Friday, January 3, 2014

Sarah Martha Sails Again

If you can’t find a missing distant cousin one way, try another.

In the case of my mother’s cousin, Sarah Martha Moore McKinnon, it turns out the best way to find out about her is via ship’s passenger lists. After all, for a child born to parents working abroad for many years, at some point, the family will want to bring her home to show off to adoring grandparents.

Thanks to the many transcribed records and digitized documents that can now be found on both and, I’ve been able to piece together almost a yearly itinerary of the young Sarah Martha.

What’s interesting about this discovery has been reading between the lines on the passenger lists, themselves. I think I can better pinpoint which railroad—or at least what specific purpose—employed Sarah Martha’s father, Wallace Moore. Keeping in mind that my own grandfather traveled down to Honduras in his youth and did some work for that same railroad company, it helps me sketch out a bit more about his own early years.

The trips home began early in Sarah Martha’s life. By now, I’ve obtained indications that Sarah Martha was born in her parents’ home state, Tennessee, rather than in another country. While I don’t know how soon after that event the Moore family took up their position in Honduras, I can at least calculate their arrival there before 1930.

Why? First of all, I can’t locate them in the 1930 United States census.

A more usable clue, though, is the passenger list for the S. S. Atenas, arriving in New Orleans on July 4, 1930. There on the list was three year old Sarah Martha Moore, evidently returning to the States from Puerto Cortes, Honduras, with her paternal grandmother, Sarah Good Moore. Above the marking for the ship name on the document was typewritten the words, “United Fruit Co.”

The next year, Sarah Martha again returned from Honduras to the States—this time arriving in New York City—on the S. S. Musa, a ship on which she would travel at least two other times. Why she would be headed for New York City instead of her parents’ native Tennessee is a question for me to pursue. Sarah Martha was traveling this time with her mother Lummie Davis Moore, who by this time had a sister living in Baltimore. Perhaps this arrangement was to accommodate a family visit on the East Coast.

Yet again in 1933, Sarah Martha and Lummie took the same route and ship, arriving in the port of New York on July 13. By this time, Sarah Martha was six years of age. Traveling with them from Honduras, apparently, were the two young Zapata children, born in New York City with their address given as “c/o Honduran Consulate.”

Once again on the S.S. Musa on June 28, 1934, mother and daughter arrived in New York City. Even so, Lummie gave as their home address, “224 Main St., Erwin, Tenn.” I can’t help but think that the route to New Orleans would have been a more direct way to get home to Tennessee from Honduras—and wonder what other reason there might have been for the two to head, instead, to New York.

By the time Sarah Martha was twelve, her New York-bound itinerary was most likely due to her destination: a city-area boarding school. At least, that is what my mother had told me about Sarah Martha’s childhood years. Arriving at the end of August, 1939—this time on the S. S. Pastores—Sarah Martha and her mother would have arrived just in time for the start of the school year.

An interesting footnote to this ship’s record is found at the bottom of the digitized page:
            Line:                United Fruit Co.
            Owners:           United Fruit Steamship Corp.
            Local Agents:   United Fruit Co.

Yet, the next year, sailing this time from Tela, Honduras, aboard the S. S. Sixaola, Sarah Martha and her mother, Lummie, arrived back in New Orleans, rather than in New York. They arrived on September 5, 1940—quite late for the starting date of the school year. Could they have reverted to the old itinerary in fears of risky sailing conditions now on the Atlantic?

I love finding the last travel record. This time, Sarah Martha was listed under her married name, Sarah Martha McKinnon. She and her husband arrived in New York City on April 20, 1953, on the S. S. Esparta, operated under the auspices of the Tela Railroad Company—the railroad linked with the United Fruit Company of those many previous journeys home taken by Sarah Martha and her mother.

In addition to finding the link to the specific railroad company the family was employed by, what is valuable about this passenger listing is that it transformed the proper yet enigmatic “Mr. C. J. McKinnon” of my grandmother’s address book into a man with an actual name. This was the document that confirmed for me the significance of those two frustrating initials, C. J. At long last, I could finally document his name as Cyril John McKinnon.

Above: Honduras Rail Map of 1925, from W. Rodney Long, Railways of Central America and the West Indies, published by the United States Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., in 1925; map on page 54; original held by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with digitized version courtesy of Hathi Trust Digital Library via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. What an exotic life Sarah Martha led. I wonder what Honduras was like back then.

    1. I can't help but wonder what being a mom of a three year old in Honduras would be like back then =/

  2. While may or may not be "the" Moores you seek - the story seems to fit your ancestors saga.

    1. Interesting link, Iggy! Thanks for finding it. I wish it included an index. I'll have to sit down and spend some time thumbing through it. It certainly provides a sense of context, doesn't it?

  3. What an adventure all that sailing must have been, I suppose they traveled free. I noted that you found out when they came to the US long did they stay and where did they depart from? I will bet that they usually departed from New Orleans..I bet she went to NY to shop and visit and then took the train to Tennessee...but I am a bit of a dreamer sometimes:)

    1. Since Sarah Martha's dad was a railroad man--albeit in Honduras--I wonder if there were some arrangements for travel by train, once they arrived in the U.S.

      Sarah Martha and her mom generally departed from Puerto Cortes in Honduras, although one time the port was Tela in Honduras. I suppose I'd have to look into records in Honduras to see about return trips. Since the ships were all registered to the United Fruit Company, I expect their costs were fairly modest. It wasn't like they were traveling on a cruise line ;)

      I imagine they took in quite a few opportunities to shop in the Big Apple. For a while, Sarah Martha had an aunt who worked in New York as a buyer for a big department store. What more of an invitation could one want?!?!


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