Thursday, 30 May 2013

Peter McDonnell - the search moves to America


The passenger list of the Campania at departure from Liverpool on 27th July 1907 with 18 year old Peter McDonnell, the young Dublin man who arrived at Ellis Island in New York eight days later (see below).

It is interesting how a family anecdote creates a line of enquiries and theories. Why did he set fire to the family home? Why was he sent away? If Peter was the son sent to America then who was Christopher? Its all about finding that crucial piece of information that convinces you that this is the right person and the right scenario and because the record database in the States is more detailed, I will keep pursuing the line of enquiry in that direction until I either find clarity or the trail just fades.

Is there a Dublin newspaper report of the house fire? Or perhaps an American death record or social security record for Peter naming his parents and exact place of origin?


This record shows the same individual named Peter McDonnell who arrived at Ellis Island on 4th August 1907 aged 18. He travelled from Liverpool on the Campania giving his last place of residence as Dublin. The Ellis Island record provides potentially useful information for this individual. 18 year old Peter McDonnell is arriving on the Campania on a ticket funded by his father and has $50 in his pocket and is on his way to stay with his uncle, also named Peter McDonnell at 2015 3rd Avenue, New York.

Under disability, Peter has a condition which initially I thought looks as if it is spelt 'phobia'.

Could this be our man? Was his condition connected to the arson attack on the family home? 

Most ships left Liverpool and stopped at Queenstown in Ireland on the way so this individual may have embarked there.

I posted this information on Facebook and my mom's cousin Gaye replied:

"Pete I think this might be your guy. I think the word you think is "phobia" is in fact "strabismus" which means crossed eye. Look at the word again. The first letter could be a lower case "s" with a long tail into it and the second letter looks like it has a faded cross at the top like the cross of a lower case "t". I gave a photo to Colette Gallagher of a man who looked like he had a crossed eye. He had sent it to her grandmother Kitty. The Peter you are looking for would have been her uncle. It had "To my Kitty Kat" on it. Ask Colette about it. Maybe it was signed Peter."

My reply to Gaye:

"Fantastic update thanks Gaye! Yes I have strong feeling about this person. I have searched the New York Census 1910 by the way and there are hundreds of Peter McDonnells and close spellings including MacDonald etc. (one has to take account of people misspelling surnames). So at the moment there's a bit of a dead end even with the address provided here which, if it's our man, would indicate old John had a brother also named Peter McDonnell. There are also some records of Peter McDonnells returning on ships from America too, so that's another possibility - that he went and then came back."

It is intriguing. Even the story of the fire. Its a very dramatic thing to do. Imagine the emotional reactions that would have followed! Was it all insured, etc. ?

When I looked again, Gaye was right about the spelling of Peter's condition and I also noticed under the address of 3rd Avenue, there is an address Westmoreland PA, crossed through. I wonder if that's a further clue to a location of the Uncle? I actually viewed the 3d Avenue address on Google map images and it's now a motor car garage. Which is unlikely to have been there in 1907.

Something I should add in the Peter McDonnell story, when trying to account for the sons Peter and Christopher, the 1911 Census includes the question 'how many children have been born and how many survived?' To which the mother Catherine replied she'd had 16 children and only 5 had survived. We know of Anne (g-granny Whelan), her brother John (possibly became blind himself), the sister Catherine Barrett (Aunty Lally), then the 12 year old brother Peter named in the 1901 census, which leaves space for Christopher to be child 5, he is named as a son in old John's Will but doesn't appear with the family in either the 1901 or 1911 census. So really we are searching for Peter and Christopher.

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