My G-Grandfather was born in New York State in August 1856, and married my G-Grandmother in 1885. I haven't been able to trace him any further back, but did find an Ellen Guilfoyle (with a son John) immigrating to NY in 1849 (with 5 other children), a widow. How can I figure out if there's a direct connection when I can't find Ellen or any of her children in any US censuses after arrival?
Answer: Hi Jan, you have a challenging puzzle ahead of you. I am not sure why you mention a son John with mother Ellen arriving in New York in 1849 as you say your g-grandfather was born in 1856 in New York. You didn't give me your great grandfather's name so I am slightly confused. Is your great grandfather's father John and his grandmother Ellen?
Since I didn't have enough detail from you to help you figure out if there is a connection with Ellen Guilfoyle and your unnamed great grandfather, I've done what I hope is the next best thing. I have found the family in the 1850 census. I'll explain how I did it, then you can have the fun of looking for them in 1860, 1870 and 1880.
The surname GUILFOYLE is one of those that can be spelled many different ways. If spelled phonetically (as it sounds), you never know how it might be written down on official records. So you must be prepared to search creatively, that is, with different spellings such as Guilfoyl, Guilfoil, Guilfoile, Guilfole and so on.
Using Wildcards in Searches
You should learn to use wildcards wherever possible, and to do that you need to read each site's Search Help for their specific search box. They might use an asterisk (*) or a question mark (?). You may have to enter 3 characters first, then a wildcard. You may have to enter one character then a wildcard.
Having said that, I used Ancestry.com to search for your family in the 1850 census records. Ancestry uses 3 characters than an asterisk to represent any number of characters. Thus Guilfoyle can be searched as Guil* or Gui*.
I used Guil* and decided to look for Cornelius, the youngest on the ship (I have to add here that it would have helped me tremendously to have the names and ages and name of ship for that 1849 sailing rather than trying to find it myself. I needed to know the names and birth years of Ellen's children in order to hunt for them in the census)
Searching the child rather than the parent
I chose Cornelius because Ellen can be recorded as Nellie, Nell, Helen or Hellen and could be much more difficult to find. Cornelius is a bit less common a name. So I searched for Corn* in case he was called Corny or his name recorded as Cornelis. The beauty of wildcards is it allows for spelling variations or errors.
That's my long answer. :-)
The short answer is that the entire family is in Poughkeepsie New York indexed as Guilfoil in 1850. Have fun and be creative when looking for them in the next census!