The Adoption Witness: Ellen Berrigan; Perils and Pearls by Sea to Poughkeepsie

We sought Ellen, wife of Daniel Kelly of Poughkeepsie, NY, in connection to a possible link with our own genealogy.1 By best estimate, she was born in Ireland in 1825 and died about 1913.2a That she was born Berrigan is supported by newly released Roman Catholic Baptismal Records, which held listing for one of her sons.3

Ellen said she arrived in the US in 1859.2b She said so in her very old age. Now, Daniel Kelly was born about 1825 in Ireland, too. He was likely already in Poughkeepsie by 1850, but as a boarder, not providing enough detail for certainty.2c Ellen, as Kelly or Berrigan, was not in the census of that year. The couple, however, appeared in the 1860, with a daughter Mary, attributed to them.2d Mary was reportedly born in New York, in 1852. Therefore, the suggested 1859 arrival more likely happened late 1850, or in 1851.

There are a couple of choices for her arrival as Ellen Berrigan in this earlier timeframe. We selected an excellent fit, knowing there could be others that have not been digitized and that other searchers may claim this one, their own fit: Ellen Berrigan, born about 1826 in Ireland, who was aboard the ship “Shannon” from Liverpool. It arrived in New York on 03 MAR 1851.2e

Ellen was one of six Berrigan aboard: Margaret b. 1791, likely mother to Thomas, Thomas b. 1814, Margaret b. 1821, Ellen b. 1826, John b. 1849 and Mary b. 1851. Our assumption was that either the younger Margaret or Ellen was Thomas’ wife.   


The Berrigan family was aboard a ship whose manifest is included in the United States Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851.2f The Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild allows us to see that the ship’s Master tallied 35 deaths among its 364 passengers. (check notes and sources). That there were also births at sea, conveys urgency in the passenger’s dispatch from their homeland.  

It was a sailing of hope with 03 March on the horizon. It was one of despair, past dragging into present, and of grief-struck joy. Our hungry Berrigan group had the most impossible voyage of all. Thomas was among the 35, having perished on the 14th of February. He was only 37; had he fatally sacrificed his own nutrition, for that of his wife and children? Infant Mary was born while at sea. We do not know if father and daughter felt each other’s touch.


If so, then know she is the sole surviving Berrigan passenger to be located, once docked.  That might not be surprising given that, in their surmised poor health, more might soon fail, and that whomever was the impoverished widow with babes, would look for a quick remarriage.

We have not found a birth report for Mary Kelly, born 1852, NY, to Daniel and Ellen, but then, neither have we, for most of her younger siblings. Under all these circumstances, it occurs that she could be the child born at sea, easily incorporated as Kelly.  On the other hand, the ship’s documents did assign Ireland as that child’s native country, which may have been legal reckoning.   

We shall be seeing more of Ellen Kelly as the Poughkeepsie piece of our project moves forward, while keeping this Ellen Berrigan in mind. Please place questions or comments in the Reply Box that is below Notes and Sources.

John Kelly, US-born ca 1859, made Scotland Census 1881: Legbrannock area of Holytown District, Bothwell Parish. Who Was He?  No other Scotland count listed him, nor anyone similar, for decades around. This British Subject and ploughman did not wed his partner, but recognized their son’s birth in 1882, then disappeared from ledgers. Their son may have been adopted and become our history. We sought John Kelly in Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness. CLICK for stories in our continuing search.


1 This project began in “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness by Marilee Wein © 2018 Published by

2 Sourced at US Censuses 1850 -1910, as provided to them by NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). Specifically, for Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York and New York US State Censuses decennial 1865-1915; 2a) Ellen Kelly b. 1825, was on US C1910 but absent NYS C1915 with NY Death Indices available for Ellen Kelly in 1913 and 1914. 2b)1910 for Ellen Kelly 2c)1850 for Daniel Kelly 2d)1860 for Daniel and Ellen Kelly. 2e. New York U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1957, Year 1851: Arrival New York, NY USA Microfilm Serial M237, 1820-1897; Line 13 List Number 179, for six Berrigan persons on the Shannon from Liverpool, arriving 03MAR1851. 2f. United States Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851. (Thomas’ death is counted in the 35, but his date of death is found in the 2e documentation.)

3 Sourced at New York Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms registers for John Kelly born 1855 of Daniel Kelly and Ellen Berrigan in Poughkeepsie. Note: Ellen claimed 5 children born, while her lifetime of censuses showed only four. This John born 1855 may have perished as infant, with the next child assuming his name.

12 thoughts on “The Adoption Witness: Ellen Berrigan; Perils and Pearls by Sea to Poughkeepsie

  1. There were so many lives sacrificed on the emigrant trans-Atlantic journey, but the alternative was a life of continued poverty. I just watched a program on the Austrian Arte channel about the harrowing journey the emigrants made and the horrible conditions.


  2. It is always sad to read about the harrowing experiences the emigrants faced when crossing the Atlantic, particularly in the early years of sail ships. Even later with steamships, the steerage class claimed so many lives, such as poor Thomas. It is important to remember them and remember the sacrifices they made.


  3. It is always sad to read another account of the sacrifices made by emigrants when crossing the Atlantic. It was horrific during the early years of sail ships, but still awful when steamships reigned and passengers’ lives were lost in steerage. It is noteworthy to remember our ancestor’s stories and to share them so we don’t foreget.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It turns out that Ellen was not related to me, but I was happy that her story urged me on. I later found that this ordinary person who weathered this extraordinary circumstance, then continued a good and ordinary life. We spend so much energy idolizing some, when the Good Lord favors us all, as special.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was young, I used to enjoy fiction more than non-fiction. These days, I prefer the latter. I find it profoundly inspiring to read about the challenges real men and women have overcome.


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