ship manifests

Stay Up All Night to Get Lucky

If you’re like me, the ear-worm music of Daft Punk is back in your head after their recent Grammy win. Which has me thinking about genealogists and researchers who say, “I got lucky” when a document emerges that helps things fall into place. I’m certainly guilty as well, so I have to remind myself that it’s not luck. With so many records online, one clue can lead to another, and another, then a search query tweaked and – voila. That “fall into place,” however, can be at the expense of dinner, or a bedtime, or any number of other responsibilities. Genealogists stay up all night, but it’s not about getting lucky.

Sometimes, though, ancestors were in the right place at the right time. Here’s an example I’ve been researching: the client knew Anna Jenkins’ and Wolf Fagen’s approximate birthdates; that they were born in Russia; and lived in both Worcester, Massachusetts and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

One of the goals of the project was to determine where in Russia Anna and Wolf were originally from, so I started looking for their ship manifest, a document that bridges the Old and New World.

I located a 1907 manifest for Wolf and Annie Fagen. The ages matched what was known, and their final destination was Philadelphia. I noted that while their birthplace was listed as “Wilna,” their last permanent residence wasn’t somewhere in “Russia,” but Liverpool, England. Those were clues I decided to investigate at another time.

Next up was to determine how long Anna and Wolf lived in Philadelphia. That meant looking for the 1910 US Census, which would show how long they had been married; if they had any children; and their date of arrival in the US. I looked for them without any results, even looking at the address where they had first lived with an uncle. I expanded the search to Massachusetts, still no hits. I reviewed what I knew, and decided to try a “friends and family” approach by looking for possible relatives of Anna and Wolf in Liverpool in the 1911 England Census.

What I found was unexpected: Anna and Wolf Fagen living in Liverpool in 1911! They had two children, one born in Philadelphia, and one born in Liverpool. That narrowed the time frame down to when the Fagens returned to England from the US.

But there were children known to be born in Massachusetts, which meant at least one more trip across the pond. I returned to examining ship manifests, and found that the Fagens, now with three children, one born in Philadelphia and the two younger ones born in Liverpool, traveling to Boston in 1912. Their final destination: Worcester, to the home of Anna’s father.

I have a lot more work to do in researching and writing this family’s history, but I’ve already learned a lot, and I’m grateful they were in the right place (England) at the right time (1911), so an enumerator could capture their demographic details.