The Hunt for Richard Black

Updated (a little bit): 12 July 2014

I should probably start this post by saying that the hunt continues, mainly because I’ve only just started it!

In my Grandad’s family tree notes is the story of his great-uncle Richard Black.  Richard Black was the youngest son of Robert Black and Rachel Greacen and was born in Dungannon, Ireland around 1855.  He immigrated with the rest of his family aged about 10.

A letter from his brother Greacen dated 9 July 1879 says:

My borther Richard is going to America in a fortnight.  He is going to Kentucky to study 3 years and then comes out a full blown parson.  I believe he is better cut out for that than the soft goods trade.

And off he went.  By another family account, he was last heard of in Chicago.  He certainly never returned to his family in New Zealand.

Grandad seemed to think that he would have become a Presbytarian minister.  His research in 1981 turned up the following:

  • Richard didn’t go to the only Presbytarian seminary school in Kentucky of the time
  • The Presbytarian Historical Society in Philadelphia has no record of a Rev. Richard Black in any of its lists of 19th century US ministers
  • The 1880 census records only one Richard Black in Kentucky – he was an eight year old boy living with his widowed grandmother

Poof!  Gone in a puff of smoke!

Now I know that men are pretty useless at keeping in touch and in the 19th century things weren’t as easy as they were today.  A letter home would not have gone astray.  But Richard’s mother had died in 1873 and perhaps his parting with the family was not as loving as it could have been.  And who goes from New Zealand to KENTUCKY to become a priest???  I’m pretty sure such training was available in NZ.  Sounds like he wanted to get away from everyone.  Which he did.

So I’m starting the hunt.  As passenger lists are hard to find, I’m beginning with the census.

Contrary to Grandad’s notes, there are actually 7 Richard Blacks in 1880 Kentucky.  One of them is even about the right age.  Except he’s Black by name and by race.

Onto Chicago.  There are another 7 Richard Blacks in Illinois.  Two are the right age, but neither are our Richard.

In fact, as far as I can tell, there is only 1 Richard Black, born between 1853-7 in Ireland in the United States in 1880.  And it’s not him.

The 1890 US Census was destroyed by fire, so onto 1900.  There’s one Richard Black from Ireland but it has his birth being January 1860, so I don’t think he’s ours.  There aren’t any from New Zealand.

Perhaps he went to Canada?  Perhaps he didn’t even get on the ship?  Back to looking for passenger lists!

July 2013 update:

Had a new idea this week.  Was looking for my gg-grandfather’s wedding trip to Ireland in 1872.  Grandad had noted that he went on the Nebraska via San Francisco and then across the Panama isthmus.  It turns out that the Nebraska was a mail ship which did a route between NZ/Australia and San Francisco.

My searches have found one ship – the RMSS Zealandia which did the mail route from 1876 for about a decade.  The Zealandia arrived in Auckland on July 30, 1879 and left not long after on its return route.  But the information on the outward passengers during that period in the NZ Herald doesn’t mention a Black!  An article on the Zealandia in the same issue mentions she sailed “with a considerable addition to the numerous passengers she had in transit from San Francisco”.  So perhaps Richard just didn’t get a mention?

July 2014 update:

Another year and another update!

I’ve got hold of Richard’s father’s will.  Robert Black left 400 pounds to his son “Richard Blakely Black”. Now we have a middle name! (As an aside, one of the witnesses at Robert’s wedding was a R. Blakely who was his aunt’s second husband)

So did Robert know where his son was in 1884 when he wrote the will…?

A quick Google comes up with only one Richard Blakely Black in the whole world, ever (which is a bit bizarre really).  This Richard Blakely Black lived in Victoria, Australia and liked applying for patents – which is why he turned up in the Victoria Government Gazette a few times.  His profession was listed variously as ‘farm manager’ in Berwick (1891), ‘commission agent’ in Melbourne (1893) and a ‘warehouseman’ in Bendigo (1894).  He invented a ‘combination farm tiller’ and a ‘shaking sluice or box for saving pyrites, fine gold and other metal’.

In addition, there is a Richard B Black who died in October 1902 in Hawthorn but was ‘late of Sorrento’ and is buried in Boroondara General Cemetery.  He was born around 1855 so is about the right age for our Richard.  Unfortunately, his death certificate entry doesn’t have any parents’ details and his obituary in The Argus doesn’t mention any family.

Not sure if they’re the same person but it’s a possibility?

So we have a new direction but are still looking.

Please post a comment if you have any other ideas on where to look!  Or if you’re descended from a Richard Black from Ireland (via New Zealand) who knew a lot about clothes!


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