Sunday, 21 February 2010

On the trail of the Cleveland Finns

I am most grateful to Jamie Evans for sharing with us his latest research as he coninues the search for evidence of his Birmingham ancestors who migrated to Cleveland, Ohio. The starting point for Jamie was that his grandmother, Martha Lilly Walton, travelled to Ohio in the 1920s, her intention appearing to be to settle in the USA with her own daughters. However, family anecdote goes that Martha's mother-in-law took out an injunction at the very last moment which stopped the children being taken to America, in fact it was such a last moment action that the children were actually removed from the boat as it was about to set sail.

The potential connection between my own family research and Jamie's is that in both families there were ancestors named Finn, who orignated from Ireland (probably Galway) in the 19th century. In both cases these Finns lived close to St Chad's RC cathedral around Newtown, where there was a small but closely knit Irish community in the mid to late 1800s and that in my family as well as Jamie's there are these family tales which specifically state that members of the family migrated to Cleveland, Ohio with some coming and going across the Atlantic.

Whilst Jamie's research in the past week alone has been extensive, we are still both of us scrutinising our records in the hope of making the elusive but definitive connection. If we do not find one it doesn't matter too much because Jamie's family tree is just as unique and remarkable as anyone else's and the parallels between our respective families are fascinating in terms of social and family history. However, one can not help feeling that the similarities suggest more than just coincidence.

For starters, why were people heading for Cleveland, Ohio in particular which lies some 250 miles west of New York? Why not do what most poorer migrants tended to do when arriving in America (especially Irish migrants) and stick to the big cities on the east coast like New York and Boston?

Also, in my own family research I am concious that I haven't yet explored the full exent of the Finn and Flynn families who came to Birmingham in the 1850s, probably from Galway, although both Sligo and Mayo were once mentioned to me in family anecdote. Stories of people being burnt out of their homes in Connaught were once told to me, though one never knows how much this is family myth and how much was truth, but all the same one gets the impression that these families were quite poor when they arrived in Birmingham and that they were large families with a close extended family network.

On at least three other occasions in the past few years I have made contact with other Finn and Flynn descendants who then reveal whole lines of the family tree going back to these original families which I was unaware of - often cousins of my direct ancestors. So I share Jamie's belief that we may have common ancestors here amongst the Finn family of 19th century Newtown, my guess being that his Finns could go back to cousins to my g-g-grandfather Thoma Finn who was born in the 1840s (the peak famine year being 1847).

Below are the main points of Jamie's research in the past week. I am not going to attempt to reorganise, edit or analyse it at this point in time as I feel the greater value is getting it published online quickly as this increases the chance of third parties picking up on it who may be able to shed more light upon our collective or individual pieces of research. Some of the clues to the puzzle may well lie in the archives of St Chads cathedral in Birmingham, where many of the Birmingham Irish families recorded their marriages, funerals and baptisms. Possibly even more detail than this.

If anyone can help us in this respect, please get in touch via email

White Star liner SS Cymric 

Dear Pete

Just an update on what I have found whilst trawling the US Immigration records for the names of Finn/Flinn/Flynn, the following are the ones where Cleveland was their named place to visit, except the last one, John Finn in 1922 where he was going to New Jersey!!

1. Catherine FINN, aged 60, a widow, Charwoman, last residence, Birmingham, was going to the US to visit her daughter, Mrs Robinson at 25, Dalloff Street, Cleveland, Ohio, who she stated paid for her passage and gave her $8 dollars to enter the US with. She travelled on the White Star liner SS Cymric from Liverpool on 6th October 1899 to New York.

This appears to be a flying visit to see what it was like in Cleveland, unlike the Americans the British had no such immigration checks coming back across the Atlantic, because:

2. Catherine FINN, aged 60 now, married and a wife!! Last residence Birmingham, she states she is going to visit her daughter, Mrs Robinson at 25, Dalloff Street, Cleveland, Ohio again. However this time she is travelling with Agnes McNamara aged 31, a Domestic, married, last residence Birmingham, she is visiting her sister Mrs O'Neil of 815, St Clair Street, Cleveland, Ohio, who also paid for her passage. They travelled on the White Star liner SS Teutanic from Liverpool on 15th December 1899 to New York. Could Mrs O'Neil and Mrs Robinson be sisters? If so Agnes McMamara is also Catherine Finns daughter?.

Again no record of Catherine Finn coming back to the UK, however:

3. Catherine FINN, aged 60, a widow again, housekeeper, last residence, Birmingham, travelling to visit her daughter in Cleveland, Ohio, no address given this time, she states her daughter paid for the passage. Her health is described as 'Senility' She travelled on the White Star liner, SS Germanic from Liverpool on 8th August 1900 to New York.

In all cases she stated she could not read or write in all the 3 ship's manifests.

4. James FINN, aged 66, stated to be single? and Irish, travelling to Cleveland,Ohio, to visit his son-in-law William Robinson, 68, Jewett Street, Cleveland, Ohio, last residence Liverpool, he states that his son-in-law paid for the passage. He travelled on the liner, SS Majestic from Liverpool on 9th November 1904 to New York. He was also unable to read or write.

A check of US Naturalisation records show that a William ROBISON (a good Scottish name and spelling) of 68, Jewett Street, Cleveland, Ohio, became a US Citizen on 24/3/1899, his record shows he was born in England on 9/3/1857 and arrived in the USA on 27/7/1881.

So it looks like that the Robinson daughter, Catherine Finn was visiting was actually spelt ROBISON and her husband having recently become a US Citizen (presumably with his wife and family) they invited their family from Birmingham to come and visit them?

5. Martha Lilly WALTON, (my Grandmother) aged 33, a housekeeper, last residence Birmingham, travelling to Cleveland, Ohio, she states her next of kin to be her Grandfather John (spelt Trim) (sounded) Finn of 75, Coventry Street, Digbeth, Birmingham, she was living at 74, Coventry Street, Digbeth at that time. She travelled on the SS Olympic sailing from Southampton on 14th April 1922 to New York. She apparently stayed for 6 months and returned to Birmingham with the intention of returning to Cleveland with her 4 daughters, but the girls were removed from the ship at Liverpool, after their Grandmother, Mary WALTON (deceased fathers mother) took an injunction out to stop them being removed from the country. They all returned to Birmingham and never made it to Cleveland.

6. John FINN aged 19, a Clerk, states he is English, but race as Irish , last residence, Birmingham, his next of kin is given as his sister, Miss M.E. FINN, 75, Foley Road, Washwood Heath, Birmingham, he states he is travelling to New Jersey City. He travelled on the SS President Adams on 1st July 1922 from London to New York.

I hope that this shows that there was some connection between the Birmingham FINN's and a branch of that family in Cleveland, Ohio, but we must now identify this Catherine FINN born about 1840, who travelled 3 times to Cleveland in 1899 and 1900? the search goes on.

Jamie Evans

Cleveland, Ohio on the banks of Lake Erie 


I hope that this helps to answer the question about why my grandmother (Martha WALTON) went to Cleveland, Ohio in 1922.

Having gone back the the Ancestry site and looked again at the Immigration lists, I found that there were some records of passengers returning to the UK and this is what I found:

1. On the 9 th August 1922, the White Star liner SS Celtic returned to Liverpool from New York, on that ship travelling in Third Class, was a typed record stating that one of the passengers was Martha WALTON aged 33 years living at 75, Coventry Street, Birmingham. Remember she had travelled to the US in April 1922.

Now the 'answer', travelling with my grandmother and listed above her is ELLEN RATCHFORD, 62 years a wife, living at 74, Coventry Street, Birmingham. ( John and Catherine FINN actually lived at 75 and Martha Walton at 74.)

This gave me a new name to search with the following results:

2. Sailing on the SS Celtic on 17th August 1911 from Liverpool to Philadelphia, USA, was a Miss ELLEN RATCHFORD aged 18 years, a Domestic, her next of kin was given as her mother, Mrs E. Ratchford of Court1, 8 house St George Street, Birmingham, she was travelling to Cleveland, Ohio.

She also had a travelling companion, a young man!! John McKIERNAN aged 18 years, of 64, Hanley Street, Birmingham. On the 1901 census, he is 6 years old and living with his family at 10 Court 3, Legge Street, Birmingham. Anything known of this person or the girl?

3. Sailing on the SS Merion on 18th September 1912 from Liverpool to Philadelphia, USA, I found the following passengers, ELLEN RATCHFORD aged 43 yrs, a brass polisher, her next of kin is given as Mrs E. RATCHFORD of St Georges Street, Birmingham. With her are her 2 children, Alice Ratchford aged 13 years and Bernard Ratchford aged 11. The record states that they are going to visit a friend Mrs Julie ROBINSON in Cleveland, Ohio. Do you have any further details of the children, did they ever come back?

Then I thought it a good idea to check the US Army Draft cards for 1917, when the USA entered the First World War.

4. Registered on 6/5/1917, at the Local Board for District No3, Central Armory, Cleveland, Ohio is JAMES RATCHFORD, born on 2nd October 1887, (29yrs) of Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, an Alien, working as a Linesman for the Bell Telephone Company. He was living at 3030 West 44 Street, Cleveland with his WIFE and MOTHER (no names given)

So it looks like it was the Ratchford family that went to the US, not the Finns, however the fact that we have the first recorded trip in 1899, it appears there was someone to visit before the turn of the century, my guess is that it was Mrs Julie Robinson and her family, could she be from the LADYWOOD, Robinsons!!!!

Mrs Ellen Ratchford who sailed in 1912 must be the daughter of Patrick and Catherine FINN, who was living with them at 5 Court, 5 house 19, Lancaster Street Birmingham in the 1891 Census, she is even a Spoon Polisher!!

The Catherine FINN travelling to the US must be her mother?

So who is the 18 year old Ellen Ratchford travelling in 1911? Could she have been the Nun 'Aunt Nell'

When James FINN went to Cleveland in 1904 he stated he was visiting his son-in-law William Robinson 68, Jewett Street, Cleveland, Ohio. In the 1900 US Census there is a William Robinson born Dudley 9/3/1857, who died in Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga, on 6/6/1927 aged 70 years and buried at the Woodlands Cemetery on 9/6/1927. His wife's name was Elizabeth (might have been a second wife?). His fathers name was Joseph, mother Elizabeth Robinson (nee Cadman) he was a widower and worked as a Water Engineer for Standard Oil. He lived at 11714 Lenacrave Street, Cleveland. Could this be one of the Ladywood ROBINSONs?

If you put the address into Google you can see a picture of this house which is still there!!

For your information, my Grandfather's (John Walter WALTON) mother Mary WALTON (nee HOGAN), lived at 2 house 10 Court St George Street (page from 1925 B'ham Voters List) from about 1890 until 1933, as she came from Galway I am sure that she would have known the FINN family very well and that they were close, which is clear from the fact that John Walter WALTON and later his widow lived next door to a member of the FINN family at various addresses for years. Also that Martha Walton, John's widow stated John FINN was her grandfather when she travelled to the US in 1922.

Having just read the above I now think it asks as many questions as it answers, please let me know if you can add any more information about the above from your side of the family. I still feel there is more information out there, are you in touch with any Birmingham, Ratchfords?

Speak soon,

Jamie Evans

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