This question is similar to Rob Hoare's "Sources for Border Crossings between Toronto and Chicago in early 1890's?" but the circumstances are different. My question concerns immigration 20 years earlier from Norway via Quebec, and I have different and possibly conflicting information about how the travel from Quebec to the US may have happened.

My ancestors, call them Nels (1845-1931) and Lovise (1839-1913), emigrated from Norway in April 1871 aboard the Atalanta, departing Stavenger.

  1. Shortly before her death, Emma (Vig) Froiland (1885-1978), Nels and Lovise's youngest child, relayed the story of her parents' immigration saying they "went through [immigration] procedures at New York [and then] came to Milwaukee [Wisconsin] Depot." The last leg of their journey was across the state of Wisconsin. Emma commented, "their introduction to the land of milk and honey was a ride in the back of a manure wagon to a one room cabin in the woods." :-) [Note 1]
  2. The website Norway-Heritage has considerable information about this particular voyage, "Ship Atalanta, J. A. Køhler & Co." The site reports that in 1871, the ship "departed from Stavanger on Apr. 25th, and arrived at Quebec on June 23th … [having earlier] arrived to the quarantine station at Grosse Île on June 19th, five were sick with smallpox. She was held in quarantine for four days before she was released and proceeded to Quebec. [Ship was] mastered by Capt. B.A. Reinertsen ..."
  3. The "Ship Atalanta" web page provides the tradition of another 1871 passenger, Ole Larson Lee [Storeli] (destined for Leland, La Salle County, Illinois). Lee's report indicates the Atalanta arrived Quebec as planned, "but Capt. Reinertson sent our train away, trying to persuade us to go by steamship to Chicago, several of the passengers were persuaded, but I and my folks were not, and demanded that he should arrange for us to get another train, which he did. We got a "Box car" which had been used for cattle, and in this way we traveled to Detroit, Mich. where our luggage had been sent and was cleared by customs. … When this was over we were brought to an immigration house where we had a delicious meal … our first … in the United States. [Then] we were taken to the railway, and because they were out of box-cars we were given an old worn-out passenger car." This passenger reportedly arrived Leland, Illinois on 3 July 1871. [Note 2]

As above, I have an array of information about Nels and Lovise' immigration. I have separate passenger lists for Atalanta that contain their names (Stavenger departure and Quebec arrival). It's reasonable to me that the last leg of their journey may have been in the back of a manure wagon. It's the doughnut hole that I'm trying to sort out--how did they get to that wagon from Quebec.

  1. Did the Atalanta travel from Quebec to New York? (Seems doubtful to me, in part because it is not mentioned in the description about the 1871 voyage nor in Ole Larsen Lee's story.)
  2. Whether persuaded by the captain or as originally planned, did they take a steamship to Chicago?
  3. Did they take a train to Detroit, as Lee Larsen's party opted to do? Are there 1870s era records from this Detroit immigration house or customs office?

There may be other scenarios.


  1. Emma (Vig) Froiland (1885-1978), interview ... 12th and 13th March 1977; tape transcript supplied and annotated; correspondence to GJ dated 29 May 1997, subsequently transcribed.”
  2. Ole Larson Lee [Storeli] story of the Atalanta crossing in 1871; "Ship Atalanta, J. A. Køhler & Co.," Norway-Heritage; cites information shared by Ole's grand-niece, Susan Phillips Assmus.
  • 1
    In this circumstance, is "immigrating from" permitted (as opposed to "emigrating from")?
    – GeneJ
    Dec 25, 2012 at 22:03
  • 1
    I think I've almost got this figured out. I've been working on this question for a while now. For my understanding could there be a way possibly for me to hear the conversation (if even off the record). At your discretion of course, thanks irregardless of your decision GeneJ. : } Feb 3, 2013 at 17:01

1 Answer 1


There are records pertaining to the Milwaukee and Detroit customs houses at the National Archives. See Record Group 36.3:


36.3 Records of Customhouses 1745, 1762-1982

36.3.1 Records of customhouses and collection districts
36.3.2 Records relating to passenger arrivals

36.3.1 Records of customhouses and collection districts

Note: Many of the records described below are candidates for transfer to regional archives, but are being held in the Washington, DC, area until extensive preservation work has been performed on them. Please consult the National Archives to determine current location.

Textual Records: Records, including letters sent and received; records of entrances and clearances of vessels; cargo manifests; impost books; journals and logbooks of privateer vessels; passenger lists and abstracts; crew lists; records relating to warehousing, drawbacks, and nonintercourse and embargo bonds; hospital accounts and returns; wreck reports; reports of seizures; fishing agreements and journals; shipping articles; records relating to revenue cutters and to the revenue marine; and vessel documentation files, of customhouses and customs districts in the following locations:

Detroit, MI, 1889-1907 and (in Chicago) 1853-1961

Milwaukee, WI, 1851-1900 and (in Kansas City) 1903-39

Note that the Detroit dates are 1852 to 1961. If that is a typo and should be 1861, then there is a hole between 1861 and 1889 when the other records start. If not, there might be records; ask the National Archives.

The customs house might only have an abstract of the passenger lists you already know about, but perhaps there would be other materials that would give you more context.

For the other scenarios, could there be clues in contemporary newspapers, histories of the transportation companies in the area, etc.?

One documentary I saw about Germans who came to Texas mentioned pamphlets that had been given out about the area (to entice immigrants to come to Texas). John P. Colletta's They Came in Ships lists in the bibliography a 1910 travel guide that gave passengers advice on what to pack and described the fares. Might there be a comparable travel guide for this area in this period? Wisconsin or Michigan historical societies might have that kind of material.

Looking at maps might also be helpful. Seeking Michigan has some of their map collection online: http://seekingmichigan.org/discover/maps

Olive Tree Genealogy has several interesting pages on Canadian Passports, Passenger Lists, etc. Look over her links not just to see if any might pertain to your people, but as examples of what record types you might search for in archives. Mine the titles for keyword searches.

See also travelers' guidebooks such as Crossley's The railway and steamboat routes in British North America (1873) which is viewable via the Internet Archive. Crossley's guide has a table of destination cities with cross-references to the most convenient routes a passenger could take to get there.

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