While researching New York City vital records, I stumbled across the FHL's Register of New York City death records.
I haven't read the entire 209-page document yet, but when I was skimming it, this caught my eye:
Manhattan Bodies in Transit, 1859-1894 (see page 153 of the PDF)
about which I note the following:
- This is too late for the 1855 death that JustinY is researching. Do other records of this kind exist, and if so, who holds them?
- Do similar records exist in the other boroughs?
- Is the 1859 start date of this collection a result of some regulation/law which started in 1859?
- Would people who died on a voyage from 1859 through 1894 be found in a collection such as this one?
- "There is no known index to this collection." (i.e. when the printed document was created in 2005.)
(Obviously if one wanted to answer these questions, they could be arranged in a more sensible order.)
- date of passage through New York
- name of deceased
- date of death
- place of death
- place of interment
- name and residence of person having charge of body
- disease which caused death
- sometimes age, nativity, occupation and attending physician
So near, and yet so far.
- What happened to the bodies of people who died on board ship?
- For passenger lists which list 'nearest relative' or 'person going to meet' the master has contact information for someone who might be able to claim the body (later than this era). What happened in 1855?
- What agent would be in charge of the bodies until they were claimed by family/friends?
- Some immigration records (seen while researching a question about immigrants arriving from Canada) exist which are listed by the agent's name. Do similar records exist / survive for New York?
- Does the New York Public Library have an online exhibit or resource guide?
For some arrivals, the name of person who claimed the body might be the information needed to determine if you have the right person. (This field has been very useful when viewing headstone applications for US Veterans.)
Note also there's a RootsWeb database THE FORGOTTEN OF ELLIS ISLAND Deaths in Quarantine, 1909-1911 at freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~quarantine
So, here's my question: If people died in Quarantine in 1855, having arrived at Castle Garden, what hospitals might they have been transferred to? Did the hospitals on Staten Island referenced on that page exist in 1855? If not, what hospitals might have taken in this kind of transfer, and what counties were they in?
I found a possible answer in Cecil Woodham Smith's The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. She describes the efforts at quarantine for the ships arriving from Ireland with passengers suffering from fever in chapter 12.
The quarantine buildings at the north-eastern point of Staten Island
covered about thirty acres of high ground and consisted of two
hospitals accommodating 400 persons, with, in addition, a smallpox
hospital for 50 cases, a workhouse for the destitute, and auxillary
Her sources include the City Inspector's Annual Report from 1847 (City Inspector's Office, New York), a Congressional report on sickness aboard emigrant ships (33rd Congress) and special committee reports about the quarantine restrictions and about whether the quarantine station should be removed from Staten Island. Searching Google Books and WorldCat might turn up similar reports for 1855. Another possibility is to look for the reports of the Commissioners of Emigration for that year. The passengers who lived or died are not likely to be named in the reports, but the reports might have clues about what city departments might have recorded their names, and passed the summary of how many deaths occurred on board to the Commissioners.
Via Google Books I found brief mentions of the voyage in:
The William Stetson had a fair voyage across the Atlantic, and arrived
at New York on the twenty-seventh of May. Two births and four deaths
occurred on board.
THE "WILLIAM STETSON." -- The New York Herald of May 30, annoucnes the
arrival at that port of the William Stetson, May 27th. Two births
occurred on board, and four deaths. This vessel was the last we
despatched. (pages 395-6)
A discussion follows later on in this volume about the changes in the emigration acts that took place immediately following the sailing of the William Stetson.
Might the births and deaths be listed in a different volume of the Millennial Star?
If births and deaths happened in LDS families, might there be other references to them in LDS church records (e.g. the stake records for the area where the births or deaths occurred)?
Here is the link to the FHL's reference, The Register of New York City Births. It shows borough-level records available through the FHL with start dates that are later than 1855. On (printed) page iv (page 4 of the PDF) the section on Index codes states "Some New York City indexes use an alphabetic code for each borough" and lists Z=at Sea, so presumably some births and deaths at sea were registered -- but where?
Note that the 1855 arrival is before the consolidation of the five boroughs. It is also (unfortunately) before the date of the death indexes which are available to search via the Italian Genealogical Group or the search form on the One-Step Web Pages.
The Oral History of Ellen Jane (Parks) Johnstun found by ColeValleyGirl which tells of the birth of a boy named William Stetson [Parks] and the subsequent death of infant and mother says that "Mother was moved to Williamburg across from New York" before Mother and child died on 3 Jun 1855. Could this be Williamsburg, Brooklyn? The Register lists a record of deaths in the city of Brooklyn starting in 1847 (certificates are dated later, so this might be a register) with the index starting in 1848.
I also found a reference to the Commissioners of Emigration which revealed that they are New York State Commissioners of Emigration. Could their reports be at the State Archives as well as the NYC ones?
So the larger research questions remain: were the births / deaths on board supposed to be registered at this period, and if so, whose responsibility was it?
Note also that while we think of the manifests required by the US as "arrival lists" they were usually filled out at the port of embarkation and amended and annotated as necessary. They were checked (not filled out) as people disembarked. For this particular problem, the information about who was born and died on the voyage would have been added at a later time than the rest of the information on the list; the same would hold true for the later passenger lists from Ellis Island that have lists about people being detained.
As for other company records, I would expect that if a crewman died, his name would be listed in the ship's log, but I don't know if the ship's own log would list the birth and death of passengers. My question is, where was the William Stetson registered? The home port would determine what regulations were in effect, and what information would be required in the log.