Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whaling records put hole in my Kendrick brick wall

   *Note to family - a brick wall to a genealogist is an apparent dead end or at least a stumbling block in uncovering an ancestor's past.          
         My great grandfather Thomas Kendrick settled in San Francisco in the early 1870’s, married and what followed is well documented.  It is his life before settling in San Francisco that is baffling.  All we knew was second hand from my grandfather Charles or from my aunts' recollections of what he had said.  I had the name of his parents from my grandfather’s memoir: John Kendrick and Maria Howard. Thomas said he was born in Warren, Rhode Island in 1852; that was what he stipulated in census records. However, I had searched for years without luck in finding a birth record, a census record, anything that would tie him to his stated place of origin.  What we knew from him was that he had run away to sea from New Bedford at the age of fourteen.  He had sailed on the whaler Progress and the Sea Breeze.  Based on that information in 2002 I wrote to the New Bedford Public Library in Massachusetts.  New Bedford P.L. has a comprehensive card index (maybe 30-40 drawers) of sailors from New England. They have been converting these records into a digital format, searchable on the internet, but their project only goes as far as 1860.  My great grandfather was born in 1852 so my search for his sailing records started with 1866.  An unsatisfying response from the librarian at New Bedford only added to my negative search for birth records, census records, even immigration records.  According to his San Francisco census records of 1890 and 1900, his parents were born in Ireland, but so far no immigration records have surfaced to show their arrival in the US.
                A planned trip last Fall to the NEHGS (New England Historical Genealogical Society) inspired me to tackle this problem again.  I did a newspaper search in the SF Chronicle and Examiner archives for Thomas Kendrick and found an informative article on occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of Thomas and Catherine Kendrick.  In it he details highlights of his adventurous life including a stay in the Ascension Islands (South Pacific) where he lived with the natives for months before seeking work on a whaler the Sea Breeze that had stopped in the Islands to take on provisions.  I felt inspired! 

              After flying to Boston, I rented a car and drove down to New Bedford, MA.  Formerly a busy whaling port, it is an attractive town with great pride in its seafaring and whaling history.  Since it was Columbus Day everything was closed, so I drove over to Warren, Rhode Island to see the town where Thomas Kendrick was born. I took note of the Catholic Church, St Mary by the Bay, which was founded in 1850 to serve the newly arrived Catholics.  I would have to see if a baptismal record might exist at a later date. That day the Church was closed. 
                The following day I went to the New Bedford Public Library and looked through their whaling records and the drawers of indexed sailors names.  There was nothing in the “K” drawer, but I was unwilling to be defeated.  Suddenly a light bulb went on.   These index cards were transcriptions from original records.  Transcriptions as every researcher knows are not infrequently miscopied and/or misspelled.  A “K” could appear to be an “R” or an “H” so I checked… and there it was.  Hendricks, Thomas, age 20, 5’2” black hair, blue eyes.  He was shipping out on the Bark Progress in 1870.  The height wasn’t right, nor was the age, but the ship was one he’d mentioned.  With this information in hand I went down to the Whaling Museum Research Library (a real treasure for genealogists) and asked to see the original ship’s crew list for the 1870 voyage of The Progress… and there he was. It looked like a “K” to me and it said he was 6 feet 2 inches (not 5’2”) and born in Warren Rhode Island.  I was elated. 
                Further conversation with the librarian there and a review of my newspaper article from 1925, prompted me to ask for information on the ship Sea Breeze  The Library had the Sea Breeze log book from a whaling voyage that covered a period from 1871 to 1873. On May 11, 1872 the Captain noted that the ship stopped at Ascension Island where he took on three sailors, which he named.  The third name wasThomas Kenrick, Seaman.  The new sailors agreed to work as far as San Francisco. The librarian and volunteer were almost as excited as I was.  This was confirmation of great grandfather Kendrick’s story.  I wanted to read the rest of the log book, but didn’t have time.  I knew I would return to New Bedford in the future to research more, but for now I had accomplished my mission.  I proved that Thomas had indeed shipped out of New Bedford on the ship Progress.  I had the records to prove it.