Queenstown to Boston Aboard the R.M.S. Saxonia

John McNamara’s 1904 Arrival in America


R.M.S. Saxonia


I was determined to find the precise date of my father’s arrival in America, and with some careful research I was able to locate him aboard one of the many ships that brought immigrants to America.

I had always known that my father first arrived in Massachusetts, where he was met by members of his late mother’s family, the Nestors.  And though he never spoke much about his voyage to America, he did tell me that he stayed with his Nestor relatives briefly, as he was really on his way to stay with his oldest brother, Patrick, who was living in Paterson, New Jersey.

Armed with a few clues, I dug into records of immigrant arrivals kept by the United States National Archives.  As you might imagine, it is a daunting process to search through microfilms of old passenger lists.  But if you are willing to make the effort, one single immigrant can be located among millions.

I was able to locate a 17-year-old John McNamara aboard the R.M.S. Saxonia, which sailed from Queenstown (now called Cobh), Ireland on March 16, 1904, and disembarked passengers in Boston on March 25, 1904.  That young man was my father, as you can see by examining extracts from the passenger list presented below.

John McNamara circa 1910


As the R.M.S. Saxonia disembarked passengers in Boston on March 25, 1904, all new arrivals in America were recorded on a large form, the Manifest of Alien Passengers.  A ship the size of the Saxonia, which carried 1,608 steerage passengers on that particular crossing, would have those passengers listed on scores of such pages.  On the 73rd page of passengers aboard the Saxonia, my father, John McNamara, his age given as 17, was listed on line 28.

The 19-year-old listed on line 27, Patrick Ryan, made the trip with my father.  While examining these records, I realized that he was the brother of my Uncle Pat’s wife, Bridget “Delia” Ryan McNamara.


In the part of the passenger manifest reproduced above, the two young men had to provide their place of of origin, and their eventual destination in America.  On the left, the notation “do” means “ditto,” and refers to Ireland; all the immigrants on this particular sheet were from Ireland, and the overworked immigration officers were naturally looking to abbreviate as much as possible.

The young men listed their home in Ireland as Tulla, which makes sense, as Tulla would have been the closest village to where my father lived in the townland of Maghera.  Their eventual destination is misspelled as “Patterson,” New Jersey.  

At the right of this entry, the word “No” was written for each of the young men; that was a reference to the fact that neither had a ticket from Boston to their final destination.  That is consistent with what my father had always said, which is that his Nestor relatives in Massachusetts had helped him get to Paterson where he joined my Uncle Pat.


These entries leave no doubt that the John McNamara on the manifest of the Saxonia is my father.  All immigrants had to answer if they were “going to join a relative or friend; and if so, what relative or friend, and his name and complete address.”

Patrick Ryan said he was going to join his sister, Mrs. McNamara, at 68 Pearl Street in Paterson.  My father said he was going to join his brother, Pat McNamara, at the same address.

The ship’s manifest contained 22 columns for answers to questions posed by an immigration officer.   To satisfy immigration laws of the era, the inspectors, in column 18, had to note “whether a polygamist” and in column 19, “whether an anarchist.”  When the two teenaged farm boys from Maghera were asked about that, it’s a safe bet they had no idea what the immigration officer was talking about.  The inspector dutifully wrote “no” in those columns.

In column 14 of the form, immigrants were required to state “whether in possession of $50, and if less, how much?”  

Patrick Ryan and my father each said they had five dollars.


Click for more on the Saxonia
Above is a copy of a postcard of the Cunard Line’s Saxonia in Boston harbor.  The ship was built in 1899, and made the trip from Queenstown, Ireland to Boston many times between 1900 and 1909.  It was eventually scrapped in the 1920s, and Cunard later built another liner named Saxonia.

There is no telling how many Americans today could trace immigrant ancestors to the Saxonia.  Just on the single page of Saxonia passengers on which my father appears are Irish immigrants whose final destinations in America include cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

To learn more about the Saxonia, click here.


My father eventually became a U.S. citizen.

In 1945, 41 years after arriving in America, he posed on Main Street in Paterson with two of his sons who served in the U.S. forces during World War II.

When we posed for this snapshot, I had just returned from serving in Europe with the U.S. Army Air Force.  My brother Jay, on the right, had served in the U.S. Navy.  (Another of my brothers, John, Jr., who was always called “Red,” served in the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.)

The young man who left Ireland in the spring of 1904  would eventually spend 50 years working for the Railway Express Agency in America.  When he retired, he was the stationmaster in Jersey City, New Jersey.


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