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Tips For Searching Ellis Island Passenger Records

From 1892 to 1924, more than 22 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York. The ship companies that transported these passengers kept detailed passenger lists, called "ship manifests." Thanks to the generous efforts of volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these manifests have been transcribed into a vast electronic archive, which you can easily navigate in search of an individual passenger.

Whether you are searching the Ellis Island Passenger Records or another online data archive, there are some general concepts you should become familiar with when using a computer-based index. Primary among these tips is to understand how a particular index was created. In the case of the Ellis Island passenger index, individual volunteers read microfilm copies of the original ship manifests and entered selected data fields into an electronic database. During this process, every effort was made to preserve the historical accuracy of the original document. Even in situations where a name appears to have been written incorrectly on the original historic document - the job of the volunteer was to preserve the integrity of the original, not to use a modern-day interpretation in correcting it (which would vary from one volunteer to another). Thus, you may find a listing for "Jhon" instead of "John". The job of interpreting possible clues or variations in spelling is left to you - the individual researcher.

After you've had a chance to review several manifest images, you will have developed an appreciation for the challenges faced by each volunteer. Some original entries were difficult - or impossible - to decipher. Your familiarity with a family or village name may make the entry seem obvious, but without that familiarity, some letters could easily present a range of possible interpretations. In addition to these challenges, some errors in transcription undoubtedly did occur. As a result, you should be diligent and creative if your first search attempt does not yield the passenger you are searching for.

The name of the passenger you are searching for will often help determine which strategy you should use to begin your search. In the most general sense, there are two strategies to consider - starting broad and narrowing your selection or starting narrow and broadening your search criteria. When you are searching for a name commonly found among the ethnic group being searched, you should consider starting narrow and expanding your options using advanced search criteria. The reason for this approach is quite simple. If a search yields too many results, it will not be practical to evaluate each individual entry in order to determine if the passenger is your ancestor.

Consider the following approach (broad to narrow):
   · Search for a passenger, Last Name is "Esposito" (returns 10,056 records)
   · Refine search by adding Gender is "Male" (returns 7,364 records)
   · Refine search by adding First Name is "Antonio" (returns 609 records)
   · Refine search by adding Village contains "Palermo" (returns 3 records)

In this example, even 609 entries is not a practical number for your to inspect. Certainly you could inspect the 3 records to determine if any (or all) are likely your ancestor. Remember, the manifest image contains additional clues not found in the database that may help you determine a family connection. Look at who the passenger was travelling with, where they were heading as their final destination in the U.S., whether or not they had been to America before. These are all elements that may prove valuable to your research.

This same strategy can be used for countless names that are common among their ethnicity. Entering passenger names Mary Lynch (679), John Smith (3,311), Robert Jones (1,419), and others will result in large numbers of potential matching records. You are encouraged to use any additional information at your disposal which could narrow the range of possible matching records.

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