Tips For Searching Ellis Island Passenger Records
From 1892 to 1924, more than 25 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.
The Advanced Search capabilities of the index to the Ellis Island database enable input for the following data fields:
· First Name of Passenger
· Last Name of Passenger
· Marital Status
· Approximate Year of Birth of Passenger
· Year Range (Expands range for Year of Birth)
· Approximate Year of Arrival
· Year Range (Expands range for Year of Arrival)
· Town/Village of Origin
· Name of Passenger Ship
There are 4 Advanced Search conditions that can be used in conjunction with the First Name field for a passenger record. They include: Ignore, Is, Starts With, and Contains. The default setting is to Ignore the First Name field. If you enter a name or any portion of a name in this field without first changing the conditional setting, you will receive a reminder upon submitting your search and will need to modify your search before you can proceed.
Ignore— This condition is the default setting and can be helpful in expanding your search if too few or no records meet your initial search criteria. If you are trying to locate a passenger, but cannot find them by searching for First and Last Name, try ignoring the First Name and resubmit your search. If you are unsure of the passenger's first name or suspect the name you knew your ancestor by was not their name at birth, this item may be helpful when used in conjunction with other Advanced Search data options. This condition can also be useful in finding ancestors with the same Surname (Last Name) originating from the same Village or Town or travelling on the same Ship.
Is— When using this condition, you are searching for a specific First Name to appear exactly as you have specified in your search criteria.Try using abbreviations, too, such as ‘Jas’ for ‘James’ and ‘Wm’ for ‘William’, as the abbreviations may have been used on the manifest.
Starts With— Searching for a name that starts with a letter or string of letters will search for all records that match this criteria. If you specify 'pa', the search results would include any First Name containing 'pa' as the first two letters of that name, regardless of what characters followed. Examples would include 'Pat', 'Patrick', 'Patricia', 'Pasquale', 'Paola', 'Paula', and so on. To narrow a search using this condition, you should enter as much of the name as possible to filter out unlikely records.
Contains— This condition is similar to Starts With, but the important difference is that characters being searched in this case can appear anywhere within the First Name field, as long as they appear consecutively. Using the example from above, a search for First Name that contains 'pa' would still bring up the names listed above, but would also bring up 'Cleopatro' and 'Giuseppa' since the letters 'pa' appear somewhere within the string, but not necessarily at the beginning.
There are 3 Advanced Search conditions that can be used in conjunction with the Last Name field for a passenger record. They include: Is, Starts With, and Sounds Like. The passenger's Last Name is the primary field used for all searches and requires the entry of at least 2 characters.
Is— This condition functions the same for Last Name as it does elsewhere in Advanced Search. The string provided when you submit your search is compared against the Last Name field in the database. If you have selected the First Name is condition, then only those last names that match your input are returned.
Starts With— Searching for a name that starts with a letter or string of letters will search for all records that match this criteria. When used with Last Name, a minimum of 3 characters must be supplied. If you specify 'Ste', the search results would include any Last Name containing 'Ste' as the first three letters of that name, regardless of what characters followed. Examples would include ‘Stein’, ‘Steinberg’, ‘Steinboch’, ‘Steine’, ‘Steiner’, ‘Steinmetz’, and so on. To narrow a search using this condition, you should enter as much of the name as possible to filter out unlikely records.
Sounds Like— The Last Name field is the only area within Advanced Search that incorporates a 'Sounds Like' condition which can be used to expand your passenger search. The Ellis Island database index uses a customized system that provides a choice of alternate spellings for the name that would sound the same, but be spelled differently. For example - Smith, Smyth, and Smythe. You cannot do a soundex search at this time, but searching on the name will generate a list of possible phonetic equivalents for a broader search.
There are 3 Advanced Search conditions for Gender: Male (M), Female (F), and Any (or Ignore).
In most cases, this field will serve as a good filtering tool and may reduce the number of possible matching records by half. You are cautioned, however, that errors in the original historical record were preserved in the creation of the index. In addition, it is possible that transcription errors in this area could have the effect of 'hiding' the passenger you're searching for. While you should certainly use Gender as a filter, don't ignore the possibility that your passenger (especially if travelling as a small child) was recorded incorrectly.
It is also important to note that many manifest forms list Marital Status immediately after Gender (or Sex). With hundreds of passengers aboard a ship, consider how easy it must have been for the letter 'M' (indicating Male) to be accidentally placed in the column for Marital Status, or vice versa. Suddenly, your Single Female passenger could appear in the historical record as a Married Male.
APPROXIMATE YEAR OF BIRTH
Passenger Records in the Ellis Island database contain the Date of Arrival for each ship, as well as the Age on Arrival for each individual passenger. By using these two data fields, we are able to have an 'Approximate Year of Birth' for each passenger.
Family stories may recall the arrival of an ancestor in 1892 at age 7, but if your search comes up empty, consider that details of their arrival may have been changed over time. You may find a 2-year old arriving in 1897 that matches. For many, using an Approximate Year of Birth is a good strategy for refining your passenger search. Birth, marriage, and death certificates, as well as headstones, obituaries, census and other sources can all provide an approximate year of birth for your ancestor. For those 'ageless' ancestors who seemed to get younger with each source document you inspect, consider using a year range to expand the range of possible birth years. A 5-year old passenger arriving in 1900 may have been born in 1895, but depending upon the date of arrival and date of birth, the actual year of birth may have been 1894.
This data field is also paired with a Year Range which allows you to specify 'plus or minus' 1, 2, 5, or 10 years built around the date you specify. If other documents place a possible year of birth about 1900, you may wish to search for 'Approximate Year of Birth' is 1900 '+ or - 5 years' (that would seek any passenger matching other criteria born between 1895 - 1905, inclusive). This field can also be useful in finding multiple arrivals through Ellis Island for the same individual. An arrival in 1892 at age 5 might also show up in 1912 at age 25. Both manifests can provide valuable clues in your research.
When examining the manifest to see if the passenger is the person you are searching for, keep in mind the historical perspective. Boundaries changed over time, so the Nationality (country of which citizen or subject) might be different from what you know. Nationality can also differ from the Race or People. For example, a person might list Russia as the Nationality but specify Polish under Race or People. Immigrants from what today is Lebanon may cite Syria or Turkey as the Nationality and Syrian under Race or People. Check all the Ethnicity boxes that you think may apply.
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