A journey on the open seas can be grueling, isolating,and dangerous. Mandy Moore made the surprising discovery that her 3rd-great-grandmother, Ellen Flynn, boarded the ship Lady Peelin 1849 and traveled from Ireland to Australia. Astonishingly, she thenbraved the seas again to go from Australia to England, traveling over 14,000 miles in her lifetime. In a time when travel by sea was fraught with peril and disease, the undaunted Ellen Flynn undertook journeys equivalent to two-thirds the circumference of the earth.
When most Americans think of immigration, they picture their immigrant ancestors sailing from “the Old World” to Ellis Island in New York. While thousands of immigrants entered the United States along this route, it’s important to keep an open mind about your ancestors’ travel paths. Mandy’s ancestor Ellen, for example, moved from Ireland to Australia, then to England; her descendants would not come to the United States for several more generations. Ancestryhas immigration records from all over the world, including Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and numerous U.S. ports. If you’re not finding your ancestors arriving in New York, keep in mind that they may have arrived at a different location.
Ellen appeared numerous times in ship passenger lists. Passenger lists are amazing resources for learning more about immigrant ancestors, and they contain clues that often go overlooked. Ellen’s older sister, Mary, undertook the difficult journey to Australia with Ellen and is listed on the line above her in the passenger list:
Families were often recorded together on passenger lists, so it’s important to review the full page on which your immigrant ancestor was recorded. Relatives can also be listed under different surnames, depending on their marital statuses or connection (married females, in-laws, or cousins, for instance, could be recorded under different surnames).
Even non-family members on passenger lists can provide helpful information. On Ellen Flynn’s passenger list, nearly all the passengers were young Irish females; an important clue for discovering Ellen’s circumstances while travelling. It was common for immigrants to travel in groups, so by identifying those departing from the same village or traveling to the same address, it’s possible to get a better idea of an ancestor’s circle of contacts.
Along with thousands of passenger lists from ports around the world, Ancestry also has a database called “Passenger Ships and Images,” which provides background information and historical photographs of hundreds of ships that carried immigrants all around the world. The Lady Peel, the ship on which Ellen sailed to Australia, was involved in the Earl Grey Scheme: a program in which Irish orphans were carried to Australia. Other details, like the lengths of overseas voyages and the number of passengers on board, can give you a better idea of the conditions your ancestors experienced as they sailed far from home.
Did your ancestor brave ocean voyages around the world? Check out your family history today and discover the trailblazers in your family tree.
Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:
- Keep an open mind about your ancestors’ travels. You may find your ancestor in passenger lists from unexpected ports, as your ancestors may have traveled more frequently and more widely than anticipated.
- When looking at passenger manifests, pay attention to everyone listed on the page with your ancestor. Check for potential family members or for immigrants leaving from the same location or traveling to the same destination. Having a wider circle of contacts for your ancestors can make them easier to find after immigration, as well as helping you discover your ancestors’ community.
- Learn more about the history of the ships on which your ancestors traveled. Having photographs of these ships, along with learning details about what life was like on board, can make your ancestors’ journeys even more meaningful.
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