Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Passengers and Ports of Entry


Sometimes, to track down an elusive ancestor, we need to rethink the entire research puzzle. In the case of William Stevens' mother—the unfortunate Catherine Kelly we discussed yesterday—I am stuck with only a part of her information. Yet I can't seem to fill in the rest of the blanks on her immigrant story.

From very tenuous sources, I've been able to determine that Catherine's parents might have been James and Mary Kelly. At least for Mary Kelly, we've been able to spot her in her children's census entry in 1860—in the same household where the motherless William and his two older brothers also lived. It was only from an old transcription of a now-defunct cemetery in Lafayette where I might have gleaned the correct name for a Mary Kelly's husband: James.

What seems strange to me is that I cannot seem to locate either the Kelly family or Catherine's husband, John Stevens, in the 1850 census, in the area in Indiana where they later settled. Nor yet can I find them in any ship's passenger records between that census date and 1854, the year Catherine gave birth to her oldest son, James. The presumption, of course, is that Catherine and John Stevens were married after they both arrived in Indiana—but where are the marriage records? It would be nice to fix a date to this event.

Furthermore, just how did they arrive in Lafayette, Indiana? Many researchers, starting out, assume most immigrants arrived at New York harbor—or, given the affinity of the Irish for the city of Boston, consider that second option. The truth is that there were many ports up and down the Atlantic seaboard which welcomed in immigrants, depending on the time period.

The trouble is, in the case of either the Kelly family or John Stevens, that sought after arrival record might not be found in the passenger records for any of those Atlantic ports. From a copy of the first immigration form completed by John Stevens in Lafayette—his Declaration of Intention—he indicated that his port of arrival was actually New Orleans.

Could John have traveled with the Kelly family? Is it possible that he met them in passage from his native Ireland? He gave a date for his arrival, along with the identification of his port of arrival, and yet, I've never been able to locate a record of his arrival in New Orleans in any ship's records. Nor, following this line of reasoning, have I been able to find any possible mentions of a Kelly family.

There are several reasons why, on my last attempt to find these individuals, I may have fallen short of my goal. For one, seeking names as common as Kelly and Stevens present a challenge, especially when so many names were listed only with an initial instead of given name. More challenging than that, though, is the fact that last time I looked, there were several gaps in the records for that time period I'm interested in.

Still, records keep getting added to digitized collections, and it is always worth the effort to re-check those places which we've searched before, after a span of several years. It is likely time to explore what can be found about New Orleans passenger records now, and see if there have been any updates since I last passed this research way.

1 comment:

  1. Just quick, sometimes going from UK/Ireland to Canada or via Canada, was a cheaper option back then. New Orleans, was a great find. Check out South Carolina perhaps? Good luck. Enjoy receiving your blog !!


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