Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Forum Comes Through Again—Maybe

There are always questions in family research—and for some of those questions, there are answers. But when you are asking your questions in the Forum, you simply must be prepared to wait.

On the occasion of my search for the passenger records for my husband’s immigrant Kelly family, however, the wait was only one day. Not bad for free!

Chris’s great-grandmother Catherine Kelly was from Ireland, we knew. The 1900 United States census reported that Catherine arrived here as a child in 1869. Her mother’s obituary, only three years later published in their adopted hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, reported the date of arrival as 1870. Which date was the right one?

Neither, it appeared.

People alive during that age must have seen time as a much more fluid state. Birthdays, dates of arrival, dates of marriage—most of the census reports I’ve seen evidently were approximations. For when the actual record appeared in reply to my forum question, it showed an arrival date of August 20, 1868.

A forum participant sent me the record. I had mentioned finding a possible passenger listing in a book at the library, but that I wasn’t certain it was the correct one. The entry from the forum note looked right, though—almost. Bless his soul, the guy who answered my query included the NARA film number as well as the Family History Center library film number so I could view the microfilm version of the record for myself.

And he transcribed the results of the search in his forum reply, too. It looked like Catherine had traveled with her mother, older brother Timothy, and younger brother Patrick. Having Dad—John—missing from the scene was not alarming. It was not unusual for the father to travel ahead, find work, earn money for passage for his family and send it home so they could come join him, so I wasn’t too concerned that John Kelly wasn’t part of the list. The only thing that made me wonder if this were correct was the missing daughter, Mary—where was she? Could this be the wrong family?

Looking back at records I had transcribed in my database, it would have been the younger sister, Mary, who would have been the infant on this trip, not Patrick. All the census records showed Patrick as born in Indiana, not Ireland. Even if I looked askance at all those glaring census errors, I had Patrick’s obituary stating he was a Fort Wayne native, to boot.

It was so tempting, though, to think once again that the census records were in error. I had found the actual name of the ship: the Denmark. I found a picture of the steamship at Norway-Heritage, this wonderful website full of immigration facts and figures. I found all sorts of documentation about the ship. It would be so nice to close the book and be done with it.

All but for Mary. I’ve heard stories of new mothers walking out of the grocery store and forgetting to take their little sleeping bundle out of the shopping cart before heading out on the drive home. But on a trans-oceanic journey?

I had to face up to it: despite the proliferation of free online search resources—everything from the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild to the Cyndi’s List page on ships—I still couldn’t say with certainty that I had found my Kelly family.

Mary, I am certain, was too young to play the part of ingénue in “Home Alone.”
s/s Denmark, courtesy Norway-Heritage

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