Captured in Time: The Immigrant Lillicrap Family upon Arrival in America in 1890

A Special Photo Finds It Way Home 130+ Years Later

Megan Smolenyak
5 min readApr 6, 2022

Mrs. Lillicrap and her nine children

Bessie Lillicrap must have been exhausted when she arrived in New York with her children. The family had left Liverpool on October 7, 1890 and finally disembarked on the 18th. That’s a long time to be at sea with nine children, the oldest of whom was only 12.

U.K. departure passenger entries for Bessie Lillicrap and her nine children (UK National Archives via Ancestry)

So she may have been less than enthusiastic when a man named E.W. Austin approached her about photographing them. Still, it wasn’t an every day opportunity for a poor family like hers, so she agreed. She, Bessie, Susie, Annie, Mary, Dick, Sam, Alice, Emily and baby Thomas were captured for posterity on that day just over 130 years ago.

Mrs. Lillicrap and nine children (colorized and enhanced on MyHeritage)

E.W. Austin had been fortunate enough to gain the money exchange concession to service immigrants arriving in New York in 1890, and while Ellis Island was under construction, he worked at the Barge Office which served as the interim immigrant processing center. As described in a previous article, he took this opportunity to take photos of immigrants from a variety of countries, and the result is the earliest known collection of this type.

While he scribbled notes about his subjects, they were usually restricted to nationality and maybe another random detail, but in this instance, he had written, “Mrs Lilycroft age 35 & 9 children Oct 18 to 25 1890.” With all this information, it didn’t take long to find them in passenger arrival records in spite of the misspelling of the Lillicrap name.

Passenger manifest entries for Lillicrap family members (National Archives and Records Administration via FamilySearch)

But what had become of them? It was handy to have such a large family to research as I was able to trace them to Adams County, Mississippi — although it might be more accurate to say that I located the survivors with their father…

Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (