Today’s post comes from Christopher Zarr of the National Archives at New York City.
At first glance, some of our records may not grab your attention.
Take for instance, two documents labeled Exhibit C and D. Exhibit C is a ticket from 1912 for excess luggage, and Exhibit D is a claim coupon to pick up one’s bags upon arrival. Compared to a Presidential speech or an act of Congress, these small items seem out of place for the National Archives.
While they might not seem too important to us, to Lucy Ridsdale this luggage ticket and coupon represented her whole life. To her, they were proof that when she boarded a steamship bound for the United States, she brought five trunks of objects that she had accumulated throughout her 50-plus years on earth.
Lucy Ridsdale was born around 1860 in Yorkshire, England. For 25 years, Lucy ran a nursing home. When she boarded a train bound for the port city of Southampton on April 10, 1912, she was prepared to live out the rest of her days in the United States. It wasn’t her first visit to the U.S., but it would be her last. Lucy had relatives in Marietta, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and she intended to enjoy retirement with her family.
So, it is not surprising that she brought everything she owned with her. Bringing over 300 pounds of luggage exceeded the standard amount for the London and South Western Railway, so Lucy had to pay an extra fee (which surely sounds familiar to many travelers). Among her belongings were the valuable (“1 Gold Bracelet set with Rubies and Diamonds”), the everyday (“12 large silver plated table forks”), and the sentimental (“Nurses Books”).
Upon arriving at the pier in Southampton, Lucy turned her trunks over to the ship’s crew and received a coupon—printed in four languages—to retrieve them after she arrived in New York. Armed with this voucher and her second-class ticket to New York City (which cost her £10 10s), she was ready for the weeklong journey.
Unfortunately for Lucy, just a few days after turning over all of her belongings, she would escape with little more than her life. The ship she boarded was the RMS Titanic.
Lucy Ridsdale was one of 706 survivors of the most infamous disaster in maritime history. When the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, Lucy and her cabinmate Mary Davis made their way onto lifeboat 13. After being picked up by the RMS Carpathia, she arrived at the Port of New York on April 18, 1912.
Much of Lucy’s story can be told through the claim she filed against the White Star Line as part of the case “In the Matter of the Petition of the Oceanic Steam Ship Company, Limited, for Limitation of its Liability as owner of the steamship TITANIC.” Lucy and hundreds of other survivors and the families of victims filed claims against the White Star Line for loss of life, loss of property, and injuries.
As part of her claim, Lucy listed several hundred items (see below) worth a total of $3,146. Lucy went a few steps further than other claimants, however. In addition to listing the items and their worth, she included the addresses of two people in London who knew her and the possessions she was bringing with her to the United States.
She also enclosed two documents as further evidence—an excess luggage receipt from the London and South Western Railway and a baggage coupon from the White Star Line. Even in her haste to escape from the Titanic, Lucy must have felt that these documents were just as vital as her life. She attached them to the claim she filed in December 1912, and these two documents that were once on the Titanic are now a part of the National Archives.
Just goes to show you that some documents are worth a second look.
Eight years later on the 1920 census, a Lucy Ridsdale is listed as a lodger at the Harris Hotel in Chicago. On the 1930 census, a Lucy Ridsdale is listed as an “inmate” in an Old People’s Home in Chicago. Did she live long enough to be counted in the 1940 census? We’ll be able to find out on April 2, 2012, when the 1940 census is released.
To find out more about our Titanic-related records, follow the National Archives at New York City’s Facebook page on “Titanic Tuesdays.”