Friday, May 15, 2015

It’s Never That Easy

So, I’ve finally located Theodore J. Puhalski’s naturalization papers. What did I discover about his arrival and origin? The court documented that he arrived in the Port of New York some time in the middle of May, 1884. That would mean a likely slam-dunk, once we worked our way from the court records to the passenger lists.


After all the twists and turns in following this case, I invite you to think again. At least, according to the database of digitized records from Castle Garden—the immigration point for New York City arrivals from 1855 to 1890—there is no record of a Theodore Puhalski arriving any time near 1884.

Did you not expect it to turn out that way?

If we can rely on Theodore’s self-reported date of birth as August 7, 1876, an arrival in May of 1884 would mean we are seeking a boy of almost eight years of age. One could expect a child of that age to be traveling with his family—at the least, with his mother.

Just as we had seen when tracking the arrival of Theodore’s wife, Sophie, in her own childhood journey from her homeland in 1889, the surname given for all the family members would often be changed to include the suffix ending in “a”—the common convention for the surnames of Polish women—because they were traveling with their mother. Just in case the same had happened in Theodore’s record, when searching for his entry, I used a wild card symbol—in this case, the asterisk—to replace the final letter in Theodore’s surname.

Still no result.

Since a prevalent spelling of his surname included an added “c,” I also inserted an asterisk before the “h” in hopes of including that variation, as well.

You know that didn’t help.

Though there were no Puhalskis traveling in May, 1884, with the first name Theodore—nor John, for that matter—I took a look to see if there were any signs of Anna or her daughter Rose. I still am not ready to give up the possibility that Anna was, indeed, Theodore’s mother. Yet, no sign of Rose.

There were, however, a few Annas. One, traveling in February, 1885, reported her age to be twenty three—a little too young to be our Anna, at least if we can presume her estimated birth year of 1850 was correct in the other documents we have on her. She was traveling with children, though—but those children were named Johanna, Valerian and Valerie. None of the children’s ages matched that of our Theodore.

However, the presence of two forms of the same name among those children—Valerian and Valerie—seemed notable. Theodore did, as we’ve already noted, name his own son Valentine. Perhaps there was something to this, after all.

Checking on an alternate site——for passenger records offered little more. There was an Anna Puchalski traveling from Antwerp in 1878, but that was the name of a nine year old girl and—presumably—her sixty six year old grandmother by the same name. Neither of these would be likely candidates, either.

Though the Castle Garden website offers digitized records on eleven million immigrants, either it doesn’t include the record for Theodore Puhalski’s arrival, or yet once again, Theodore was re-inventing himself as a different person from a different place.


  1. Maybe he came in as John McCann... :) Ugh. I don't envy you with this "investigation" - normal, ordinary immigrations are difficult enough!

    1. When I think of the fact that I can't even find passenger records for the "easy" finds in my family tree, I tend to agree with you, Iggy. Sometimes, when it seems there is no way to make any headway, it's best to set the search aside until further developments occur.

      But it's so hard to do that!!!

  2. I wonder if this might be "him" -

    1. Sometimes, when I push and push and push at that unyielding data, I start to feel like I'm running in circles. I couldn't help laughing when I pulled up your link, Iggy: that's exactly how I feel!

      Your link does connect with someone in my family...but it's the other side of my paternal heritage. That's John, Sophie's brother and future brother in law to John T. McCann, alias Theodore J. Puhalski.

      See? I told you it feels like we are running in circles!

  3. What stories he could have told and passed down especially about changing names:(

    1. I wish he had passed down some of those stories. But then, I guess that wouldn't have been the essence of "secret." And that is precisely what John T. McCann had: a secret.

  4. Was he a stow away??? My G Grandfather was. I haven't even tried to find a record on him.

    1. Now, that's a fascinating challenge, Far Side! A stow away! Well, at least he told family about it...or did he?


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