From Luxembourg to America – The Tempestuous Voyage of the Cornely Family

Have you ever wondered how fragile life was for our ancestors? How close they came to not making it? How close we came to not existing?

Yesterday while checking for possible DNA matches with connections in Luxembourg, I worked out a match’s tree to our most recent common ancestor. I had been putting off figuring out our connection as the match is for only one segment of 11 cMs. However, the surname CORNELY found in J.D.’s tree was of interest to me. I had made a note of it in 2018 when I first found him in my brother’s match list on Ancestry.

I wrote about my 5th great-grandparents Hubert CORNELY and Margaretha EVEN of Wickrange, Luxembourg in May 2019. It was the first post in my ongoing series on my children’s 6th great-grandparents.

J.D. has a 2nd great-grandmother named Catherine CORNELY born in November 1838 in Germany. No parents are listed for her. J.D. has a list of sources several sources including this reference to an 1854 passenger list.1

I viewed the image and found she came with what appears to be her family – a father, a mother, and six siblings.

Screen clip of passenger list courtesy of Ancestry.

I checked my database and found I had a Jacques CORNELY born 1800 (1854 age 54) and his wife Madelaine KUNNERT born 1807 (1854 age 47). These looked like a possible match but I only had their 1831 marriage record.2 I had not yet gotten around to checking on children. As I searched the commune of Differdange where Jacques and Madelaine married, I found they had Henri 18323, Nicolas 18344, Jean 18365, Catherine 18386, Michel 18417, Heinrich 18438, Nicolas 18459, Maria 184910, and Johann 1851.11 These were all matches except for the younger Nicolas and Maria who were missing.

Convinced I had the correct family, I calculated that J.D. and I are 6th cousins once removed as Jacques was the son of Michel, brother of my Hubert CORNELY. Our common ancestors are my 6th great-grandparents Pierre CORNELY (1720-1793) and Marie SCHINTGEN (1725-bef. 1793).

The most amazing part of this research came when I began to write the citation for the passenger list and downloaded the image(s). The page the family is on is not enough. I always go back to the beginning of the list for the information on the ship. Imagine my surprise when I found this at the top of the page where the first passengers were listed:

Screen clip of passenger list courtesy of Ancestry.

Additional passengers taken from the Wreck of Ship Black Hawk bound to New York from Liverpool

I continued to go back to find the front page of the ship list for the ship that had taken the shipwrecked passengers.

Screen clip of passenger list courtesy of Ancestry.

Captain Seth Foster of the ship Currituck had taken on the passengers of the fated Black Hawk. Catherine and her family had arrived in New York on the Currituck but they had left Europe via Liverpool on the Black Hawk.

What had happened during the Cornely family’s voyage to America?

The Black Hawk never completed her maiden voyage.

Image of a ship in a hurricane. Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 10 Aug. 1930. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1930-08-10/ed-1/seq-77/&gt;
My search for the ships’ names led me to an article in The New York Herald dated 18 May 1854.12

Screen clip of The New York Herald title page courtesy of Chronicling America.

Loss of Ship Black Hawk at Sea-Fortunate Rescue of Her Passengers and Crew

The ship Currituck, of Norfolk, Captain Foster, from Antwerp, arrived at this port yesterday, having on board Captain Bunker, his crew, and 356 passengers, rescued from the ship Black Hawk, from Liverpool for New York, lost at sea on the 23rd of April.

The following is the report of Captain Foster, of the Currituck:-

April 21st, at 5 P.M., lat 47 30, long 33 24, came up with the wreck of ship Black Hawk, Capt. Bunker, from Liverpool for New York, dismasted and leaking badly. The ship Dirigo and British bark Caroline were laying by her taking off passengers; having more than they could take, my assistance was required. Shortened sail and lay by the wreck until morning. April 22d–All the boats belonging to the different ships were employed transporting passengers on board of our ship until four P.M., by which time we had 250 souls on board, the wind now blowing so strong as to render any farther communication with the ship exceedingly dangerous. During the night the wind blew a strong gale. At 11 P.M. lost sight of the wreck. 23d– At 8 A.M. it fell calm, with thick hazy weather. At 12 midday it cleared up a little, and we discovered the wreck bearing S.S.E. and at 11:20 P.M. came up to her and hove to until the morning of the 24th, when we found that the gale had caused her leak to increase so that all hopes of saving her had vanished. The Caroline had parted from us during the gale, and the English bark Good Intent had come up and took some of the passengers and crew, we having taken the second time 108 passengers, Captain Bunker, the doctor, the second mate and eighteen of the crew. We had our full share of the passengers previously. Of the passengers taken from the wreck by us, 198 were English and Irish, and 158 Germans–making in all 356. At 9 P.M. of the 24th, while taking in our boats, a brig came up and hove to close by the Dirigo, and we supposed took some of her passengers. The brig was hence bound to Glasgow.

The following is Capt. Bunker’s report:–

Left Liverpool April 4, at 4 P.M., with a crew, including captain and officers, of thirty-five men, and seven hundred and ninety adult passengers and two in cabin, making altogether, including infants, eight hundred and fifty-eight. Nothing of note until April 15, when we observed the barometer falling. Wind increasing. 16th–Glass still falling, and the wind veering around to N.E., and then to N.W. Sea running in all directions. Concluded we were going to have very bad weather. Kept the ship under very short sail. Lat. 48 20 N., long 36 2. Monday, 17th–Glass down to 28 deg., and falling. Wind, after backing to N.W. around to about N., blew a perfect hurricane. Took in fore and mizzen topsail. At 9 P.M. wind increasing. the topgallant masts went, carrying away head of fore-topmast. Soon the fore and mainmast fell and at midnight lost the mizzenmast; all close to the deck. The mainmast fell inboard, and smashed the cabin, the topsail yard going through the main deck without injuring any person but ripping up the deck so as to cause the water to flow down a perfect avalanche. The half of the main-mast fell on the pumps, smashing them down to the deck. The mizzenmast swept off all the skylights and broke in the leeside of the cabin, causing the water to flow down there very freely. The fore-mast went under the ship’s bottom, and we were fortunate to get clear of it, but not till it had thumped so long there as to make the ship leak badly. Cut away a portion of main-mast and got a temporary break rigged to one pump, and got the steerage passengers to work bailing and pumping while the crew were clearing the wreck. Found 6 feet water in the hold. Tuesday, 18th–Pumping, bailing, and clearing the wreck, and throwing cargo overboard. Wednesday, 19th–Lat. 47, N., long. 35.30, W.; at 6 A.M. a large ship passed so near we could see six feet below her waist from her deck. At 11 A.M. the bark Caroline, of Poole, (Eng.,) came in sight, and at 12, median, she answered our signal and came to our relief. We were employed as usual, heaving cargo overboard, pumping and baling, and the crew getting up spars to rig a jury mast. Began transporting the women passengers into the bark. Our long boat had been stove too bad to repair, but the other boats we could repair sufficient to use them. The captain of the bark sent his boat, and we got about one hundred and forty passengers on board in safety; but a man who attempted in the night to go on board the back by the hawser that we had fast to her fell and was downed. Thursday, 20th–Light airs and baffling; a ship labored incessantly, so as to make it dangerous to stand on deck. The ship Dirigo, Capt. Young, came along and offered every assistance in his power and it was deemed advisable to get the passengers out as soon as possible, as it was evident the ship could not survive. All the boats employed in getting out passengers, provisions and water, and the pumps going. Friday morning–the ship Currituck of Norfolk, Capt. Foster, came up, and the next day all the boats of all the ships were employed till the wind came on to blow too hard to pass any more. All hope of saving the ship was now abandoned, as passengers and crew were worn down with fatigue, and the carpenter reported water up over the cargo in the hold, which was seven and a half feet. Saturday night was a gloomy night; pumps kept going, sent up rockets and burnt blue lights all night, in order that the ships might not lose sight of us. 23d–Thick weather; when it cleared saw Dirigo and a strange bark; they came up in the evening and took some passengers. 24th–The Currituck got back, and these gentlemen (to whom I am under the greatest obligations for their untiring exertions, together with their mates and crew) effected, without loss of an individual, the transportation of the rest of the passengers from the wreck; and we left her, her lower hold half full of water, ad she a perfectly hopeless wreck.

The Black Hawk was a fine vessel of 1,600 tons, and valued at $100,000.

UPDATE (28 February 2020): As I learned from my faithful reader Kathy Brochman Merchant in her comment below, there is more to the story. The log of Captain Harris of the barque Caroline, the first to chance on the floundering ship and render assistance, can be read here: The Wreck of the Black Hawk, Emigrant Ship. Please take the time to read Kathy’s very informative comment.

According to the passenger list, 23 passengers from the Black Hawk died between the time of the rescue and the arrival in New York. All were young children and infants except for a 60-year-old man.

The captain of the Currituck was praised in this short article in The New York Herald dated 8 June 1854.13

Capt. Foster’s fine ship, the Currituck, is to sail to-day or to-morrow for City Point, Virginia, where she has engaged to load with tobacco for Bordeaux, France. The noble conduct of Captain Foster will be long remembered. He was on his way at the time in the Currituck, of 600 tons, with 250 passengers for New York, notwithstanding which he took off 359 souls from the Black Hawk. So great was the crowd that he had to knock in the heads of the water casks to make sleeping places for women and children. After getting 250 on board he parted with the Black Hawk, and lost sight of her. He then put back in search of her, and took off to the number stated. So crowded was his vessel that they all could not stand on deck at the same time, and the captain had to divide them, and give them the temporary use of his deck by turns to get fresh air. Notwithstanding this he was enabled to land them all sound and well. Such conduct deserves all praise.

After finding the articles I wanted to share them here. I continued to search for the family in America after their arrival. By 1860, Jacob had died and left Magdalena (German version of Madelaine) with the seven children living in Big Spring Township in Seneca County, Ohio.14

In 187015 and 188016 only two sons were still living with their mother: Nicolas and the younger John. All of the CORNELY family’s burials were found on Find A Grave. Further research into the rest of the children still needs to be carried out.

A quick search this morning for Catherine CORNELY (1838-1912) turned up the image of her obituary originally shared on 11 June 2018 by Ancestry user (name omitted for privacy) and published in the New Washington Herald (Ohio) on 26 July 1912. I don’t have access to the newspaper and will only quote a short part as I have not contacted the user who shared it on Ancestry. The obituary of Mrs. Catherine DONNERSBACH names her parents as Mr. and Mrs. Jacob CORNELY (née KUNNERT) confirming the family group in my database.

…after a stormy and tempestuous voyage, their ship being wrecked in mid ocean. The deceased and a brother escaping death by drowning after being pushed overboard in the rush on deck, by being picked up by other boats. 

I was happy to learn the entire family picked up by Capt. Foster and the crew of the Currituck survived the journey to New York and to Ohio where the family bought a small farm. However, I was left with a question. Why were young Nicolas and his sister Marie not mentioned on the passenger list? Had they died in Luxembourg or did they perish during the days the passengers were stranded on a sinking ship?

I searched the death record of Differdange and found Marie died at the age of 11 months in 1849.17 Nicolas died at the age of 9 years in February 185418 only a few months before the family began their voyage to America. Although the deaths at a young age are sad, I was relieved to learn they did not perish in the sinking of the Black Hawk.

© 2020, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1. “New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” index and images, Ancestry, citing Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897, Roll 139, Arrival: 1854 New York, New York, List number 496, Line 304-312, Cornely family. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 26 February 2020) 
  2. Luxembourg, Registres d’état civil, 1662-1941 (images), FamilySearch (original records at Luxembourg National Archives, Plateau du Saint-Esprit, Luxembourg), Differdange > Naissances 1881-1890 Mariages 1796-1890 Décès 1796-1812 > image 678 of 1487. 1831 Marriage Record No. 5. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6PWS-M8Z?cc=1709358&wc=9RYZ-JWL%3A129627401%2C130296101 : accessed 28 April 2019). 
  3. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 446 of 1492. 1832 Birth Record No. 26. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-H37?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  4. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 478 of 1492. 1834 Birth Record No. 27. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-7KQ?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  5. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 507 of 1492. 1836 Birth Record No. 16. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-QZV?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  6. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 548 of 1492. 1838 Birth Record No. 52. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-CNH?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  7. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 588 of 1492. 1841 Birth Record No. 6. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRNS-TYS?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  8. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 635 of 1492. 1843 Birth Record No. 19. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRNS-R4Z?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  9. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 690 of 1492. 1845 Birth Record No. 59. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRNS-RSY?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  10. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 773 of 1492. 1849 Birth Record No. 42. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-QF4?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  11. Ibid., Differdange > Naissances 1807-1880 > image 817 of 1492. 1851 Birth Record No. 37. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRN3-WV2?cc=1709358&wc=9RYM-168%3A129627401%2C130124201 : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  12. The New York herald. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 18 May 1854. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030313/1854-05-18/ed-1/seq-1/ : accessed 27 February 2020) 
  13. The New York herald. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]), 08 June 1854. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030313/1854-06-08/ed-1/seq-4/ : accessed 27 February 2020) 
  14. 1860 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Eighth Census of the United States, 1860 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls, Roll: M653_1034, Family History Library Film: 805034, Ohio, Seneca County, Big Spring, sheet 42 (stamped) back (42B), page 84, lines 11-18, HH #594-574, Magdalena Cornelia. The official enumeration day of the 1860 census was 1 June 1860. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  15. 1870 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Ninth Census of the United States, 1870 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration,Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls, Roll: M593_1284, Family History Library Film: 552783, Ohio, Wyandot County, Salem, page 810B, lines 9-11, HH #27-27, Magdaline Cornelius. The official enumeration day of the 1870 census was 1 June 1870.  (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  16. 1880 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Tenth Census of the United States, 1880 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls, Roll: 1079, Ohio, Wyandot County, Salem, Enumeration District 163, page 467B, lines 10-12, HH #193, Magdalena Cornely. The official enumeration day of the 1880 census was 1 June 1880. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 26 February 2020). 
  17. Luxembourg Civil Records, Differdange > Décès 1813-1858 > image 431 of 591. 1849 Death Record No. 25.(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6X11-MR?cc=1709358&wc=9RYC-GP6%3A129627401%2C129627402 : accessed 27 February 2020). 
  18. Ibid., Differdange > Décès 1813-1858 > image 498 of 591. 1854 Death Record No. 9. (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6X15-X8?cc=1709358&wc=9RYC-GP6%3A129627401%2C129627402 : accessed 27 February 2020).