My 2nd great-grandfather came to New York City sometime prior to my great-grandfather's birth in 1838. His wife was Bessie Louden, and my great-grandfather was orphaned at age 13, around 1851. This information comes from my great-grandfather's obituary in 1917. The only mention at all for a man I think is Richard is a Declaration of Intention, dated 1844 and filed in New York City.

Is there any way to get around this brick wall?

  • From where did Richard Turkington travel to NY? Was he married at the time and did his wife travel with him? Have you found other information about Bessie Louden? Which parent died in 1851? (Or could it have been both?)
    – Fortiter
    Aug 20, 2013 at 6:55
  • The answers at genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/2290/104 should be helpful for researching his arrival in the US.
    – user104
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:22
  • He and his wife were purported to be from Ireland. I do not know when they were married and I can find nothing on Bessie Louden. The obituary just says he was "orphaned". This information is the ONLY thing I can find after a year of searching. Ellis Island and its predecessor (Castle Rock?) did not exist at the time he would have had to have immigrated and I don't know when they came, except that it must have been before 1838 when his son William was born, nor even their ages at the time of William's birth. Sorry, I guess I am looking for where to go next to try to find them. Aug 21, 2013 at 16:00
  • Thank you; I just don't see quite how to use this, without little further information already. I will go back and look at the information again, though; I no longer have an Ancestry subscription, so I will have to go to the library. Aug 21, 2013 at 16:04
  • Do you have any evidence that William J Turkington was in the US before the 1870 census, other than his claimed NY birthplace (and that of his two children) in that census? Or do you know the location of his marriage to Anna D Adams around 1860? One of his children's death records claims William was born in England: familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NQH5-NJQ - could be an error, or a clue. Maybe he decided when moving to Chicago to claim to be from NY, to appear more American. Have you found him (or Richard) in the 1840, 1850 or 1860 US censuses, or indeed anything in the US bef 1870?
    – Rob Hoare
    Sep 19, 2013 at 1:08

1 Answer 1


As @ColeValleyGirl says, there's a related question On what ship did Franz Joseph Kerber (1825-1873) immigrate to the US?, so let's attack the other question, "How can I find death information for Richard Turkington?"

Since you have so little information about your 2g-grandfather, my advice would be to fill out more details of your great-grandfather's life first, in the hope that you could find more clues.

  1. Make a research journal to record information you find, what searches you have attempted, and the results you found, both positive and negative.
  2. Write a biographical profile of all the people you have mentioned in your question, and an associated timeline with all the events you have found so far, and a list of all the sources you have from which that information was taken. You've already mentioned some of the negative search results where you haven't found certain sources you would expect to find, like census records. Make a wantlist of records you would like to find, in chronological order, and list the information you would hope to find from them.
  3. Create a research plan by examining each assertion you have, and asking how you can find other sources to confirm the information you already have. Ask also what other records you could find that share the same information with your wantlist records. You've already done some of this already (using City Directories as a substitute for residence information, because you can't find a census). What else can you find that might be a substitute for other 'missing' records?
  4. Use the assertions you have to formulate research questions. Try to answer some of your research questions with other questions. What happened when your great-grandfather was orphaned at the age of 13? Did he go into an orphanage? What records might exist that would talk about an event like that?
  5. Use your modern-day knowledge to compare and contrast while you investigate the historical period. What happens when a child is orphaned at 13 today? What agencies would handle his case? When were those agencies established? Who (if anyone) did that job before? Collect general knowledge about what the laws required in that time period.
  6. Research what records are available for the places and time periods you are investigating. See the related questions Where are the NYC vital records on FamilySearch? and New York State vital records collections and other questions and answers for some ideas. There are extensive pages on researching in New York City in the Family Search Wiki. See New York City New York Genealogy.

I picked out the event of your g-grandfather being orphaned because if you can find more information about out that event, you might find a clue that would lead you to more information about his father's death.

The other problem with searching for death records, or any vital records, is that there is no guarantee you will find these records in the towns that a person lived, or where their parents lived. For births, sometimes a mother traveled to where her mother lived so she could have support during and after the birth; for marriages, couples sometimes traveled to the county courthouse in the next county over to get a license, because it was easier to get there than the county seat of their own county; for deaths (sadly) people can die anywhere, suddenly, when they are away from home.

Work from what you know, and work outwards, trying to take small steps as you go instead of big leaps. If you can't find an expected record like a census record, use other sources like the City Directories that you've already collected. Any of the techniques genealogists use to fill in the gap from the loss of the 1890 census can be applied to a case where you can't find your ancestors in a census. Reading case histories is a good way to find ideas for new approaches to search -- if the person is working in the same geographical area as you, you can discover new resources to search. If not, ask "they used this resource in their area -- is there something similar for New York City / Chicago?"

Don't neglect the great resources at the New York Public Library. One place to start might be their page with Research Guides for Researching Orphans in Genealogy.

This online Guide to New York City Death Records (downloadable PDF) at FamilySearch may also be useful.

  • Case history: In a similar situation, I found the father's death date in a passport application, when the eldest sister went back to England to get her now-orphaned younger sister and bring her to to the USA. This is why I recommend collecting and analyzing every record you can find relating to your great-grandfather, no matter what it may be. You can't know what record might have the clue you need until after you have found it.
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 10, 2013 at 18:10

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