Another sister for Grandfather Sheehan

The other day I was trying out the pilot site for’s record search web site. It has been there for a while now, but new features and databases are periodically being added, so I figured I’d give it another try. I’m glad I did!

I used one of my “brick wall” names- Michael F. Sheehan. I believe Michael was Grandfather Sheehan’s brother, based on the fact that a Michael F. Sheehan lived in Mechanicville at the same time as our Grandfather, and, much more convincingly, the fact that a Michael Sheehan lived in the same (or possibly adjacent) house as Grandfather in Worcester in 1904. The two facts are certainly suggestive, but by no means conclusive.

I wasn’t expecting to find definitive proof of Michael’s relationship to Grandfather, but I just might have- and that’s not all.

One very handy feature of the FamilySearch pilot site is a mouseover function. After you’ve entered your search terms, FamilySearch displays a list of records it thinks match your search. Mousing over an entry displays additional details of the record, which makes it easy to scan a list without opening all of the actual records. This led me to an Ellis Island immigration record dated June 1, 1902, for a “Michl Sheehan”, last residence “Waterford”. And just like Grandfather Sheehan’s immigration record, Michael’s indicates that he is going to Mechanicville in Saratoga County, to his sister Maggie!

But it gets better- Michael, 22 years old, is not alone- he’s accompanied by his 14 year old sister, Annie. Michael and Annie had embarked at Queenstown (Cobh) on May 24, on board RMS Celtic, at the time the largest passenger vessel ever built, which could hold almost three thousand passengers.

Also similar to Grandfather’s record from the year before, the form indicates that Michael and Annie’s passage was paid for by their sister. While I found a Michael F. Sheehan listed in the 1903 Mechanicville directory as a knitting mill worker, I haven’t located any further information about Annie. As a minor, she probably wouldn’t have been listed in the 1903 directory, and by the time of the next census, in 1910, she would have been 22, and likely to have married. There are no “Annie’s” born in Ireland listed in 1910 as living in Saratoga County (although there are hundreds in New York City), so it’s going to take some research to track her down.

On this day, June 6, 1657

Today is the anniversary of the death of Elizabeth (Ballard) Seaver, born in England in 1613. Not much else is known about Elizabeth’s origins, but we do know that she emigrated to Boston by 1633, and, according to church records quoted in the July, 1872 New England Historical and Genealogical Register, was “a maide servant- she came in the year 1633 and soone after joyned to the church, – she was afterwards married to Robert Sever of this church, where she led a godly conversation”.

Elizabeth’s arrival in 1633 is, so far, the earliest of any of our ancestors.

Born at sea

Mary Ledwick Dunn’s life came to a tragic and violent end in Lowell in 1875, and it seems that her birth must have been a difficult one as well. In searching for immigration records for her parents, James and Mary, I came across what seems a likely match. On April 10, 1847, James and Mary Ledwick, ages 25 and 20 respectively, arrived in New York aboard the Ellerslie, having embarked in Liverpool. The ages match well with the parents of the woman who would eventually marry Daniel Dunn, but there is no infant Mary Ledwick listed among the passengers. There is, however, a “U Ledwick”, the U presumably meaning “unknown” or “unnamed”. And instead of an age, “U Ledwick”‘s record has the notation “Born at Sea”.

So it appears that the James’s wife was pregnant when they embarked for America, and gave birth on the steerage deck that was their “compartment” as the immigration record terms it.

Why did the Ledwicks choose to emigrate knowing that Mary was pregnant? It probably wasn’t a choice: 1847 was the peak of the Irish Potato Famine. Their only other choice was probably starvation.

I haven’t found any information on the Ellerslie- no doubt it was a sailing ship: steamships had only started crossing the Atlantic on a regular basis a few years before. But the conditions on board were probably similar to those described later in 1847 by Anglo-Irish reformer Stephen De Vere. De Vere decided to see for himself the conditions the emigrants endured in the crossing to North America, and traveled in steerage with a group of Irish emigrating to Canada:

Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered Man. How can it be otherwise?

Hundreds of poor people, men women, and children, of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of ninety to the babe just born, huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart, the fevered patients lying between the sound, in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging, by a change of position, the natural restlessness of the diseased; by their agonised ravings disturbing those around, and predisposing them through the effects of the imagination, to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine, except as administered by the hand of casual charity, dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the church.

The food is generally ill-selected and seldom sufficiently cooked, in consequence of the insufficiency and bad construction of the cooking places. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking does not allow for washing. In many ships the filthy beds, teeming with abominations, are never required to be brought on deck and aired; the narrow space between the sleeping berths and the piles of boxes is never washed or scraped, but breathes up a damp and fetid stench, until the day before the arrival at quarantine, when all hands are required to “scrub-up”, and put on a fair face for the Doctor and Government Inspector. No moral restraint is attempted, the voice of prayer is never heard; drunkenness with its consequent train of ruffianly debasement, is not discouraged because it is profitable to the Captain who traffics in the Grog.

It’s hard to imagine surviving such a trip on the North Atlantic, never mind giving birth. But that, apparently, is how Mary Ledwick Dunn entered this world.

Grandfather (Sheehan)’s ship comes in

Campania-04_LucaniaFrom talking to Mom tonight, it seems likely that this is indeed the ship that brought Grandfather Sheehan to New York City on St. Patrick’s Day 1901. The ship is HMS Campania, of the Cunard Line. In this picture, it is docked at Liverpool, whence it departed for Queenstown (Cork), where Grandfather embarked, and its final destination, New York City.

According to the ship’s manifest, he is 20 years old, single, and is in possession of five dollars. (On the manifest, “$10” is crossed off, replaced by “$5”). His residence is listed as Waterford, his destination Mechanicsville, N.Y. Under “By whom passage was paid” is written “sister”.

He also appears on a “Record of detained Alien-Passengers“: the reason for detention is listed as “marked hold”. (Among the reasons others were held: “has ticket, no money”; “destination Little Falls, Minn., has ticket to Rockford, Ill., only”.) Whatever the reason behind his detention, his disposition is listed as “go to sister, Maggie Sheehan, Mechanicsville, N.Y.”. He was released at 11 AM.