Here is a summary of our most recent Genealogy Program at the Schaumburg Township District Library on Tuesday evening, July 12, 2011. Our guest speaker for the evening was Dan Niemiec. Dan presented a program titled “Who Sank Grandpa’s Boat: Effective Techniques to Find Passenger Manifests”.
Dan was kind enough to allow me to post his handout he provided at the program onto this blog post. You can access this handout here:
We had a good turnout for this mid-Summer program. We had 57 participants in attendance!
I started the program at 7:30 PM with the introduction of new participants. We had about 3 new participants who shared with all of us their name, their description of the their newness to genealogy and some of the surnames they were researching. Each new participant received a Welcome package from me with some good tips on how to move forward on their research journey using a variety of resources both within and outside our library.
I indicated to the group that I would like to forego reviewing some of the handout material so that we could get to our speaker by 7:45 PM rather than 8:00 PM and allow more un-rushed time after the speaker should anyone want to talk to me or the speaker. Because the material is all available online everyone can take a deeper look at it on their own. I just briefly reviewed some upcoming program dates and topics for a variety of groups in the area.
Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have on the material contained in the Newsletter or the Handout material.
Dan then started his presentation at around 7:50 PM.
Dan indicated that Passenger List research can be both easier and harder than researching using microfilms as it was done years ago. It can be easier simply because the transcribed data now exists in online databases that allows us to simply enter in our search term, a surname, and let it rip. Sounds easy!! We are all dependent on the accuracy and the knowledge of the transcriber that created the entry that gets included in the database. If the surname is mis-entered or misspelled or simply entered in as a wild guess, then no matter how we search we may not find the ancestor unless we become creative with spelling possibilities.
In the “old” days of researching the material on microfilm, at least we had a possibility of seeing an entry that looked like it might be our ancestor. You do not get the same luxury by entering in search terms into a database.
So once again we have the age-old problem of being creative with our surname entries when accessing databases.
Related to that difficulty, the researcher has also got to be aware of using a search term that reflects the name of the ancestor AT THE TIME THE PASSENGER MANIFEST WAS CREATED!
Just because you know the ancestor by the name that became common 100 years after the event, that will not help you searching for them under the name that was written on the passenger manifest or the spelling that was used.
My great-grandmother’s first name was Eva but in Polish it is spelled as EWA. Using “Eva” will not find “Ewa”.
My great-uncle’s first name was Andrew but in Polish it is spelled as Andrzy. You will never find him using “Andrew” as you know it.
Surnames could also have been changed over time. You may know the surname as it is today and how it is spelled today, but to be successful with your passenger research you need to know and use the name in the format it would have been on the passenger manifest.
So you might have some homework in researching how the names may have been at the time of the event and not how you know them today.
Dan showed us many examples of the spelling variations he encountered in his own research. You have to believe in miracles to find your ancestors under these circumstances!
Dan also made mention of using the Steve Morse website to help you in your research. Steve has created all kinds of templates that allow you to work with passenger databases from Ellis Island or Ancestry.com. His templates allow you to enter in just about any term you might find on a passenger record.
Again, be cautious when using many of these templates because you do not want to enter in too much data just because you can. If any one of the fields does not match the data you will not get any results and consequently think your ancestor is not in the database. When you search, you always want to start with the most minimal search term and only add on one by one if you need to pare down the results.
Please visit the Steve Morse website to access and use all of these templates at:
Also remember, every one of our ancestors did not arrive through the Port of New York. About 50% of the immigrant arrivals arrived to New York. But there are other ports they may have come through like Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore, Galveston etc. You may still have to research the old-fashioned way using microfilms of these ports if your arrival does not show up in the online material from Ellis Island or those passenger databases from Ancestry.com.
Also be aware of the dates when you believe your ancestors may have arrived to the United States. The Port of New York is actually comprised of two categories of data. Prior to 1892, ancestors arriving into New York would have been processed at Castle Garden. After 1891, Ellis Island was the processing destination in the Port of New York. So if an ancestor arrived into New York prior to 1892, you will not find the ancestor in the Ellis Island data. You will need to work with Castle Garden material.
You must be aware of the timelines and the history in order to be in the right series of databases when searching. And because New York received about 50% of the arrivals, you must be aware that no matter how hard you search New York, they may have arrived in another port.
My ancestors seemed to have arrived either in New York or in Baltimore.
You can visit the Ellis Island search site at:
You can visit the Castle Garden at:
Please take a good look at the handout higher up in this post that Dan allowed to include in this post. It is a good guide to help you in your own passenger research. Give the suggestions provided by Dan a try. It still may not be easy but then again where has genealogy research ever been that easy!!
Dan ended his presentation at around 9:15 PM and stayed until about 9:45 PM addressing questions from those that spoke to him directly.
Don’t give up on researching your ancestors’ Passenger Records. It is hard and can be frustrating when you just can’t find them. Use Dan’s handout and search the material in a more intelligent manner using the guidelines that Dan has provided in his handout.
Good luck with your searching!
Schaumburg Township District Library