How to Find and Decipher Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Passenger Lists Records:
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 34

Video & Show Notes
Original air date: 11/19/20

If you’ve ever struggled to find a passenger list or figure out what it’s telling you about your family history, you’re in the right place. In this episode I’ll show you where to look, and how to interpret what you find. Click to watch the video and follow along with the notes below:

A Question About Passenger Lists

Genealogy Gems Premium Member and Elevenses with Lisa viewer Deborah Huber wrote in about some challenges she was having with passenger lists. 

“Hi  Lisa,  I have a few questions about the passenger records I have found for my mother and grandparents.  They are all from Ancestry.com.” Let’s go through Deborah’s questions  step-by-step.

Deborah is looking for the Felberg Family:

  • Otto age 33 (Grandfather) b. 1894
  • Marta age 23 (Grandmother) b. 1904
  • Ruth age 3 (Mother) b. 1924
  • They Sailed March 25, 1927 from Hamburg Germany to New York

“My mother was born in Heinrichshoff on “Stork Day,”  a day celebrating the return of the storks in the spring and welcoming them to their nests on top of the chimneys.”   

Passenger List records to look for:

  • German Passenger list (the outbound record)
  • New York Passenger lists (the incoming record)

Searching for the New York Passenger List

How to search for passenger lists at Ancestry: Search > Immigration & Travel > Search by name and birthdate. If you don’t see both expected passenger lists (ex. Hamburg and New York) check the Card Catalog. Example search: Hamburg passenger or Germany passenger. From the results page you might have the opportunity to click through and see a photo of the ship. You may also find a link to additional passenger lists (in this case, the Hamburg Passenger List).

passenger list results page

Results page for Otto Felberg

Question: “Also, my mother always said that they didn’t go through Ellis Island but did land in NY City.  I think Castle Gardens was already closed in 1927 so I’m trying to figure out where they did land.”
Answer: The record collection title alerts us to what is included in the passenger list collection: New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

A quick Google search will tell us the dates that Castle Garden was in operation: “From August 3, 1855 to April 18, 1890, Castle Garden was America’s first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City.”

Tip: Search Multiple Sources for Passenger Lists
You may find the quality of the digitized image varies from one genealogy website to the next.

Top Free Resources for searching for Ellis Island passenger lists:

Tip: Finding Passengers When Names are Hard to Read
When names are difficult to read, focus on other information that is easier to spot such as the person’s age. In the Felberg family’s case, Ruth was 3 years old. Looking for a “3” in the age column proved much easier than reading the names.

Identifying the Location Named in a Passenger List

Question: On the screenshot from the Hamburg list is says the destination was “Greenlake”.  Is that a port?  All I could find on the internet about Greenlake is that it is a NY state park.  
Answer: The “Greenlake” mentioned in the indexed passenger list record refers to the final destination, not the port of arrival. Carefully review both original passenger list records.

Tip: Don’t Miss Page 2
Like many genealogical records, passenger lists records may be more than one page. If the index refers to something that you do not see when you click through to the original record, it is a strong indication that there is another page. Always look at the pages before and after any digitized record. In this case, we find Greenlake, WI on page 2!

  • 1820 – 1907: Ship manifests are 1 page in length
  • After 1907: Manifests are 2 pages with additional information provided.

Source: The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

Now that we know that Greenlake is Greenlake, Wisconsin, we can run a quick Google search to find the correct name and county: Green Lake, Wisconsin. Then continue your googling to find more historical information such as old maps and postcards. Click “Images” on the results page to quickly review the results.

Here are a few of the resources we found for Green Lake, WI:

 

Deciphering the Passenger List

There is a wealth of information on the Felberg’s passenger list, starting with the name of Otto’s father and the town where he lived: 

Nearest relative listed on a passenger list

Nearest relative listed on a passenger list

 

how to decipher a passenger list form

How to decipher an Ellis Island passenger list form.

Hamburg Passenger Lists

Question: “I can’t read the actual document which is the Hamburg Passenger List.”
Answer: The Hamburg passenger list can be found in the Card Catalog. Card Catalog > Search Title (Hamburg Passenger Lists)
2 results: the passenger lists and the index.

We discovered that not only was the passenger list extremely difficult to read due to the ink copying over the page, but also the link did not go to the correct page. This is where the Index, found through the Card Catalog, because indispensable.

Index: Hamburg Passenger Lists, Handwritten Indexes, 1855-1934

  • 1925-1934 (The Felberg’s arrived in 1927)
  • Band 161 (1927 F-J) (The year of their arrival and “F” for Felberg)
  • F (for Felberg)

Search the Index to locate the page number for the passenger’s record. Then go back to the original record and find the handwritten page number in the upper corner.

Tip: Quickly Navigate the Ancestry Record

Simply press the appropriate key on your computer keyboard to quickly navigate the pages.
“N” = Next page
“P” = Previous page
Visit Elevenses with Lisa Episode 17 for more Ancestry search tips and tricks.

We found the Felberg family on page 117, exactly where the index said they would be. It’s a good idea to search all the passengers for others with the same last name. In this case, Otto’s brother Rudolph Felberg was also on the ship. This aligned with the family lore that Rudolph may have sponsored the family’s move.

Resources:

Premium Member Bonus Downloads (Membership required – learn more here):

Solving Family History Mysteries in Roswell, NM: Genealogy Seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke

You’re invited to join Lisa Louise Cooke for a Roswell, NM genealogy seminar. “Solving Family History Mysteries with Lisa Louise Cooke” will be held on Saturday, October 21, 2017 as the Wilson-Cobb History and Genealogy Library Annual Workshop. Please come! 

roswell NM genealogy Seminar

Roswell, NM Genealogy Seminar with Lisa Louise Cooke

The Wilson-Cobb Library in Roswell, New Mexico is hosting Lisa Louise Cooke for an exciting, informative all-day workshop that will help you solve your family history mysteries! Here’s what’s happening:

What: Solving Family History Mysteries with Lisa Louise Cooke
Where: Roswell Civic and Convention Center, 912 N Main St, Roswell, NM 88201
When: Saturday, October 21, 2017, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (On-site registration opens at 8:30 am)
Hosted by: Wilson-Cobb History and Genealogy Library
Registration: Click here for more information and to register
Bonus: Snacks, beverages and a catered lunch will be served. (Donations gratefully accepted for lunch.)

If you haven’t registered ahead of time, plan to be there at 8:30 am for onsite registration. At 9:00, Lisa will start teaching the day’s class lineup:

Google Tools & Procedures for Solving Family History Mysteries. In this session, we will walk through the process, provide you with the tools, and wow your socks off with real-life examples of Googling success. You will leave this class inspired to revisit using Google for your online searches, and armed with the latest strategies to do so successfully. Not everything is online by any stretch, but even offline sources are more efficiently discovered and accessed when you start online. And the fastest and most effective way to locate online data, whether it resides on a university website or the blog of a distant cousin you’ve never met, is Google!

Update: Google! Everything New That You Need to Know for Genealogy. Google continues to evolve and change every day. In this session, Google Guru Lisa Louise Cooke will give you an update on the most recent Google changes. Then she will unleash advanced search strategies for genealogy that you probably aren’t using, but are ‘must-haves’ in order to get the best results possible. Here are tips and tricks you can put into practice right away.

How to Reopen and Work a Genealogical Cold Case. Become a genealogical detective in this vital session. You’ll learn to track ancestors like a criminal cold case detective, sniffing out holes in your research and getting missing information on the record with cutting edge technology.

Google Search Strategies for Common Surnames. Discover tips and tricks to find your ancestors with common surnames and surnames that double as common words in the English language with Google.  Learn how to weed out irrelevant search results to save time and get to what you want faster.  Then save and automate your searches to run for you! You’ll not only improve your searches, but also improve the chances that the information you post online will be found by other genealogists facilitating collaboration!

Don’t miss Lisa’s Google tips!

Solve more family history mysteries with Lisa Louise Cooke’s top-selling book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (2nd edition). This “Google bible” for the genealogist tells you everything you need to know to master Google’s many powerful tools. Step-by-step instructions, clear illustrations and inspiring examples will teach you how to get the most out of Google searching (even for common surnames), Google Earth, Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Alerts, Google Translate and even YouTube.

Read these Google genealogy success stories:

An ancestor’s pen name identified–and 69 of his articles found–with Google Books

Two ancestors’ homes found on the National Historic Register with Google Searching

The Colored Farmers Alliance: Social history revealed with Google and Google Books

How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry – The Better Browsing Checklist

Browse-only collections at Ancestry and other genealogy websites are sometimes viewed as inaccessible, but they are actually a hidden treasure. Learn how to access these browse-only collections at Ancestry and expand your family history research.

better browsing ancestry checklist

In the past we’ve written about how to access browse-only content at FamilySearch.org. Many readers said it opened a whole new world of genealogy records to them that they didn’t know they were missing. 

The good news is that FamilySearch is not alone in offering browse-only content. Ancestry.com also has browse-only collections of digitized records. (Not an Ancestry.com subscriber yet? Click here to learn more. This is an affiliate link and we are compensated if you make a purchase, which supports this free blog. Thank you!)

Knowing how to search and browse records effectively is critical because you shouldn’t just rely on hints. Ancestry, for example, only provides hints from about the top 10% of their most popular databases. That means if you only spend time on reviewing hints, you’re missing a massive amount of genealogical information available in all of the other records. 

Typically you’ll be using the search feature to find those other records. However not all records are searchable. That’s because after the long process of acquiring the rights to digitize and publish a genealogy record collection, it takes even longer to get them indexed for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, Ancestry doesn’t always make us wait to gain access to them until the indexing is complete.

The digital images are published without an index. This means they are not searchable by names and other keywords. Therefore, it can take some time to locate a record within one of these collections. But I think you’ll agree it’s more convenient to look through them from the comfort of your own home rather than renting microfilm or traveling to a far off location!

Here’s your checklist for better browsing. 

HOW TO FIND BROWSE-ONLY RECORDS AT ANCESTRY

While Ancestry.com doesn’t make it quite as easy as FamilySearch to find browse-only or partially-indexed databases, it’s still very much worth the effort. 

1. Head to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.

Ancestry.com Card Catalog Search

2. Search and Filter

In the upper left corner you can search the catalog by title and / or keyword. However, if you know the type of record you are looking for, such as military records, the best place to start is filtering by that category. If the list is long, you can then search within that category by keywords. 

Ancestry card catalog filtering column

3. Determining if the Records are Searchable

If you don’t see a search box on the left side, then you can assume that this collection has not yet been indexed and therefore isn’t searchable by keywords and other data. Instead you will see typically see the source information box at the top.

browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry

HOW TO FILTER BROWSE-ONLY GENEALOGY RECORDS

1. Browse This Collection Box

On the right side of the screen you will see a Browse this Collection box. The filtering options presented will depend on the way the collection is organized. 

Filter browse only genealogy record collection at Ancestry

In the case of the Nevada County Marriage database, a drop down menu allows you to filter by county.

2. Make a Selection

As you can see in my example, once I selected a county I can also filter down by record books. So even though you can’t search names, you can often zero in on the portion of the collection most relevant to your search.

filtering down browse only records at Ancestry.com

Browse this Collection box

 

HOW TO BROWSE RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM

Once you have selected the available filters, you’ll find yourself in the digitized records. They are displayed in a filmstrip layout which will come in quite handy for navigation through the pages. 

Filmstrip navigation of genealogy records at Ancestry.com

Navigation is crucial since we can’s search by names and keywords. Let’s take a closer look at the ways you can navigate:

browse navigation at Ancestry.com

Browsing a digitized genealogy record collection at Ancestry.com

 

Finding the Filmstrip

if you don’t see the filmstrip view, click the filmstrip icon:

Filmstrip View

 

Finding and Using the Original Index

 

WATCH THE BONUS VIDEO below to see the next section in action. Click on the sound button to the right of the play button to turn on the sound. 

 

Many records that were originally bound in books like this collection include index pages. In this book the index appears at the beginning. If you look closely at the filmstrip images it’s easy to spot where the index lists are and where the records begin. 

index pages and record pages

So even though Ancestry hasn’t had the chance to index the records yet, they are indexed in the book. This will make the job of browsing for the records you need even easier. 

The “About” box on the card catalog entry often includes important information about whether or not the collection has an index. One example of this is the Canada, Photographic Albums of Settlement, 1892-1917 record collection. It is a browse-only series of digitized photo albums by Canada’s Department of the Interior between 1892 and 1917. The collection description includes very useful instructions such as: “At the beginning of each album, you will find a table of contents with a brief description of each photograph and the photograph number. Use these tables to help you browse to the photograph of interest.” As you can see, taking a few extra moments to read about the collection can make browsing it much easier. 

Browse only database of Canadian records

Save Time When Browsing Between Volumes

Remember that Browse this Collection box on the right hand side of the card catalog entry page? (See the Browse this Collection box image 6 images above.) This handy menu is also embedded in the record viewer. If you need to switch to a different book, album or other portion of the collection, you don’t have to hit the back button and start over. Instead, at the top of the viewing page, click the volume or collection you are currently viewing (this appears as a sub-title under the main title of the collection.) A browse structure menu will appear showing you all the other options within the collection. Just click the one you want and you will be instantly switched over. Think of it as pulling a different volume of a series of books off the shelf!

Browse structure on viewer page at Ancestry

Switching volumes within the collection within the viewer.

 

Browsing Indexed Records

There will be times when even though a record collection is indexed, you may still want to browse it. Browsing isn’t just for unindexed records. Many genealogy gems can be found by browsing a database that you’ve already searched. You may spot neighbors of interest, other surnames from your family tree, and more. So even when you are working with a record collection that has a search box, look for the browsing option in the right column.

browse indexed records at Ancestry

 

HOW TO FIND THE NEWEST RECORDS AT ANCESTRY.COM

The records most likely to not yet be indexed, and therefore browse-only, are the newest records added to Ancestry. If you’re looking to bust through a brick wall, here’s a great way to find the newest records that just might do it.

1. Go to the Card Catalog

From the main menu on the Ancestry website, select Search > Card Catalog.

2. Sort the Records

In the right hand corner you’ll find a Sort By menu. Select Date Added

New Records at Ancestry.com sorted by Date Added

Select Date Added from the Sort by menu.

3. Newest Record View

The Card Catalog will now be presented in the order in which the records were added. The newest records will appear at the top of the list.

4. Filter the List

Use the filters along the left side of the page to filter the collections by record type, location, and date. Then use the search boxes to target keywords. This will give you results that include your keyword starting with the newest collections.

BONUS PDF AND MORE RESOURCES

Making a small investment of time in getting to know the search and browsing functions of a website can pay off big.

BONUS PDF: Click to download a handy ad-free PDF version of this article for easy reference: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry

Here are three more articles and podcast episodes here at Genealogy Gems that can help you maximize your genealogy research efforts:

WHAT DID YOU UNCOVER USING THESE BROWSING STRATEGIES?

Please leave a comment below and share the genealogy gems that you uncover using these techniques. And of course if you have any questions, leave those as comments as well and I’ll reply.

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