During the mid to late 1800’s, many areas of Trentino experienced sickness, hardship, and severe economic conditions. In the 1850’s, disease struck and wiped out the potato crops. Disease also struck the mulberry bushes, which were a food source for silkworms. This, in turn, led to the destruction of the silk worms, which were the heart of a centuries old silk industry. In 1882 and 1885, Trentino experienced heavy rains which caused flooding and landslides, destroying crops and trees.
As a result, in the late 1800’s people from Trentino began seeking a better life elsewhere. A common departure point was the city of Trento, from which an emigrant was able to travel to the ports of France (Le Havre, Cherbourg) and England (Southhampton). Since, at this time, Trentino was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they generally travelled with Austrian passports, which helped them avoid much of the discrimination suffered by Italians. In many instances, where an emigrant was married, he travelled first and planned to send for his family when he got settled with a job and a place to live. Onboard, the emigrants were usually housed in steerage class located in the lower portions of the ship not far from the ship engines and steering mechanisms. Crowding meant lack of privacy and exposure to illnesses of fellow travelers.
Upon arrival in New York, steerage and third-class passengers were ferried to Ellis Island for medical inspection and procesing. There are many sources detailing the inspection process for anyone interested in reading about it. Suffice it to say, many immigrants were detained, isolated for quanantine, or sent back home due to the presence of disease or infection. Assuming the emigrant was healthy enough to be granted admission and had some money and a job waiting for him, he was then able to continue on to his final destination.
Related posts: Searching the Ellis Island database