Before there was Ellis Island, there was Castle Garden. Originally Castle Garden was part of a system of forts built in the early 1800s to protect Manhattan from British invasion. In 1823 the fort was deeded to New York City and served as an opera house and entertainment center until 1855. That is when Castle Garden became the official immigration processing center.
My great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh was one of the 300,000 immigrants to pass through the massive circular building in 1886. Over 8 million immigrants were processed there before it closed in 1890.
Try as I might, I cannot say with any certainty exactly the day and month of her arrival from Ireland. However, I am certain of the year. One thing I can say for my Irish ancestors: they were consistent in reporting their month and year of birth and their year of arrival in the United States.
Both Ancestry and FamilySearch bring up only 2 women named Mary Sheehan born in Ireland in 1869 who arrived in New York in 1886. One Mary Sheehan arrived on the 30th of August aboard the Aurania. This Mary Sheehan arrived with a mother and a passel of siblings whose names and dates do not match what I know to be true about my Sheehans. She is not likely to be MINE.
The other Mary Sheehan landed on June 21 aboard the SS Celtic, part of the White Star line. She, like other single women, was classified as a “spinster.” There were no other Sheehans immediately before or after her name, so apparently she traveled alone. My one hesitation with this Mary Sheehan is that according to the manifest, she hailed from County Mayo. I guess it is possible, but her baptismal records indicate her family lived in Limerick. If this is MY Mary Sheehan, she was number 558 on the manifest.
|image from Ancestry|
Why Mary Theresa emigrated is still a mystery although not much of one. Her journey was well-past the time of the potato famine that caused such a large number of Irish to brave crossing the Atlantic. Likely Daniel and Bridget Sheehan just wanted something better for their children. How difficult it must have been for them to send one child after another every couple of years – Johanna in 1883, Mary Theresa in 1886, Elizabeth in 1890, Margaret in 1894,and Delia in 1896. A ticket for passage in steerage was $12 (about $345 today).
I can imagine the family standing at “Heartbreak Pier” sobbing and waving as one more daughter clutching her cloth bag stepped onto the ship’s tender that would shuttle her out to the liner headed to New York.
As the skyline of Queenstown with its majestic cathedral spires faded from sight, what did Mary Theresa think about during that two-week voyage across the ocean?
Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”
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