Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tracking Oral Histories

This week, up until Labor Day, Ancestry is offering free access to their immigration records. This is a fabulous opportunity for those thinking about starting research on their family history. I’m already a member of Ancestry, so I took that notice as a prompt to follow up on some loose ends in my husband’s Tully history.

I’m sure all families have some sort of oral history. You know: those exciting around-the-campfire types of stories that grandpa would tell the youngsters—those memories sure to be distorted by childhood imagination and then duly passed down to their grandchildren as gospel truth. Well, our Tully family had one of those stories and I’ve yet to substantiate it, though it is a tantalizing tale.

It seems that, all in a rush, the father of Catherine Malloy—who, as an adult, became the wife of my husband’s great-grandfather, John Tully—disappeared from home, mailing a note from Liverpool to a village outside Cork in Ireland where his wife and one year old daughter Catherine were staying. In essence, the letter stated, “Hi, sorry I'm giving you such short notice, but I'm leaving any day now on the Anglo-Americano to Boston, love you forever….”

Somehow, despite the “hugs and kisses” ending, I’m sure that message didn’t endear him to his young bride, whom he left alone with their one-year-old daughter Catherine.

He did, however, manage to include one shred of information in his letter: the date in which it was written. February 20, 1849, now became my benchmark for searches. Up until this point, though, I hadn’t found any proof that this event actually took place. There was a ship called the Anglo-Americano, which was a promising start. The difficulty in following through with this research task was that the surname used had multiple permutations possible for spelling. My husband’s Uncle Ed had a copy of the letter in his possession at the time he told me the story—evidently, it was something dear to Catherine’s mother Anna Flanagan, and carefully preserved as the only shred of remembrance of the man to these two women—and it was addressed to Anna “Moley.”

Spelling the surname phonetically, the possibilities certainly stretched out the research task to unwieldy proportions. Molloy and Malloy both had single-letter-L corresponding possibilities to add to the originally rendered Moley. Plus, the man’s first name was Stephen, presenting the need to research the alternate “Steven” also.

However, given the suddenness and mysteriousness of his decision to set sail, and considering the unrest of the times, our family has wondered if he were fleeing some calamitous threat, possibly assuming an alias for travel purposes. In that case, it might be near impossible to find any record on passenger lists as I try to retrace his steps 162 years after the fact.

Today’s prompt by Ancestry to recheck immigration records turned out to serve me well. It appears there was, indeed, a “Stephen Molloy” traveling from Liverpool aboard the Anglo-Americano, arriving at the destination on March 27, 1849.

Now let the research follow-up crew commence work in Boston!

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