Monday, October 31, 2016

One Way Ticket for One

In trying to determine which, exactly, was our Thomas Kelly in Lafayette, Indiana, it helped to find those two Declarations of Intention. It seemed the second of the two documents we located on our trip last week was the more likely to be the right Kelly. That Thomas' age seemed to align with our Kellys' family constellation most accurately—if, of course, the man's recollection of such mundane details served him well. I've seen many a case where that wasn't so, among our Irish immigrant ancestors.

Since the Declaration included Thomas' report of exactly when and where he arrived in the United States, the next logical step was to locate his passenger record. Of course, arriving in New York in 1853 meant his ship came in long before the existence of Ellis Island documentation. Checking the history for the preceding checkpoint, Castle Garden, revealed its immigration station status began in 1855—problem number one for my Kelly search.

Going to the Castle Garden website itself, however, relieved my concerns, for the foundation provides transcriptions of passenger lists dating back to 1820—far before our Thomas Kelly's arrival in 1853.

My thinking, in resorting to the passenger lists at Castle Garden, was first to find whether there was a Thomas Kelly on a ship from Liverpool arriving in New York on the date he gave in his Declaration—June 10, 1853. More than that, though, was to see whether any of the other members of our Kelly family traveled with him at that time.

Sure enough, there was a Thomas Kelly on a ship arriving in New York City on that precise date. His namesake wasn't exactly the sixteen year old our Thomas' declared date of birth would lead us to believe. But the age was close: fourteen.

The next step would be to check the passenger list for the ship he was traveling on—the S. S. Kossuth—and see if there were any other Kellys traveling with him.

This is where my amazement that the actual date was verified began to unravel at the edges. While, yes, there was a Thomas Kelly aboard the ship arriving on the very date he remembered years later in his Declaration of Intention, none of the rest of his family was traveling with him. Not James or Mary, his parents. Not his older siblings Mathew, Rose, Catherine or Bridget. Not even his younger sister, Ann, the one I've been puzzling over, thanks to a DNA match with one of her possible descendants.

Instead, the only results for a Kelly family traveling on that ship included an older spinster, Margaret, a twenty four year old man named Edward, two Ellens, a ten year old girl named Mary, and an eight year old whose name, transcribed, was rendered as "Anty." Hardly the Kellys I was looking for.

Trying the oft-used alternate spelling, Kelley, yielded no better results. Unless this Thomas was traveling solo at that age—a possibility at the far end of the national ravages of a severe famine—I tend to doubt our Thomas' sterling memory served him as well as we hoped, back at the point when he completed the first of his naturalization papers.

Above: Section from search results at the Castle Garden website for Thomas Kelly, date June 10, 1853, from Liverpool to New York City.


  1. Given that they were so "soft" with their birthdays, I wouldn't hold much credence with the arrival date - unless perhaps he saved his sailing ticket?

    I wouldn't be too surprised he traveled alone either.

    1. Another "miserable" search tool at that website.

    2. Ah, well, miserable or not, at least it is a tool giving me entry into information. There are other resources to follow up with, once I do the quick check through a site like this. Of course, the end goal would be to lay my eyes on a digitized version of the actual passenger lists so I could decide for myself.

      And yeah, despite being so fluid with those dates, the Irish in our families did tend to save everything--including stuff most reasonable people would consider trash to be tossed long ago.


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