypast.com military records.

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During the war Fleming had repeatedly witnessed the deaths of soldiers from septicaemia that resulted from infected wounds, and he became convinced that antiseptics on deep wounds served to hinder a patient’s chances of recovery. When he resumed his post at St Mary’s he resolved to find a better alternative.

In spite of Fleming’s undoubted brilliance as a researcher he was also a somewhat careless and chaotic lab technician. It was his carelessness in leaving some cultures unattended whilst on holiday in 1928 that led to the discovery of the world’s first antibiotic, and revolutionised medicine.

Fleming gave many lectures on his work overseas, and can be found aboard the Aquitania in 1939, on a trip to the USA:

Fleming aboard the Aquitania in 1939

In recognition of his contribution to medicine, Fleming was knighted in 1944. The following year, alongside fellow pioneers Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the bactericidal effect of penicillin. Here is Fleming on the Passenger Lists four years later, bound for America aboard the Queen Elizabeth:

Fleming aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1949

Alexander Fleming died 53 years ago this month, on 11 March 1955, and his ashes were interred at St Paul’s Cathedral. His death is recorded in the findmypast.com death indexes.

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Here is Fleming’s final Passenger List voyage, aboard the Queen Mary, again bound for the USA, in 1950:

Fleming aboard the Queen Mary in 1950

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The Whitechapel Windmill

December 23, 2008

Judah Bergman, otherwise known as ‘Jack Kid Berg’, to this day is considered one of the finest boxers Great Britain has produced.

Berg was born to a poor Jewish family in Whitechapel, East London, on 28 June 1909. For a young man such as Berg, in the 1920s, professional boxing was one of the few viable routes to a better life.

‘The Whitechapel Windmill’ (as he became known), after entering his first professional fight aged 14, notched up a long string of victories. Despite initially having no formal training, his strength and raw aggression, combined with a natural aptitude for the sport, carried him through.

Setting sail for America

After beating the cream of Britain’s featherweights and lightweights, in March 1928 he set forth on a voyage to America. Here is Berg aboard the Mauretania, on his first USA trip:

Berg on the Passenger Lists in 1928

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The Englishman proved a big hit with American audiences, winning six out of seven of his first US fights. After briefly returning to England later that year, he set sail once again for the States, in March 1929. Here he is aboard the Berengaria:

Berg on the Passenger Lists in 1929

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World Champion at last

This time Berg stayed a while longer.  After an extended unbeaten run, defeating some of the best fighters of the day, he finally got his shot at the world light-welterweight title, held by the American, ‘Mushy’ Callaghan. Berg’s boyhood dream was realised on 18 February 1930, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, when he captured the title from Callaghan via a tenth round stoppage.

The victory made Berg a national hero. He successfully defended the title five times, before losing it to Tony Canzoneri, another American, 14 months later.

He never won it back, but continued to fight on both sides of the Atlantic with considerable success up until 1945. During a 20 year ring career he amassed a phenomenal record of 157 wins in 192 fights.

The last voyage

He appears a remarkable eight times on our Passenger Lists – on each occasion bound for America. Here he is on his last BT27 trip, aboard the Queen Elizabeth in September 1956:


The 1908 London Olympics

September 8, 2008

With Beijing 2008 finished and the countdown to London 2012 underway, we look back at the first time London hosted an Olympic Games, in 1908.

The White City Stadium (originally The Great Stadium) was built for the event. It housed a running track, a swimming and diving pool, plus platforms for wrestling and gymnastics.

In this, the fifth modern Olympic Games, there were just 24 sporting disciplines pertaining to 22 sports, and only 22 countries competing. Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales were entered as one team, the United Kingdom, but following protests from a number of Irish competitors and with fears of an Irish boycott, the team was renamed ‘Great Britain/Ireland’.

Rule, Britannia!

Showing its best ever Olympic form, the British team dominated the Games, finishing the overall winner with 56 gold, 51 silver, and 39 bronze medals – dwarfing the second place United States’ tally of 23 gold, 12 silver, and 12 bronze.   

Olympians on the findmypast.com Passenger Lists

Many 1908 Olympians can be found on the ancestorsonboard.com Passenger Lists leaving Britain after the Games.

Here is American George Mehnert, who won a gold in freestyle wrestling in the bantamweight class, aboard a ship aptly named the New York:

George Mehnert on the Passenger Lists

George Mehnert on the Passenger Lists

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Also aboard the New York is Mehnert’s teammate Sam Bellah. He competed in the pole vault, long jump, and triple jump, but failed to win a medal:

Sam Bellah on the Passenger Lists

Sam Bellah on the Passenger Lists

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Charles Edward Swain, an Australian 1500 metre runner, was part of the Australasia team, which comprised athletes from Australia and New Zealand. Here he is aboard the Orient, returning to Australia:

Charles Swain on the Passenger Lists

Charles Swain on the Passenger Lists

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Cary Grant

July 31, 2008

The Hollywood star familiar to millions as Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach, in Bristol in 1904.

He appears three times in our exclusive Passenger Lists, bound in each instance for New York. We first find Grant in 1920, aged 16, aboard the Olympic. In his company are eight other actors; collectively they comprised the ‘Bob Pender stage troupe’ and were heading to the United States to perform their variety act – Grant himself was a stilt walker.

When the rest of the troupe returned to England, Grant elected to remain in the States to pursue a stage career. It proved to be a wise move.

Here is Grant (then Leach) with the rest of the ‘Bob Pender stage troupe’ – you might say, charting a course with destiny:

Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1920
Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1920

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By 1931 he’d swapped the stage for celluloid, having broken into Hollywood. Initially, he chose the stage name of Lockwood, after the surname of his character in Nikki, a recent play. But this bore similarities to another actor’s name and, on the insistence of his new employer, Paramount Pictures, he used Cary Grant instead. Two years previous to his big break, he appears in the Passenger Lists:

Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1929
Grant on the Passenger Lists in 1929

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Grant ascended the Hollywood ladder with remarkable rapidity. In 1932 he played the leading man opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, and the following year appeared opposite Mae West in She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel, two of her most successful films.

In 1936 he signed to Columbia Pictures; that year he appears twice in the findmypast.com Passenger Lists. Grant was due to sail on the Majestic, on 31 January, but the line through his entry indicates he did not board:

Grant on the Majestic

Grant on the Majestic

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We find him five days later, however, aboard the Bremen, the clerk including his stage name, but mis-spelling ‘Cary’ as ‘Gary’:

Grant on the Bremen
Grant on the Bremen

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Grant next appeared in a string of hit comedies and, in the ensuing years, established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading lights – a position he sustained for several decades.

In later years he was the favoured star of the notoriously difficult auteur, Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock described Grant as: ‘the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.’ Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest were all Hitchcock classics starring Grant.

Hitchcock appears numerous times in the Passenger Lists. Here he is in 1955:

Hitchcock on the Passenger Lists in 1955
Hitchcock on the Passenger Lists in 1955

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Grant died in 1986 with his wife – who, incidentally, was 47 years his junior – at his side. In 1999, the American Film Institute named him the second greatest male American cinema star of all time, just behind Humphrey Bogart.


Raymond Chandler

June 25, 2008

Among the most influential of crime fiction writers is Raymond Chandler. In just seven novels he established his protagonist Philip Marlowe as American fiction’s quintessential private detective. He was also behind some of the finest screenwriting Hollywood has seen. Screen adaptations like Double Indemnity bear testament to his innate ability to write for cinema.

Since the 1940s, so many crime and screenwriters have tried to mimic Chandler’s style that, outside his original stories, his characters have become rather clichéd. Within them, however, they have lost almost nothing.

Chandler’s prose is punctuated by a brilliantly clipped style, his ability to convey a time and place – namely 30s and 40s Los Angeles – and of course his sparkling witticisms:

‘Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.’ – Farewell, My Lovely, 1940.

Although an American citizen by birth, Chandler was classically educated at Dulwich College in London, a grounding that shaped him profoundly and made him a confirmed Anglophile for the rest of his days.

Here is Chandler, in 1957, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, on his way back to America following a stay in London:

Raymond Chandler on a passenger list

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He had suffered the death of his wife of 30 years – a blow from which he never fully recovered – 10 months previously, and was battling alcoholism. In a letter to Roger Machell, the Director of his English publishers, he wrote of the journey:

‘The voyage was hell. Still practicing to be a non-drinker (and it’s going to take a damn sight more practice than I have time for). I sat alone in the corner and refused to talk or to have anything to do with other passengers, which did not seem to cause them any grief.’

Upon his death in 1959, but only after a fierce legal battle with a former secretary of Chandler’s, his erstwhile fiancée, Helga Greene, inherited his entire estate.

Here she is aboard the Statendam in 1957:

Helga Greene on a passenger list from 1957

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Greene also appears within the Passenger Lists for 1938, as a 21-year-old student, bound for New York:

Helga Greene on a passenger list - 1938

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Oswald Mosley

May 7, 2008

Oswald Mosley must rank among the most controversial figures in 20th century British politics. His radical views forced him out of the Labour party in 1930 and soon after he formed his own political party, the New Party, whose policies mirrored his own extremist beliefs.

Heavily influenced by Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in Italy, in 1932, the New Party was subsumed by the British Union of Fascists (BUF). BUF members wore black uniforms earning them the nickname ‘The Blackshirts’. The BUF’s policies were ostensibly isolationist. Although the party was not officially anti-Semitic, many of its members were openly anti-Semitic.

In October 1936 Mosley and the BUF planned to march through the East End of London, then noted for its large Jewish population. Hearing of the march, anti-fascist groups erected barriers in an attempt to prevent it taking place. This resulted in a series of running battles between anti-fascists and police.

The Battle of Cable Street, as the event was later called, resulted in the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act, to control extremist political movements. The event is commemorated by a red plaque in nearby Dock Street.

During World War Two, like most active fascists in Britain, Mosley was interned. After the war he formed the Union Movement, whose policies, compared to the BUF, were more democratic, encompassing European unity, rather than total isolationism. Mosley died in 1980.

The man who ardently opposed mass immigration can be found within the findmypast.com passenger lists.

Here is Mosley, alongside his first wife Lady Cynthia Curzon, on board the Majestic, bound for New York in 1926:

Passenger Lists - Oswald and Cynthia Mosley

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Their marriage in 1920, attended by many branches of European Royalty, was, for many, the high society event of the year. During the marriage it is rumoured Mosley embarked on an affair with his wife’s younger sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, and also the sisters’ stepmother, Grace Curzon.

Here is Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, onboard the Olympic, also heading for New York, in December 1928:

Passenger Lists - Alexandra Metcalfe

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In 1936, three years after Lady Curzon’s death, Mosley married Diana Guinness, née Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters.

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