Her name was changed in Philadelphia, and other tall tales

By J. L. Starkey

“An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”

– Orlando Aloysius Battista

Twitter user Rebecca Fachner brought a laugh to St. Patrick’s Day when she reminded her followers that “…some of us get to be red headed and have Irish ancestry all the time.

Anne Kennedy, ca. 1900
[Family photo collection]

My sister got the red hair (and I’ll always envy her for that!), but we all inherited the Irish ancestry, which grants us membership in a unique demographic [1].

Approximately 9.7% of US citizens (or about one in ten) claim Irish heritage, and our immigrant ancestors each have stories waiting to be discovered.

My great-grandmother is one of those ancestors, and over the years, I’ve amassed a large cache of information about her. No longer the mysterious woman in the photo, by March 2022 Anne Kennedy Reedy had birth and baptism dates, a marriage date and location, a death date and cause of death, and even a cemetery record.

She also had an arrival date and ship. Turns out, she was an Ellis Island immigrant (and no, her name wasn’t changed there). After she arrived in the summer of 1896, she made her way to Chicago after a brief stopover in Syracuse, New York.

I was thrilled to find that record, and I planned to put Anne’s name next to her husband’s on the Ellis Island Wall of Honor. Yes, her story was just about perfect.

Too bad it wasn’t correct.

Coming to…Syracuse?

Ellis Island, ca. 1896 [2]

In my defense, Anne Kennedy bears at least some responsibility for my mistake, because she made it incredibly difficult to track down her immigration record. In the 1900 census, for example, she stated that she arrived in 1894 [3]. In 1910, she stated that she arrived in 1895, while in 1920, she said the year was 1896 [4]. Finally, in 1930, she said that she arrived in 1898 [5].

Anne’s immigration year varied with each census. [FamilySearch images]

Using an arrival window of 1894 through 1898 as a guide, I found a woman named Annie Kennedy on a July 1896 manifest for the RMS Campania [6]. Her birth year and occupation both matched my great-grandmother’s information from the 1900 census, and while I’d never heard that Anne once lived in Syracuse, I was almost certain that this was the correct record.

As time went on, though, I kept coming back to that document. If Anne first settled in Syracuse, why didn’t I find more of my Kennedy ancestors there, given the prevalence of the surname in that area? Why didn’t any of her siblings or cousins list Syracuse as their intended destination? And why was there absolutely no mention of Syracuse in any family records?

“It’s because you have the wrong Anne Kennedy,” whispered my inner skeptic.

Darn that little voice…why does it always have to be right?

The details matched, but was this the correct Anne Kennedy? [FamilySearch image]

Once more, with alterations

In March 2022, I took another look at Anne’s immigration history, this time with wider search parameters. I knew that she probably didn’t immigrate alone, and that she probably lived with a relative after she came to America.

With those details in mind, I searched for individuals with the Kennedy surname who were born within two years of 1875, and who immigrated within two years of 1895. Additionally, I left the “gender” field blank, a choice which turned out to be a wise one.

The search returned a result for a male named Anne Kennedy who last resided in Killermore, Ireland [7]. This individual arrived in Philadelphia via the Southwark on April 21, 1895.

New search parameters lead to a surprise! [Ancestry image]

Suspecting an indexing error or two, I clicked on the image and was greeted with results that were – well, blurry at best.

Correct record? Blurry image made the search difficult. [Ancestry image]

Though the document was difficult to decipher, I noted that this individual was female, but she had been incorrectly indexed as a male. She was 19 years old, worked as a servant, and was from Nenagh, Tipperary, Ireland.

In short, she was a spot-on match for my Anne Kennedy.

But was she indeed my great-grandmother? After all, “Annie from Syracuse” also matched all of those details.

As I considered next steps, I noticed the word Roselle in column 17 of Anne’s listing on the manifest. I had definitely seen that word before, and often. After all, Anne’s aunts and uncles once lived in the town of Roselle in Union County, New Jersey. If this was my Anne, were their names listed in that illegible portion of the “relative” column?

I tracked down the typed index card for Anne’s manifest listing, and my spirits soared…but only for a moment [8]. Yes, Anne was meeting her aunt in Roselle, but that woman was “Mrs. Ripan.”

Who was Mrs. Ripan? [FamilySearch image]

Ripan? That surname wasn’t in any Kennedy family documents. The closest name would have been Ryan, but really, it couldn’t be –

Hold on. Wait just a moment here!

I looked again at that blurry, smudged entry under column 16 and wished that it was a bit clearer. Was Mrs. Ripan actually Mrs. Ryan?

Anne Kennedy sent me a timely message on that March 2022 day. She reminded me that while it is essential to check several sources for a variety of records, it is equally important to find multiple sources for the same document, since image quality can vary significantly among sources.

So it was for Anne Kennedy and Mrs. Ripan.

Correction: Make that Mrs. Ryan, better known to my great-grandmother as “Aunt Margaret.”

Take a look!

Clearer copy of Anne Kennedy’s immigration record [FamilySearch image]

The “Ryan” surname is obscured in the top image but easier to read in the bottom image.
[Ancestry and FamilySearch images]

Anne Kennedy, found at last

The SS Southwark, ca. 1893 [9]

My great-grandmother never set foot on Ellis Island, nor did she ever live in Syracuse. In actuality, she departed from Queenstown, Ireland, on April 12, 1895, as ticketed passenger 27742, bound for the Port of Philadelphia [10].

My great-grandmother’s emigration record, finally found! [Ancestry image]

Nine days later, on April 21, 1895, Anne arrived in Philadelphia, where her Aunt Margaret and Uncle Michael were waiting for her. Less than two months later, she would appear in her first official American document: the 1895 New Jersey census [12]. Her new life had officially begun.

The Southwark departs from Queenstown [11]

Meanwhile, back in Nenagh, James Kennedy would anxiously await word of his daughter’s arrival in America. If he read the April 23 edition of The Irish Daily Independent, his mind was no doubt put at ease by the seven-word news item about the Southwark.

Just seven words…that was all.

Seven words note Anne Kennedy’s arrival in America [13]

But Anne’s voyage merited many more words than that, and it would soon make headlines across her newly-adopted homeland. It was a journey filled with anticipation, drama, danger, and finally, blessings.

But that’s a story for another time, isn’t it?


  1. Moore, Derick, et al. “Residents with Irish Ancestry Are in All 3,142 U.S. Counties and Make up 20% of the Population in Some.” Census.gov, 25 Mar. 2021, https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/happy-saint-patricks-day-to-one-of-ten-americans-who-claim-irish-ancestry.html.
  2. First Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor. Opened January 2, 1892. Completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897. By unidentified photographer – Personal image of old stereo photograph, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14686136.
  3. “United States Census, 1900”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MS73-HH1 : 14 December 2021), Annie Kennedy in entry for Norman Carroll, 1900.
  4. “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MKZ7-WJW : accessed 15 March 2023), Annie Reidy in household of John Reidy, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 839, sheet , family , NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll ; FHL microfilm. [See also: “United States Census, 1920”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJ7V-FZR : 1 February 2021), Annie Ready in entry for Jno Ready, 1920.]
  5. “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XSLY-L9Y : accessed 15 March 2023), Anna Reedy in household of John Reedy, Chicago (Districts 0501-0750), Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 713, sheet 28B, line 51, family 337, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 447; FHL microfilm 2,340,182.)
  6. “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JX7Q-65M : 2 March 2021), Annie Kennedy, 1896.
  7. The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; NAI Number: 4492386; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840; Roll: 22
  8. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger List Index Cards, 1883-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KFDZ-R89 : 23 February 2021), Anne Kennedy, 1895; citing Immigration, NARA microfilm publication T526 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,380,284.
  9. Southwark, Old Photo Postcard. Usage permitted under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Accessed 20 Mar 2023 @ http://www.norwayheritage.com/gallery/gallery.asp?action=viewimage&imageid=1808&text=&categoryid=20&box=&shownew=.
  10. “UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960”, Ancestry database. Queenstown > 1895 > Apr [digital image 55 of 192]. Retrieved March 2022 Original data: The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; BT27 Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and Successors: Outwards Passenger Lists; Reference Number: Series BT27-. Retrieved Mar 2022 from ancestry.com. (See also: “United Kingdom, Outgoing Passenger Lists, 1890-1960”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:68LP-YTZD : 27 October 2021), Anne Kennedy, 1895.)
  11. “Queenstown Shipping List,” The Irish Daily Independent, Dublin, Ireland, 13 Apr 1895, p. 2, col. 7. Retrieved 20 Mar 2023 from Irish Newspaper Archives via American Ancestors.
  12. “New Jersey State Census, 1895,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL8B-L9BM : 9 August 2022), Annie Kennaday in household of August Orlanski, Union Township, Union, New Jersey, United States; citing p. 80, household , line #, Department of State, Trenton; FHL microfilm.
  13. “Lloyd’s Mail News,” The Irish Daily Independent, Dublin, Ireland, 23 Apr 1895, p. 3, col. 7. Retrieved 20 Mar 2023 from Irish Newspaper Archives via American Ancestors.

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