Imagine packing up all your belongings into one suitcase and boarding an enormous ship to immigrate to a country you’ve never visited. Such was the experience of nearly three million immigrants who came to North America aboard Red Star Line’s 23 ocean liners between 1873 and 1934. And now, with AmaWaterways, you can visit one of the line’s main ports, Antwerp, while embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to uncover your own European family history. Join us our first-ever Heritage on the River: Your Personalized Ancestry experience departing on Europe’s Rhine River July 30, 2022 and, as part of your Ancestry package, you’ll take an exclusive genealogist-guided excursion to Antwerp’s historic train station and Red Star Line Museum.
The Call of North America
Red Star Line’s ocean liners provided passage for two million emigrants traveling from Antwerp (as well as additional emigrants from Liverpool and Southampton) to the United States and Canada - perhaps your family among them. Whether your ancestors were among those who left their home countries to escape poverty or religious persecution, or they were enticed by the uplifting letters of others who had previously made the journey overseas, the promises of the “American Dream” called to many Europeans who came through Antwerp and other ports on their way to the New World. Whether your ancestors left from Antwerp or another major port like Liverpool, Hamburg, or Le Havre, a visit to the Red Line Museum will give you insight into their immigrant experience.
The Journey to Antwerp
Before boarding their ship, travelers from villages in Russia, Poland, Germany and beyond made the long, exhausting train journey to Antwerp with many families traveling in unheated fourth-class cars. Arriving into Antwerp Central Station was likely a stark contrast from their prior lives. Gazing up at the arching glass ceilings and the lavish Baroque detailing, the station surely took their breath away – and continues to inspire awe in all who visit today.
Voyagers underwent medical examinations in the Red Star Line’s facilities near the port before embarking their ship. Once aboard, most migrants were housed on the steerage deck sleeping in large, crammed dormitories, with poor ventilation and even poorer food. The 10-day journey to America must have felt horribly long. However, the hope and promise of renewal and new opportunities that waited across the ocean kept passengers’ spirits alight.
Arrival in the New World
The vast majority of travelers entered America via Ellis Island, New York’s immigration processing center. While the voyage itself was taxing, once in North America, immigrants were faced with much uncertainty. Millions of first-generation immigrants spent years toiling endlessly in efforts to build a new life for their children and grandchildren, and for many, the American Dream became a reality.
Honoring the Voyage
Today, Antwerp’s Red Star Line Museum is often considered Europe’s counterpart to the museum at Ellis Island. Opened in 2013, the cultural site occupies the old former warehouses of the Red Star Line. The museum looks to the past while emphasizing the universality and timelessness of the immigrant story.
During our exclusive excursion with an AncestryProGenealogist® in Antwerp, you’ll not only visit the impressive train station where your ancestors’ journey began, you'll explore the Red Star Line Museum. Pass through the very same rooms where your ancestors gave up their possessions for disinfections, processed their documents and underwent medical examinations. See what it was like for your aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond and even board a Red Star Line ship that once made the voyage across the ocean.
Locate Your Family Name
On our exclusive Ancestry excursion to the museum in Antwerp, you’ll also discover some of the household names that came to the United States on the Red Star Line, including Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein. You may even have the opportunity to personally search the Red Star Line’s database for ship manifests that uncover the names of your relatives. And with the expertise of your genealogist, you will surely be able to personalize your connection to the larger history of this early wave of opportunity seeking immigration and have a better appreciation of the life they chose to leave behind.
Uncover your family history in Antwerp, Belgium on your Heritage on the River journey. Contact your travel advisor to customize your personalized experience today. Ask your travel advisor how you can add an Ancestry package to any AmaWaterways sailing that will allow you to learn about your family’s town of origin and more!