I love Henry Louis Gates’ television show, “Finding Your Roots.” In the show, he takes a famous person and leads the person on a genealogical journey through a “Book of Life,” where he shares that key, or important, findings with the individual. Invariably he has a place where his guest turns a page which reveals an important document. Often, he says something like, “I’d like you to meet your third great grandmother.” <pause> “How does it feel to learn of them…” Finding that one key document which introduces the individual’s ancestor is always an amazing part of the show and thoroughly enjoyable.
Typically, when I research someone, there are no great documents that open the heavens and releases the sound of angels singing. Usually, it is grueling work sifting through various census and vital records. Each finding adds just a little more information about their life. In my recent work on my Blanchard Project, I was going through dozens of City Directories and various logbooks of the First Lutheran Church of Portland, Maine. Each finding was just another small bit of information that added to the story of the Halvorsen’s immigration to the United States. Then, suddenly, I came across one of those documents which made me say, “Oh my.”
The document was a passenger list of the S.S. Scythia which arrived in Boston on 23 August 1884. On the ship was my Blanchard project’s 18-year-old, great-grandmother, Hannah Halvorsen, and Hannah’s mother, Dorothea. With them were five other siblings. The list was a treasure trove of information. That passenger list represents the exact moment that much of her family arrived in America. Her 2nd-great-grandfather, Thomas, had come to the States earlier and established himself in Portland, Maine to prepare the way for his family’s arrival.
Additionally, this is the only document we have that shows that Dorothea made it to the United States. All other records, beginning less than three years later (June 1887) indicate she was deceased. Until I found this passenger list, I thought Thomas’ wife may have died in Norway and that he brought the kids to the United States by himself. I still need to learn how and were Thomas arrived in the States, but it will come.