Family Lessons 108: Migrating to America

My great-uncle Harold (top left) emigrated from Great Britain to America on 18 May, 1929. The allure of the New World must have still appeared great to a young man of the Old. The Wall Street Crash was to happen six months later; that terrible recession of the American economy might have affected a young immigrant more acutely than the more established. Yet as he made the journey aboard the RMS Carinthia from Liverpool across the Atlantic, the future surely seemed bright. To a professional ‘motor driver’ like Lal, as he was affectionately known, the land of Henry Ford must have seemed the Promised Land.

He had two brothers who had made the journey already. I can only imagine that they had exchanged letters, convincing their brother of America’s better prospects, cleaner air and exciting culture. Henry Airey, whose occupation was described as ‘clerk’, had sailed on Cunard’s RMS Saxonia from Southampton 1923. Brother George, a boiler fireman, had also sailed from Southampton that year aboard the RMS Homeric. They all seemed to have settled in New York State, where they doubtless kept in touch, and created new branches of the family which provide me with a plethora of distant cousins, some of whom make occasional contact.

In 1930, Uncle George is recorded as sailing again from Liverpool aboard the White Star Line's RMS Cedric. He evidently returned to his first home, perhaps to see his parents and less adventurous siblings. Apart from George’s holiday to England, emigrating before the 1980s meant one was unlikely to see one's original family ever again. A migrant might receive letters or occasional telegrams, but it was usually a final and irreversible separation. When my own mother migrated to Australia in 1988, our later years were blessed by internet communication, smart phones and relatively cheap commercial airlines, allowing three visits before her death in 2022.

When one dies, the spirit migrates, leaving behind the old world with its molecules and matter, to enter the spiritual realm. The departed do not return to say hello or offer their compliments; they are permitted to die and then face the judgement. Those who depart with their sins unforgiven await judgement and sentence; those who sought and received forgiveness enter the blessed realms of Jesus’ presence, awaiting the resurrection of the dead, whereat their spirits and new bodies shall be reunited. One’s current life might be comfortable and enjoyable, but one's departure ticket is already in the post. Do not bother packing your bags, for nothing can you take, save your guilt, or Christ’s covering righteousness.

O for an overcoming faith,
To cheer my dying hours,
To triumph o’er the monster, Death,
And all his frightful powers.

Joyful with all the strength I have
My quivering lips should sing,
“Where is thy boasted victory, Grave?
And where’s the monster’s sting?”

If sin be pardoned, I’m secure;
Death has no sting beside;
The law gives sin its damning power,
But Christ, my ransom, died.

Now to the God of victory
Immortal thanks be paid,
Who makes us conquerors, though we die,
Through Christ our living Head.

-Isaac Watts, No 462 in Gadsby's Hymns