Family History Mystery: Discovering Alexander Balla’s Immigration Details

For a while now, a great deal of mystery has surrounded the immigration details of one of my 2nd great grandfathers, Alexander Balla Sr. (1886-1950). According to oral family history, Alexander left the village and country of his birth, Eszény, Hungary (now Eseny, Ukraine), for the United States when he was between 18 and 22 years old, working aboard the passenger ship in exchange for part or all of the passage fee. Oral family history about his immigration also adds that although one of the reasons Alexander immigrated to the United States was to be with family members that were already living there, another significant reason was the fact that his life had been threatened in Eszény by someone or a group possibly connected to the Black Hand. Despite these details from oral family history, I was never able to track down a shipping manifest for Alexander’s immigration.

Recently, Ancestry.com made Texas Immigration and Naturalization records available, which has helped clear up some of the mystery surrounding his immigration. According to both his Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization, which were filed in 1942, Alexander immigrated from Eszény to the United States on May 8, 1906 aboard the SS Pretoria, arriving in New York, New York. In addition to providing the date of his immigration, Alexander’s Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization provide an additional, and highly interesting, fact about his immigration to the United States. According to these records, Alexander did not arrive in the United States under the name “Alexander Balla,” “Alex Balla,” or even “Sándor Balla.” Instead, he states that his lawful entry for permanent residence in the United States was done under a completely different name, that of “Joseph Domoks.” Seeing this was surprising, as there was no mention of his using an assumed name in oral family history or on any other historical record. Although there is a lot of mystery surrounding the threat made against his life, including who exactly did so, it is likely that this motivated him to change his name in order to conceal the fact that he was leaving the country, as well as concealing where he was immigrating to.

Alexander Balla’s 1942 Declaration of Intention
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Declaration of Intention
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Petition for Naturalization
Alexander Balla’s 1942 Petition for Naturalization

The information provided by Alexander’s Declaration of Intention and Petition for Naturalization records, is, moreover, supported, with slight differences, by the SS Pretoria ship manifest for his arrival. According to this record, Alexander arrived on May 6, 1906, instead of May 8, 1906 as stated on his naturalization records. His name is enumerated on this ship manifest as “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”), which is slightly different than what is found on his naturalization record (“Joseph Domoks”). This immigration record also states that Alexander arrived in the United States to be with his brother, István Balla (Steven Balla Jr.), who he reported was living in Tompkins Cove, Rockland Co., New York.

Immigration Record for Alexander Balla, who appears on line 12 of the manifest with his assumed name of “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”).
Immigration Record for Alexander Balla, who appears on line 12 of the manifest with his assumed name of “Jozsef Domokos” (or “Jozsef Jomokos”).
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Mary (Todd) Lincoln Family Connection Claim

Mary (Todd) Lincoln

On July 16, 1882, one hundred and thirty years ago today, Mary Ann (Todd) Lincoln (1818-1882), widow of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), died in Springfield, Sangamon Co., Illinois, USA. Although I am not a descendant of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, there is a claim in a branch of my family that there is a connection to Mary (Todd) Lincoln.

Sally (Todd) Thornton (1793-1891), my 6th great grandmother, always claimed throughout much of her long life that she and the First Lady were distant cousins. Sharing the surname Todd and having a connection to Kentucky (where Mary was born) undoubtedly was all that was needed to convince Sally of her relationship to the wife of the 16th President of the United States. When I discovered this claim, I set out to learn if it had any truth to it.

Sally (Todd) Thornton

Sally’s family did come from Kentucky, as did Mary’s, but hers came from Madison County, while Mary’s came from Fayette County, which shares a border with Madison County. Mary’s grandfather, Maj. Gen. Levi Todd (1756-1807), appears to have settled in Kentucky prior to 1792, while Sally’s grandfather, Benjamin Todd (1725-1810), came around 1797. Both Sally’s and Mary’s grandfathers came from Pennsylvania, with Sally’s being from Northampton County and Mary’s being from the nearby Montgomery County. Both of their great grandfathers were also from Pennsylvania as well.

However, it is with their 2nd great grandfather’s that the story shifts. Sally’s 2nd great grandfather, Joshua Todd (ca. 1685-1721), was born in Pennsylvania the son of Joseph Todd (1645-1699), who was born in Eling, Hampshire, England. Mary’s 2nd great grandfather, Robert Todd (1697-1780), was born in County Armagh, Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania prior to 1725.

The ancestral lines prior to their 2nd great grandfathers become difficult to trace and confirm for both Sally and Mary. Both are claimed to either be of English or Scottish ancestry prior this generation. Most argue that Joseph Todd (Sally’s 3rd great grandfather) was the son of a John Todd (1594-1678), also of Eling, whose father, William Todd (1569-1617) was from Scotland. As for Mary, her 2nd great grandfather’s ancestry is said to be either English or Scottish prior to their presence in Ireland, with many claiming that the father of Robert was a James Todd (ca. 1638-1669), who is said to have been born in Scotland and died in Ireland.

Despite the remarkable similarities in journeys within the United States between their families, I have yet to find any connection or evidence that Sally (Todd) Thornton was indeed a distant cousin of Mary (Todd) Lincoln. Perhaps a connection still exists, but the significant challenges in tracing either line with certainty beyond their respective 2nd great grandfathers makes it unlikely that it will ever be discovered.

Headstone of Sally (Todd) Thornton

Although it is very likely that there is little merit to her claim of kinship to one of the most famous First Families in U.S. history, Sally remains for me a fascinating person to look at in my ancestry. It is interesting to note that her long life began in the presidency of George Washington, the 1st President of the United States, and ended, at the age of 98, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States. It must have been amazing to witness all that she did.

Sally and her husband, William Thornton (1792-1858), are direct ancestors of my 4th great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Thornton (1847-1920), who, together with her husband John Agee (1839-1912), are direct ancestors of my 2nd great grandmother, Lois Beatrice Agee (1897-1983), who is the mother of my great grandmother, Alice Lucretia Wellin (1916-1985), who was the wife of Theodore Alexander Lapham (1910-1955).

A Clue to a Family History Mystery: Jacob Worthington’s Civil War Service

In researching my family history on my Mom’s side, I uncovered something that struck me as being a little unusual dealing with the Civil War service of one of my ancestors, Jacob Worthington (1839-1920). Recently, while using Google Books, I uncovered information that offers a significant clue for this family history mystery.

Jacob Worthington’s Headstone

Jacob Worthington (1839-1920), my 4th great grandfather, was born in 1839 in Lexington, Davidson Co., North Carolina, and he died in 1920 in Harrison, Boone Co., Arkansas. When I was first researching my Worthington branch, I discovered early on the location of Jacob’s burial, in Grubb Springs Cemetery in Harrison. Using the internet, I tracked down a photo of his headstone, and it was a military marker, which was inscribed “Jacob Worthington 19 IND. L.A.” Digging further, I uncovered that this inscription indicated that Jacob served during the Civil War, and that “19 IND. L.A.” stands for “19th Indiana Light Artillery.” Further digging revealed that Jacob had indeed served in the Civil War on the side of the Union; and that he did so in the 19th Independent Battery Indiana Light Artillery, which he was mustered in on August 20, 1862 at Indianapolis, Indiana.

To say the least, this surprised me—and I must admit made me feel relieved to know that one of my ancestors did not fight to keep slavery alive (simplifying the war I know). Still, it was not at all what I would have expected from a young man of about 23 living (I assumed) in Confederate territory (Arkansas). I was always told that Jacob was in Arkansas, and so I was left wondering what could explain this. For years I could not uncover why Jacob was in or went to Indiana. There was no Worthington connection to Indiana as far as I had uncovered or been told.

Page Mentioning Worthington and Indiana Connection

Searching through old books on Google Books has helped uncover many facts about some of my ancestors in the past. Recently, after turning my attention back to my Mom’s branches, I decided to try this search tool for Worthington, and I found something. According to a biography about Alson G. Bodenhamer, who married Jacob’s sister Esther in 1857, published in Portrait and Biographical Record of Johnson and Pettis Counties, Missouri (1895), Jacob and Esther’s father, Brooks Worthington, moved his family to Indianapolis, Indiana after leaving North Carolina and before moving to Missouri in 1840. As it turns out Brooks was a shoemaker in Indianapolis. Based on this new information, it seems highly likely that Jacob was not in Arkansas before the Civil War broke out, but was rather in Indiana or Missouri (he is enumerated on the 1850 U.S. Census in Missouri).

Although I have found no details of Jacob’s experiences during the war, the 19th Indiana Light Artillery saw a great deal of action, being a part of numerous battles, sieges, and campaigns. They were even a part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Jacob was discharged on June 10, 1865 at Indianapolis, Indiana. Three days later, he married Elmina Couch (1846-1921) in Wayne Co., Indiana. Perhaps she ultimately explains why he was in Indiana, as it seems likely that they knew each other prior to the war—her family was also from North Carolina. By 1866, they were living in Lafayette Co., Missouri, and by 1880 they were in Boone Co., Arkansas.