One voyage of the ship William Stetson began the 26th of April, 1855 in Liverpool, England and ended the 27th of May, 1855 in New York. One account of the voyage says:

The New York Herald of May 30, announces the arrival at that port of the William Stetson, May 27. Two births occurred on board and four deaths.

How can I find the names of the four people who died?

I tried finding the May 30th article from the New York Herald mentioned above. fultonhistory.com has archives of the New York Herald but 1855 seems to be missing May - August.

The Library of Congress lists libraries that have microfilm of the New York Herald but they're all pretty far away from where I live. And even if I were able to visit one, there's no guarantee that the article would contain the names. For example, the New-York Daily Tribune mentions the arrival of the ship William Stetson, but it doesn't even mention the two births and four deaths.

The Mormon Migration website has images of the passenger lists that the Mormons kept, but it doesn't appear to make any mention of people dying, and Mormons weren't the only ones on the ship (though they count for over 50% of the passengers).

Ancestry has the passenger list, but I also wasn't able to find an indication of any deaths. Though it's entirely possible that I just missed something.

  • Re the Library of Congress lists of libraries (link above), the "summary holdings." I've found the date ranges sometimes just report the earliest edition and the latest edition. Like an Oreo Cookie, sometimes you want what's in the middle. P.S. University of Notre Dame and a few others could help us with better date style information. (Notre Dame may be reporting what the MARC description page refers to as the ""whole no." ("Issues for Sept. 22, 1840-Jan. 31, 1920 called also whole no. 1566-30,476.")
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 14:02
  • You haven't mentioned looking at the arrivals data at castlegarden.org which is an alternative to the ancestry passenger list.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:34
  • @ColeValleyGirl How would that site help identify who died? Is there a field that says they died during the voyage?
    – user47
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:42
  • No, castlegarden just has immigration records -- it's an alternative to the passenger list (and in fact definitely shouldn't include the dead) so any discrepancy between the data there and the Ancestry passenger list might tell you something.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:57
  • FultonHistory.com has added more issues recently -- have you checked for more issues of the Herald since you wrote this message?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 7:42

6 Answers 6


Brief mention of the William Stetson's arrival is found in the New York (Watertown) Reformer, Thursday, May 31, 1855, p. 3, c. 1; digital image, GenealogyBank. "More Mormons--The ship Willilam Stetson arrived at New York on Sunday, bringing three hundred and fifty Mormons among her passengers. They are all bound for the Mormon settlement in Utah." (If I locate other mention, will post here.)

More directly to the point of your question ... I would e-mail the New York Public Library (NYPL) to learn if they hold a version of the New York Herald for date cited.

While browsing for information about the NYPL holdings, I found two references:

  • New York Public Library's "New York Herald Index, 1835-1918." These are apparently indexes to the newspapers available in the library's "Microforms Room." [See "Newspapers"; subsection "Indexes and Additional Resources"* There is a notation in that section (emphasis added), "If you are not in the library, you may also e-mail us for assistance at [email protected].")
  • Library makes reference to Pro-quest's searchable index, "New York Herald (1840-1865)." Both Duncan and I searched GenealogyBank using different approaches, and neither of us could retrieve the edition. I searched May 1855 and keyword "New York." Oddly, GenealogyBank's "New-York Herald information page has description, "New-York Herald (New York, New York) Newspaper Archives (1802–1817)" (Home > Newspaper Archives > New York > New-York Herald.)

Separately, I did try

  • GenealogyBank, as above. As a side note, did find just later interesting article concerning the Wm Stetson, "Bloody Assault in the Harbors: Brutality on board the Ship Wm. Stetson," Evening (New York, New York) Post, Friday June 22, 1855, p. 3, c. 7.
  • Ancestry.com's "New York Herald..." collection description; seems to not have the date range you need ("fully searchable text version of the newspaper for the following years: 1869-72, 1969, and 1971-72.")
  • 19th Century Newspapers (via AmericanAncestors) provides great digital collection details, but it was just a little confusing. First, there are two catalog entries for the New York Herald [Browse Newspaper (titles)], described as (a) "New York Herald (1840-1863) NY" [supposedly 3954 issues], and (b) New York Herald (1844-1863) NY" [supposedly 206 issues]. But then if I search for newspaper titles, I find three entries (below). This content provider lets you discover which specific issues are held for the titles. I checked each of these three and found no 1855 issues in any of these digitized holdings.

enter image description here

P.S. Another way to try to solve this is to locate the passenger lists at both the point of departure and the point of arrival. Then bribe small children into a game of finding entries for which there is no match.

*I don't know why so many images seemed broken links when I viewed that page; wondered if the page was out of date. I accessed same from browser search.

Update 1: I'll scan all the pages again, but according to the William Stetson's manifest at New York, the list is supposed to include those who died. There is even a column "died on voyage." (Pull out the magnifying glass, it is toward the right.)

enter image description here

Neither JustinY nor I can find a reference in the manifest to those who died. There is an odd clump of entries at the end (image below), but this does not seem to be making reference to the names of those who died.

enter image description here

Here is an oversized image of the information written below the last set of names on the last page. I would have little confidence in my own interpretation of this information, but I wonder if what might have been written "Dk" might stand for "deck" (as in where on the ship the passengers were housed during the trip.

enter image description here

Here's an enlarged image of that last clump of names. Of note, an entry indexed as "Wm Stetson" (though I think there is more to the name) reports an age of 3 weeks male." Another indexed as "Mary Shields" reads 5 days female."

enter image description here

  • 1
    It looks like the "Died on voyage" column was completely ignored.
    – user47
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 22:20
  • 1
    @JustinY. See my last two update/edits. As these are really passenger manifests, I wonder if there would be value in checking to if there are archives for the port itself that might have a separate listing of this ships arrival. Likewise, who owned the William Stetson, and did that company maintain a separate set of records.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 1:09
  • 2
    If you can find any record of Mary Hoggard (infant who died -- see genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/2289/104) in the manifest, it might help you identify what notation was used if any.
    – user104
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 17:01
  • 1
    According to USCIS historian Marian L. Smith, the only records which survive for NY arrivals before 1897 are US Customs House records, created by the US Customs Service. The Castle Garden and Barge Office passenger lists (which would have had immigration information like the later lists) were transferred to Ellis Island and were destroyed in the 1897 Ellis Island fire.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 22:59
  • 1
    I just removed Community Wiki status on this answer. I think it was placed there automatically when the question was edited multiple times. Fortunately that SE behaviour changed a while ago so there is no reason for it to remain CW.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 0:57

Try the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild. Their transcribed lists always make explicit references to deaths on the voyage.

They certainly have some William Stetson passenger lists (I found one for 1859) but the site is most easily searched by passenger name.

  • That's a good resource but they don't have this particular voyage.
    – user47
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 0:14

Where else might information be lurking about these births and deaths?

Death Records and Cemetery Information

The Family History Library has a Register of New York City death records (update: this is no longer available to read online) describing what records the FHL holds. 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:

  1. This is (seemingly) too late for the 1855 death in the question. Do other records of this kind exist, and if so, who holds them?
  2. Do similar records exist in the other boroughs?
  3. Is the 1859 start date of this collection a result of some regulation/law which started in 1859?
  4. Would people who died on a voyage from 1859 through 1894 be found in a collection such as this one?
  5. "There is no known index to this collection." (i.e. when the printed document was created in 2005. A searchable index has been added since I originally wrote the answer-- see below.)

(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. However, if you search Bodies in Transit with a death date of 1855, there are 13 results, including this one for Carl Harmann for May 1855 (unfortunately the images are FHC-only):

enter image description here

Cross-checking this against the passenger lists or viewing the image of the transfer permit at an FHC might tell us whether Carl Harmann was a passenger on board a ship arriving in the port of New York.

Second thoughts: What happened to the bodies of people who died on board ship?

  • For passenger lists which list 'nearest relative' or 'person going to meet' (post 1898) the master has contact information for someone who might be able to claim the body (later than this era). What happened in 1855, when the master did not have this information?
  • 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.

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 buildings.

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.

The Olive Tree Genealogy website has a List of those who died while in Staten Island Quarantine May 1849 - Dec. 1850. This is the wrong time period for your voyage, but the page says that the information was reprinted with the permission of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries, Inc. Staten Island.

F.A.C.S.I. maintains many obscure records, original correspondence, maps, etc. for a 200 year period for Staten Island as well as New Jersey.

Between 1799-1858 most of those that died while in quarantine were buried at two locations. One site in the St. George section of Staten Island (cemetery operated between 1799-1849). The other known Staten Island Quarantine Cemetery (operated 1849/50-1858) is located at what is now the Silver Lake Golf Course.

For background information on burials in New York City, see the article The Cemetery Belt, and the book Fairchild cemetery manual a reliable guide to the cemeteries of Greater New York and vicinity (1910). (Thanks to genealogist Laura DeGrazia for Tweeting links to these resources.)

Other information about the voyage

From Genealogy Bank: published Thursday, May 31, 1855, in the American Traveller (Boston, MA), Page 3:

The ship William Stetson, Capt. Jordan, from Liverpool, arrived at New York on Sunday, brings 250 Mormons among the passengers, all bound West. Among the infants there have been four deaths and two births, one of them off Staten Island.

Bear in mind that 'infant' in 1855 meant a different age range than it does today. Jo B. Paoletti in her book Pink and Blue notes (pg 2) that "an 18-month-old would be considered an 'infant' in 1885 and a 'toddler' in 1935."

The Genealogy Bank blog posts tips on searching for ships there, like this installment Ship Records for Genealogy: Newspapers & Passenger Lists which includes examples of articles describing cholera outbreaks on ships from 1854.

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.

More questions:

  • 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)?

Birth Records

For those born on the voyage, the article on New York Vital Records on the Family Search Wiki says that whatever birth records might exist for 1855 will be at the town level.

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? (At first, I thought that their reports may have been lost in the 1911 fire at the State Library of New York.)

On a prior answer, I left this comment (posted Jul 19, 2015 at 22:59):

According to USCIS historian Marian L. Smith, the only records which survive for NY arrivals before 1897 are US Customs House records, created by the US Customs Service. The Castle Garden and Barge Office passenger lists (which would have had immigration information like the later lists) were transferred to Ellis Island and were destroyed in the 1897 Ellis Island fire.

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?

Ships logs and company records

Note also that while we think of the manifests required by the US as "arrival lists", during some periods they were 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 question, the surviving lists are US Customs House lists. I don't know as much about the process by which these lists were created as I do about the later passenger lists, but differences in handwriting might provide clues about what information was filled out first (e.g. if the list was created in the departure port) and what was added later.

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 questions are: where was the William Stetson registered, and what company was in charge of the ship? The home port might determine what regulations were in effect, and what information would be required in the log. There might be correspondence in the BT records held by TNA and/or in any company archives that survive for the shipping company.

Marian L. Smith presented a webinar on 27 March 2015 (repeated on 29 May 2015) as part of the "Records Found" Case Studies series at USCIS:

How Castle Garden Records Burned in the Ellis Island Fire

Exactly what records burned in the 1897 fire that consumed Ellis Island? Were “some,” “many,” “most,” or “all” records destroyed? Were passenger lists destroyed or “only administrative” records? Some say State and municipal records were burned, but why would those records be at a Federal immigration station? Did we really lose anything in that fire? Join Marian L. Smith and the live USCIS Records Found webinar at 1:00 p.m. ET on Friday, March 27th for answers to these burning questions for New York passenger list research.

During the webinar, Smith discussed the records that were created from the period 1820-1897, who holds them, and which records were lost in the fire at Ellis Island on June 15, 1897. (Technical problems made it difficult to hear the live presentation, so my notes are not complete, and in any case, mistakes in the section below are mine and not Smith's errors. Unfortunately, USCIS is not allowed to post recordings of their webinars, so I can't link to a recording.)

Looking at the passenger lists at Ancestry.com, here's what the card catalog says:

Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

This is the first group discussed by Smith in her lecture. It's important to remember that all records were created by agencies for their own purposes, most often because it was mandated by law, and that the information contained within was intended to meet the needs and mandates of the times. Since these records were created for the U.S. Customs Service, they are more concerned with what people are bringing into the country, and not as much about the people, as you would find on the immigration lists that we are used to from 1898 onwards.

Another set of records was created from 1855 to 1890 by the New York State Commissioners of Emigration, whose published annual reports are available at the New York State Library. However, in 1896 a law was passed authorizing the transfer of the registers kept by the NY State Commissioners to the Federal Government. Smith found clues about what information might have been in the registers from newspaper accounts, and information about the transfer of the ledgers from contemporary correspondence. The evidence she found shows that the ledgers were transferred to the custody of NY State to the Federal Government just in time to be burned up in the fire at Ellis Island on June 15, 1897. However, she notes that the NY State Library itself had a fire in 1911, so even if the records had not been transferred, they might have been lost anyway.

There are some voyages in this period for some ships where we have BOTH a U.S. Customs Service list and a passenger list which was created for immigration; if the ship stopped at ports other than New York, the passenger list might survive. One of Smith's slides showed a comparison of the Customs List and a Baltimore Passenger List for the ship WESSER (I believe that was from 1895). So it might be worthwhile to double-check the voyage of the William Stetson to see if the ship was scheduled to dock at other ports besides the Port of New York. If you can find a passenger list from another port from this time period, the header would show what information might have been on the passenger lists lost in the Ellis Island fire.

It would be interesting to see what we could find by comparing all the surviving lists for each voyage of these ships. I think Ancestry has published some teasers about correlating the data for the outbound and inbound passenger lists, but even if that project were complete, the UK Outbound Passenger lists kept by the Board of Trade (BT 27) date from 1890-1960, so they don't start early enough for this period. But a comparison of the passenger lists for each port, for ships that stopped at multiple ports in the USA, might give you some clues if the ship stopped somewhere before NYC. Perhaps sites like The Ships List or The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild would yield some clues.

This does not get us any closer to the answer about who died on the voyage, but it may explain why the information about people who died on board is missing or incomplete on the passenger list we have. U.S. Customs officials would have been concerned with the property of people who were on board ship for Customs purposes. They would not have been as concerned about the people who died on board, especially infants who had no property of their own.


People researching events at sea in the early 20th Century can consult a collection of maritime registrations at the NYC Muni Archives:

The New York City Municipal Archives also holds two small collections of vital records that are not specific to the past or present boundaries of New York City. These are the maritime birth, death, and marriage registrations, 1901-1948, and the death registers for United States soldiers serving in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898-1900.

See Collection: REC0051 Maritime birth, death, and marriage registrations

More resources:


I tried GenealogyBank.com, but I couldn't figure out how to ask about a ship (particularly one with such a genealogically significant name) instead of a person. See here. If I figure out the answer to that question, I'll look for you.

I looked on the ships of WeRelate.org, but didn't find that ship. More work has been done on the ships of the Great Migration. You might try entering the ship, the William Stetson, on werelate using a ship template. You could then enter your question on the 'talk' page and you might find others willing to help or someone who already knows the answer.

The question what-are-ways-to-collaborate-with-other-genealogists lists some 'random acts of kindess' sites. Maybe someone on GenerousGenealogists.com would be willing to help you.

  • Setting the date for '1855 (exact)' and entering the word 'ship' and the phrase "William Stetson" (in quotes) in the keyword field results in 8 items marked 'passenger list' and 11 'newspaper articles'.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 22:09

Coming at the problem from the UK end:

Findmypast has a collection of UK Maritime BMDs which are based on records from The National Archives at Kew. There's a description at the link of what they have. Are you looking for particular names, as the record set isn't browsable.

I haven't found anything helpful at The British Newspaper Archive -- just the same sort of brief report that you already have.

I can't find anything relevant at The National Archives

An infant death (Dorothy Hoggard) is mentioned here

The birth (and death after landfall) of baby William Stetson [Grogan] is mentioned here

  • Isn't that baby William Stetson Parks?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 16:03
  • @JanMurphy I think you're right -- in the early days of this question it wasn't obvious that there were 2 babies born aboard named after William Stetson.
    – user104
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 16:15
  • I'm making the assumption (perhaps not correct) that her mother and newborn baby brother? share the surname of Ellen Jane (Parks) Johnstun. I've used the newspaper convention here of putting what I assume is her maiden name in parentheses -- her oral history states later on that she married William James Johnstun in 1868.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 22, 2013 at 16:22

Dorothy Hoggard was one of the infants who died on the trip. Mary Shields and William Stetson McGrogan are my ancestors who were born aboard ship during that voyage.

William Stetson McGrogan was born 5 May 1855 aboard the William Stetson. Another baby was born aboard ship and named William Stetson as it was sometimes the custom to name a baby after the ship.

Though listed as Mary Shields born 19 May 1855 aboard that ship, she was baptized Ann Jane Shields in July 1855 near Pittsburgh. Her cousin, William Stetson McGrogan, was also baptized in July 1855, same place. Passenger lists and baptismal records document these dates. So there were definitely two babies named William Stetson.

  • Do you have sources for this (e.g., ship's records, birth/death certificates), or is this word-of-mouth family history?
    – Luke_0
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:41
  • books.google.co.uk/… suggests that a baby born on board and named William Stetson didn't survive -- were there two?
    – user104
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 10:24
  • It appears you accidentally made two accounts, so I've had them merged and I've edited your answers together. If you think they should be separate instead, feel free to leave a comment here and I'll undo it. Thanks for you contributions here and a belated welcome to Genealogy.SE! :)
    – Luke_0
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 21:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.