Reader Ed Flynn asks "I think I have found my ancestors as having arrived at Castle Garden on the ship 'New York' on June 21, 1855. I read elsewhere that the facility did not start receiving immigrants until August of that year. Is it possible that they started receiving people before the place was officially opened, or am I wrong in my search?"
Ed went on to further identify his ancestors as John Flynn, born about 1830 in Ireland and working in the U.S. as a railroad blacksmith, and Anna McAuliffe, also born in Ireland about 1830. The couple settled in Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, where their first child, Michael, was born about 1857. In an old letter from Ed's uncle who was born in 1896 and who lived during John Flynn's later lifetime, the uncle described John Flynn as always saying "that they came into Castle Garden, New York in 1855."1
There were attempts made by the City of New York in 1848, under the auspices of the Commissioners of Emigration, to protect immigrants from the frauds commonly being practiced upon them, by leasing the North battery and pier at the foot of Hubert Street for use as a single landing place for immigrants to New York. These plans were almost immediately halted, however, by an injunction obtained by residents living in the vicinity of the pier because "the landing of emigrants at the foot of Hubert-street, in the vicinity of St. John's park, would bring into a quiet part of the city, a noisy population without cleanliness or sobriety, would endanger the health and good morals of the ward, and seriously affect the value of the real estate."2
This injunction held up plans for a unified emigrant landing location until the eventual opening of Castle Garden on 1 August 1855. Thus, unless your ancestors were sick or contagious, a likely hypothesis is that they disembarked in 1855 at the shipping company's pier, as indicated in the 1851 map of the Port of New York.
Although this appears to indicate that your ancestors were not processed through Castle Garden (assuming that the John & Anna Flynn who arrived on 21 June 1855 are your John & Anna Flynn), you may find the following research paper of interest as it also describes immigration to New York prior to the opening of Castle Garden, as well as the politics surrounding the opening of America's first official immigration center, and cites a number of excellent references:
Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot 1855-1890 by Dr. George J. Svejda
The New York that arrived at the port of New York on 21 June 1855 was a packet ship operated by the infamous Black Ball line. An advertisement appearing in The Cork Examiner lists the New York captained by "Bryant" among the company's ships, and also details the provisions or "sea stores" that are to be supplied to passengers on a weekly basis:
Two and a half pounds Bread, One Pound Flour, Five Pounds Oatmeal, Two Pounds Rice, Two Ounces Tea, or Four Ounces Cocoa or Roasted Coffee, Half-pound Sugar, and Two Ounces Salt, besides Three Quarts of Water daily.3
Newspaper accounts also confirm the arrival in New York City of the ship New York on 20 June 1855 with "mdse [merchandise] and 317 passengers." The account also states that the ship left Liverpool on May 15 (although the Black Ball line's regular schedule seems to indicate May 16) and "saw a quantity of ice" during its crossing on June 6.4
It is still left to answer whether the John & Anna Flynn who arrived on the New York on 21 June 1855, are your ancestors who settled in Louisville, Kentucky. The records found to date all appear to support this theory, but further research should be done in records which may indicate the family's date and ship of arrival in the U.S., their exact arrival in Louisville, or their place of origin in Ireland. This might include records such as naturalizations, obituaries, etc.
The Louisville Metro Archives and Records Center hosts an online index to Jefferson County naturalization records which identifies records for a number of men named John Flynn who could be your ancestor. The record for John C. Flynn from Ireland dated 1 Oct 1897 looks especially promising, given that your ancestor was identified as John C. Flynn in the 1900 census, although there are other naturalizations records for men named John Flynn in the 1860s that could also be your ancestor.5 The 1897 naturalization record for John C. Flynn is available from the Metro Archives in Jefferson Circuit Court, Book 1, page 215. They accept genealogical requests for photocopies by mail as long as you can identify the specific record to be copied.
Information found in naturalization records prior to 1906 varies by location, but it is possible in some localities that a pre-1906 naturalization record might identify the ship and/or date of arrival. At this point I have to give Dave Morgan and the Louisville Metro Archives huge kudos. I emailed them to inquire as to whether a naturalization record from the Jeffersonville Circuit Court in 1897 might include the date or ship of arrival, and received a response less than 20 minutes later! Not only that, they attached a copy of the naturalization record of John C. Flynn that I mentioned above (and did not ask for). Unfortunately, it does not identify the exact date or ship of arrival--nor am I convinced it is even the correct John Flynn--but the incredible customer service of the Louisville Metro Archives still made my day. Please note that I did identify my request as being for a blog post, so please don't inundate them with email requests expecting the same response. They do have a standard procedure indicated on their website for genealogical requests.
John C. Flynn's death certificate indicates only that he was born in Ireland, as might be expected, but does include the names of his parents. His obituary also just says Ireland, but states that he came to Louisville 63 years previously, which puts his arrival in Louisville about 1850.6
If the 21 June 1855 passenger manifest is the one for your great-great grandfather John, it wouldn't surprise me to hear that over 50 years later he was stating that he arrived in 1855 at Castle Garden, even if this is not likely to be technically correct. He arrived within three month's of the immigration station's opening in the same port. He may very well have even assumed later, as he heard about Castle Garden in newspapers or from other immigrants, that he did indeed arrive at the famous immigration station.
1. "Castle Garden: How Emigrants are Treated on Landing," New York Daily Times, 4 August 1855, page 1, col. 4; digital images, Newspaper Archive (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 26 March 2013).
2. New York Legislature, Documents of the Assembly of the State of New-York, Seventy-Second Session, Volume II (Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1849), pp. 20-22; online edition, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 26 March 2013).
3. "For New York," The Cork Examiner, 25 June 1855, page 1, col. 7; digital images, The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 26 March 2013).
4. "Marine Intelligence," New-York Daily Times, 21 June 1855, page 8, col. 6; digital images, Newspaper Archive (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 26 March 2013).
5. 1900 U.S. Census, Jefferson County, Kentucky, population schedule, Louisville, enumeration district (ED) 76, sheet 10B, household 161, family 246, John C. Flynn household; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 March 2013); citing Family History Library (FHL) microfilm 1240531. 1910 U.S. Census, Jefferson County, Kentucky, population schedule, Louisville, enumeration district (ED) 142, sheet 8B, household 126, family 198, John Flynn household; digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 March 2013); citing Family History Library (FHL) microfilm 1374499. The 1900 census indicates 1855 as the year of immigration and that John C. Flynn is a naturalized U.S. citizen. The 1910 census includes only "Un" in the fields for year of immigration and whether naturalized. This enumerator appears to have used the "un" designation in these fields extensively.
6. "Suffers Death Stroke," Kentucky Irish American, 1 November 1913, page 1, col. 4; digital images, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov : accessed 26 March 2013).