My ancestor Johanna Foley Desmond immigrated from Ireland with her husband Timothy Desmond on board the Bark ARGYLE. The ship's registry just states "Died 20 May 1849" by her name on the passenger's list. How can I obtain the ship's record of her death, the cause of death, etc. I have done extensive research to conclude the Johanna Foley Desmond did die on board that ship because her name (as a living person) does not appear on any Census records, etc. There is no record of any kind showing her alive in the USA. Her husband Timothy Desmond (widower) lived in Hopkinton, Massachusetts with his son Timothy, Jr. and his daughters.

Desmond family group from Argyle passenger list

Passenger list for Argyle, arriving Boston 1 Jun 1849, from Ancestry's Massachusetts, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963, citing roll 29 of microcopy publication M277 (NARA RG 85).

Header of page from ship Argyle passenger list

Previous manifest page with header showing name of ship's master (Brockbank?) and home port of Dublin

  • 1
    Can I suggest that your first step should be to establish what you can expect (as distinct from hope) to find? This might help to direct you where to look. The information that you hope for might exist somewhere in the records of the shipping line (for instance) - on the other hand, if the government didn't ask for that data, it's not clear to me why it would be kept. It might be a useful strategy to look for logs of the voyage (no, not sure where they might be) or newspaper reports. These might not contain the specific info that you want but might give you the background.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 15:50
  • Hi, welcome to Genealogy & Family History SE! I've edited your title to make your question easier to share on Twitter and other sites, and to make it more discoverable for people searching via Google. Any other records in the USA that might exist will depend on the port of arrival, so I have edited your question to include that information, and included a header showing the ship's master's name. You can learn more about how the site works by reading the help center or on our companion Genealogy & Family History Meta.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 19:19
  • So appreciate all of your help! Yes, basically, I would like to determine cause of death and obtain a document/record from the ship verifying her death (Johanna Desmond). Lastly, how was her body disposed? Straight into the sea or kept until her husband disembarked in Boston? Commented Jul 5, 2022 at 15:47
  • Based on what has been listed below about the (non) recording of deaths at the GRO in the UK, I suspect that there are no records about her death other than what is on the passenger list. It appears that the UK government had no interest in such data, so there is no expectation that any shipping company would keep data that served no purpose. The only other possibility would appear to be the ship's log, but as I said, I don't know where to find them - if they survive. Newspapers are another possibility but only if the cause of death was newsworthy.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 21:37
  • Disposal of the body is an interesting question. I suspect that the technology simply didn't exist to keep a body after death at this time - no refrigeration etc. So I suspect that committal to the deep was the only option. We really want someone with detailed knowledge of immigrant shipping to confirm or deny that.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


According to the UK Gov website, the GRO at Southport keeps “Marine deaths” from 1837 onwards, if the death was on board a British Vessel. You haven’t said what flag the Argyle was. If it was British then I suggest contacting GRO Southport to see if they have a death certificate:


As far as searching for records relating to the Argyle, I’d say that also depends on what flag it was. If any records do survive, you might find them in the National Archives of that country. If it was Britain then the National Archives are in Kew:


  • I've found the list on Ancestry and added links and images. A header on the previous page shows the ship's master's name (possibly Brockbank) and that the ship is "of Dublin." Since this is well before 1922, presumably this would be a British flag?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 19:42
  • I think that the 1837 date for Marine Deaths doesn't stand up. nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/… seems a better bet. If you look at it, 1854 appears to be the relevant date. The GRO indexes in question are on FindMyPast and (not surprising given the date) she's not in. Quite what the post 1854 records will look like, I don't know as they went via the Ship's Log Book and the (separate) Registrar of Shipping and Seamen before reaching the GRO. They might simply be copies of the Ship's Log
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 12:45
  • Yes I agree that if the ship was "of Dublin" that should a British registered vessel. Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 14:00

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