Check Out Our Genealogy Blog »

A Lesson from 9/11---Share and Help Where You Can

The following is an extra long blog for this 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, but relates how genealogy can help heal even the deepest wounds. Above is a photo of Ralph Kershaw.

Disbelief, just utter and total disbelief, was our reaction at what we were watching on the television that fateful September 11th morning.  The national news was reporting not one plane, but now a second plane crashing right into the second World Trade Center Tower.  As the day wore on and the immerse events were examined repeatedly, all one could focus on were the unknown numbers of people killed or injured in the planes, the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon or on the ground.

The names of the passengers on the various planes that were hijacked appeared a few days later in the newspaper. On the United Airlines plane, Flight 175, from Boston that smashed into the south side of the second Tower, was a passenger’s name that caught my eye, that of Ralph Kershaw, a marine surveyor and boating expert from Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.  My maiden name was Kershaw and my father’s family was from the Eastern Massachusetts area.  With the many years of genealogical research I had done on the surname ‘Kershaw’ and our branch, I was fairly confident Ralph was not a relative.

The following year Ralph’s name appeared in the newspaper again and was read aloud at the first year ceremonies at ground zone in New York City.  Now I had this urgent and strong impulse to contact Ralph’s family.  I googled his name and found that his niece, Aileen Kershaw Murphy, had set up a memorial web site in her uncle’s honor.

With her email address on the site, I wrote her offering my condolences for her family’s lost and explained about the family surname. She wrote back immediately about how pleased they were to hear from me and were very interested in learning their own family history.  Aileen stated they knew very little about the Kershaw family ancestors or even when they came to America from England. I offered to begin a search for them.

With the few contemporary relatives’ names and dates on the male side sent by Aileen, I started with the Social Security Death Index to get complete names, dates and locations of family members. Ralph’s father was Raymond R. Kershaw (1908 – 1979) and there was an uncle, Clarence R. Kershaw (1900 – 1963).  This was confirmed with a death date of December 30, 1979 on a search with the Family Search site. Comparing names, dates and locations, I then worked through the census decades, starting with the U. S. Federal 1930 census available on the first and later went over the 1920 census. At this point I located Raymond’s first wife, Blanche A. (nee Files) in the 1930 census.

I continued working back in time using the U. S. Federal 1910 and then the 1900 census records. Everything was matching up children with parents, ages and locations.  Keeping records of everything found and its source helped put the pieces together. I gathered information on where Raymond and Clarence lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts, which was just north of Boston and their occupations.  From the 1910 through 1920 censuses, I learned Raymond’s and Clarence’s parents’ names were John Greenleaf Kershaw and Bessie Kershaw.

Working backwards on John G. Kershaw’s name in the U. S. Federal 1900 census, it proved helpful that the birth month and year were listed in that census. The age matched with the later census records. This 1900 census gave the year John stated when he emigrated from England, that of 1885.   For his wife, Bessie, she stated she arrived in 1874 from England.

With that knowledge I requested copies of any records via the email address: on the Internet web site for the Massachusetts Archives in Boston that showed exactly when John Greenleaf Kershaw immigrated to America.   Within a short time, Massachusetts Archives mailed back a copy of John’s Immigration Index Card showing that he was on the SS Missouri from England with his older brother, Ephraim Kershaw and arrived at the Port of Boston on September 4, 1884.

This difference of one year as listed in the 1900 census and the immigration card demonstrated that when requesting additional records give a scan of a couple of years, like 1883 – 1885. Using with their Boston Passenger Lists 1820 – 1943 database provided a great source to call up the image of the ship’s manifest (list) showing John, age 8 and Ephraim Kershaw, age 14 years old, traveling from the Port of Liverpool, England to the Port of Boston for the first time with their arrival in 1884.  The question still came to mind of why these two young boys traveled alone without any adults or parents to America.

So next was the task of finding John and Ephraim’s parents. Using the 1881 British U. K. census on the Family Search Center, the brothers John and Ephraim Kershaw were located in the same household with their parents, John G. and Elizabeth H. Kershaw.  They lived in Bradford in Yorkshire County, England with their residence at # 9 Garnett Square.  The census provided the father’s age as 30 years old, born about 1851 in Bradford and his occupation as “black dyer”.  The wife, Elizabeth, was listed as being only 23 years old, born about 1858 in Bishophill, Yorkshire County.  She appeared to be too young to have given birth to Ephraim, who was 10 years old at the March 1881 UK census.   That led to checking the marriage vital records on the Free BMD Rootsweb database site for John G. Kershaw.  It appeared he might have been married to a first wife, Eliza Gardner, in the first quarter, January – March 1869 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England.   Ephraim’s birth was also located registered in the quarter of July – September 1870  in the District of Leeds and Eliza Gardner the natural mother.

Checking the U. S. Naturalization records on John G., the father and his sons John and Ephraim, helped provide some answers.  Going to the National Archives and Records Administration for the Northeast Region web site and then e-mailing the Archives:, I requested and later received copies of the father’s naturalization papers.  John had petitioned and taken his Oath of Allegiance in the Police Court of Lawrence, Essex County, Massachusetts on February 25, 1890.  At this time, in late 19th century, the father becoming a citizen also made his minor sons U. S. citizens “derivative citizenship.” The document also gave the date the father immigrated to America through New York as  August 18, 1882, two years before their sons, John and Ephraim arrived.  Researching the Castle Garden’s online database did not produce any results of the ship John Kershaw arrived on in 1882. Yet, many of the pieces of the family history were coming together now.

Starting research of the Kershaw family in Yorkshire, I found several pieces of conflicting information. Based on John G. Kershaw’s U. S. naturalization papers, he stated he was born February 21, 1848 in Bradford, Yorkshire County, but I had already viewed the 1881 UK census with a birth year of 1851 for John.  Using the Free BMD Rootsweb Index did not produce a listing for his English birth registration.  Therefore, I went back prior to the UK 1881 census using the UK Census Collection, first checking the UK 1871 census.  John G. Kershaw was age 21 years old, living at #75 Botany Bay in Armley, Yorkshire County.  His wife, Eliza Gardner Kershaw and their seven-month-old son, Ephraim, were in the household.  John worked as a laborer in a dye house.  In reviewing the age in the UK census years 1871 and 1881, John would have been born about 1850 to 1851.   However, on his U.S. Naturalization papers he clearly had written 1848.

Next I reviewed the UK 1861 census,  looking for a boy born about 1848 when I came across a John G. Kershaw living in Yorkshire with his uncle, John Webster Kershaw, a tailor.  The boy was a tailor apprentice.  This did not seem right so I began checking the 1861 census for a Kershaw son born about 1851.  There in Wortby near Leeds in Yorkshire was located John Kershaw, age 10, the son of Ephraim and Mary Greensmith Kershaw.  This felt right, especially viewing the father’s given name of ‘Ephraim’, the same name that John G. Kershaw would later give his first-born son in 1870. His father, Ephraim was a police constable in Leeds.

John G. Kershaw married Eliza Gardner in 1869 based on the Free BMD Index and they settled in Armley.  By the 1901 UK census, John G. Kershaw’s mother, Mary Greensmith Kershaw was a widow, living at #8 Royal Park View in Headingley cum Burley in Yorkshire County with two adult children and one grandson.   John’s father, Ephraim must have died sometime between 1892 and 1900.

Checking the UK 1851 census for Ephraim Kershaw, John G. Kershaw’s father, it was discovered he was still living at home with his parents, John and Elizabeth Kershaw in Bradford, England. John Kershaw was born around 1798 in Sowerby, Yorkshire, England and Elizabeth was born about 1797 in Stamland, Yorkshire County.  So these additional names brought the lineage for Ralph Kershaw to his third great grandparents .

To find the death date for John Greenleaf Kershaw in Massachusetts I used the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness web site to contact a volunteer in the Essex County.  They managed to find the death date for John on December 19, 1908 in North Andover and then emailed me a copy of the death certificate.

There was a great deal more family lineage, great uncles and aunts, which I was able to locate on this Kershaw family. Many of the questions for Ralph Kershaw’s family were now answered with solid proof. The earliest back was John Kershaw, born 1798, then Ephraim Kershaw born about 1834, next his son, John G. Kershaw, born 1851, then John Greenleaf Kershaw, born 1873 followed by Raymond R. Kershaw, born in 1908 and then his son, Ralph F. Kershaw, born 1949.

I kept Aileen informed of my findings and did a complete family chart when I was finished. Aileen’s father, Alan, the only sibling to Ralph Kershaw, told Aileen in reference to my research,  he was “… completely impressed with your ability to gather information.   His father, Raymond, did not talk a lot about his family”. The family now had some, “type of connection to … the past, which gave them some sense of belonging to something” as relayed by Aileen.  They were especially interested in learning more about Yorkshire County in England where John G. Kershaw was born and the earliest Kershaws lived.

Alan and his wife, traveled to England on a special group tour in the Fall of 2005.   He felt so connected and loved the idea of exploring the towns and villages of Yorkshire where his ancestors once called home.

I have kept in contact with Aileen and her family over the years. We share this special bond of not only our surnames, but making a positive contribution to a family’s legacy by turning a tragedy into a genealogical triumph, for which they are very appreciative.  There is now a proud and rich heritage for Ralph and Alan Kershaw that can be handed down to their grandchildren.

NOTE: The full original case study of searching for the Ralph Kershaw family was written and published in Internet Genealogy Magazine, Moorshead Magazines, Sept. 2006, pages 9-14.

< Return To Blog Nice Post
offshore letter 11/09/11

My great-great-great grandfather was called Clarence Ross Kershaw and he was born in Massachusetts in 1872- his family had emigrated earlier from Britain. He later returned but his brothers ( I have no names apart from his) remained in the Boston Area. Might there be a connection?
Rosie 11/09/11

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.