Ellis Island Records! BEST Search Strategies

The free Ellis Island Passenger Search database is home to 65 million records of passengers arriving at the Port of New York from 1820 to 1957. Kathryn Marks, Manager at The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation explains the best strategies for finding your ancestors’ passenger list records in the Passenger Search Database on the Ellis Island website. Along the way, you’ll learn some surprising facts about Ellis Island and these invaluable records that will have your genealogy jumping for joy!

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Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Information You Can Find in Passenger Lists

Here’s a list of the type of information you may be able to find in passengers lists, depending on the year:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Place of Birth
  • Physical Description
  • Occupation
  • Last Place of Residence
  • Where they are going
  • Ship name

What Else You Can Find at the Ellis Island Passenger Search

  • Crew Manifests
  • Ellis Island Detention Records and Records of Special Inquiry

How to find Ellis Island records about detained passengers:

  1. Find the manifest in the database.
  2. Look to the left of the name for markings. X or SI stands for Special Inquiry indicates the person was probably held on Ellis Island. LPC: Likely to Become a Public Charge.
  3. Detention records will tell you why they were detained. Detention records aren’t indexed. You can find them by locating the manifest first, and then scrolling through the carousel of images to find them at the beginning or end of the ship’s list.
  4. Determine the length of your ancestor’s detention by counting the number of meals recorded.

Ellis Island Records Through the Years

Ellis Island records coverage: 1820-1957

Pre-Ellis Island AKA Castle Garden Era Records: 1820-1892

Before 1892: Castle Garden was the state-run immigration station. The federal government took over the process of immigration, they built Ellis Island in 1892.

Pre-1897: Records are technically customs records. That’s why they have a very limited amount of information. Manifests were destroyed in a fire in 1897.

Peak Years at Ellis Island: 1892-1924

After 1907: Passenger lists became 2-page documents containing approximately 30 questions.

1924: Ellis Island’s focus turned to detention and deportation. Therefore, most people wouldn’t have actually stepped foot on Ellis Island.

Ellis Island closure: 1954

Records available through: 1957

Records were created at the port of departure. Upon arrival, Ellis Island inspectors asked the passenger the same questions to make sure they were answered the same way.

How to Search for Ancestors at Ellis Island Passenger Search

  1. Go to the Ellis Island Passenger Search page.
  2. Type your ancestor’s name into the search bar.
  3. Select from a variety of wild card searches. Kathryn recommends Close Matches, Sounds Like, and Alternative Spelling.
  4. If you get too many results, click Filters, or use the Wizard or One Page form. Kathryn recommends the One Page form.
  5. On the One Page form, Kathryn recommends using age at arrival, year of arrival, port of departure and/or country of origin. Pad the years to allow for errors and deviations.
  6. If you’re searching outside the peak year period, don’t use the filters. This is because the records after 1924 were indexed differently. Many passenger lists are only indexed by the year of arrival and are given a placeholder date of Jan. 1. Therefore, if you search for a month or day, you will not get results.

5 Search Strategies for Ellis Island Passenger Lists

Strategy 1: Start by running a broad search.

Strategy 2: Use the original ethnic name, because names were recorded at the port of departure. If you’re unsure of the first name, try entering just the first initial and checking the Contains wildcard. This often helps because the first letter of the name is often the same regardless of the language.

Strategy 3: Visit the Passenger List Database Search Help page and scroll down for search tips. For more tips on how best to utilize the database, check out Ellis Island’s Genealogy Primer page. If you have questions, email ContactUs@LibertyEllisFoundation.org.

Strategy 4: Be persistent. There are many factors that could lead to not initially finding your ancestor.

Strategy 5: Consider other scenarios.

  • Name variations – try searching many variations.
  • Remember that the clerks may have spelled names phonetically.
  • Many passenger lists are handwritten so they may have been transcribed and/or entered into the database incorrectly.
  • Your ancestors may have arrived at a different port of entry, such as Philadelphia, Boston, or Baltimore. Many of those passenger lists are also available online.

More Ellis Island Search Tips:

  • Italian women travel with their maiden name. Children may be under either the father or mother’s last name.
  • Jewish people may be traveling under their Yiddish name.
  • Families are listed together. If you can’t find the head of the family, try searching for the children.
  • In pre-Ellis records names may be abbreviated. Example: Wm. for William, and women may be listed under their husband’s name, such as “Mrs. Adam Smith”.

Coming to the Ellis Island Passenger Search in the Future

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation is planning on expanding and adding the records of all the other ports to the database.

Alternative Search Tool for the Ellis Island Database

Alternative search tool: Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step by Steve Morse.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

How to Find Images Online for Family History: Free Video Tutorials

Images make your family history more vivid. But how can you find just the right pictures to illustrate your family stories? These short, free video tutorials help genealogists find images online for family history.

picture is worth a thousand words

When it comes to sharing your family history, pictures are not only worth a thousand words: they’re priceless. A single image can convey an ancestor’s physical appearance, mood or attitude, living or working conditions, social environment, and more. Pictures catch the eye whether they are on coffee tables, hanging on the wall in frames, or shared with loved ones on social media, where they are oh-so-clickable.

So I was happy to get this email from Phyllis, asking for some tips on how to find images online for family history:

“Hi Lisa, I know you’ve told us before what some great resources are for locating historical photos and images. I’m looking for some from the Ragtime era (1895-1918). I don’t find much at the Library of Congress. Can you send me a few links to some of your podcasts that delve into where to find images? Thank you for all the hard work you do for the genealogy world.”

How to Find Images Online for Family History

Most recently, I shared some tips for finding images in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 194. But I also recommend this series of short video tutorials, which show you exactly how to do this.

How to Find Images Online: Use Google Images

The first place I search online for images for family history is Google Images. Watch this brief tutorial video to see how to find images using your Google web browser:

 

If you want to use your tablet or smartphone to find images for family history, here’s another short tutorial just for you:

 

How to Find Images Online: Image Search in Google Books

When I am looking for pictures of people, places, buildings, historical events, maps, and other images that commonly appear in books, I also search Google Books separately for pictures that haven’t shown up in the main Google search results. You can do that, too! Here’s how:

 

After you’ve found images via Google Books, you’ll want to save them. Here’s one last quick video to show you how:

 

 

Using the tips given in the above video tutorials, I can run a Google search to answer Phyllis’s specific question. I’ll type ragtime era as a keyword phrase and enter the range of years, separated by two dots and no spaces, to tell Google to search for any numbers within that range. Then, as shown below, I’ll click Images to limit the results to pictures:

 
 
The Image search results include some fun photos, including a photo of a ragtime band, several sheet music covers, illustrations of “ragtime dress” and even a link to old video footage:
 
 
 
Click on an interesting-looking image to see a larger version and more details about it, including the website that’s hosting it. You’ll also see the options to click through to the webpage on which that image is found (“Visit page”), or to click through to the URL for that image (“View image”):
 
 
 
 
When I want to use an image, I will take one additional step: Click the TOOLS button and select Labeled for reuse from the Usage rights menu. This generally filters my results down to those that don’t have copyright restrictions on them (although it’s up to me to verify this and cite the image appropriately when I use it). Here’s what it looks like to filter my results to those labeled for reuse:
 
 
 
Unfortunately, in this case, when I do this, all search results disappear. If you want to use images for your own personal use, try the Labeled for noncommercial reuse option. Not all images that are copyright free or in the public domain will be marked, so if you don’t find what you need, go back to your original search results and look at individual images that you like to see whether any of them come from government, wiki, or other websites that commonly offer copyright-free images. Click through to read any image restrictions or use policies posted on the site, or contact the site for permission to use them. In this case, I do find several hosted by libraries, and I will focus on them.
 
One last tip: filter your search results again for Videos, instead of for Images. An entirely new set of search results will appear, largely from YouTube but also from other websites:
 
 
 
If the spirit and movement of ragtime during this time period is what you’re looking for, watch these videos! They may not work for you if you need static images for a book, but they’re great for sharing on your family history blog or in a social media post. Just click through to the video page, click Share and copy and paste the Embed code onto your site.
 
The Genealogy Gems YouTube channel is a vast resource. I invite you to visit, explore, and subscribe. In addition to tech tip video demos such as these, you’ll also find interviews with genealogy experts. research tips for maps, newspapers and other record types, how-to series for family history blogging, creating videos, and using Evernote for genealogy, family history craft tutorials and more! Here’s a tip: Use the search box to find what you’d like to watch. (Google search operators work in YouTube searches, too. Use them to zero in on the video or podcast episode you want.)

When to Use Google Translate for Genealogy–And Best Translation Websites for When You Don’t

 
You can often use Google Translate for genealogy to help you translate single words or phrases. But what if you need to translate an entire passage or document? Here’s why you might want to use a different web tool–and a list of top translation websites from expert Katherine Schober.
 Best translation websites

Thanks to Katherine Schober of SK Translations for this guest blog post.

Google Translate for Genealogy–and its Limits

Google Translate is a good tool for translating individual words and short, non-complex sentences. But it works better with basic words rather than long sentences or paragraphs. This tool often ignores idioms, or words and phrases that mean something different than the actual words imply.

Mistranslations of idioms can completely change the meaning of a document and leave you confused about certain aspects of your ancestor’s life.

In German, for example, there are multiple idioms using the word “sausage,” a food that is a large part of the culture in Germany. If you type in the German idiom “Jemandem eine Extrawurst braten,” which literally means “to fry someone an extra sausage,” Google translates it word for word, coming up with the translation result “to bake an extra sausage.” This may leave the non-experienced person confused, thinking their ancestor was discussing cooking a meal. However, an experienced translator would know that this phrase actually means “to give someone special treatment,” and has nothing to do with cooking. (See my blog post, “10 Hilarious German Sausage Sayings to Try on Your Friends.”)

Google Translate can also be unreliable if a word has multiple meanings. For example, think of the word “run” in English. It can mean “a fast jog,” “a tear in your stocking,” “to be a candidate for an election,” and so on. Google Translate could easily pick the wrong English translation of your of your word, leaving you with a falsely translated document or simply very confused.

Beyond Google Translate: Best Translation Websites

Here are three websites I recommend when Google Translate just isn’t up to your genealogy translation needs:

  1. Linguee.com: This is a very helpful translation site. Unlike Google Translate, it shows you words and phrases translated into English by actual translators and not machines. You receive the definition of the word, plus pages of various sample sentences that include your word/phrase in a contextual format (in both the foreign language and in English). This means you can scroll through the examples to see which translation is the most accurate English word for your document.
  2. WordReference.com: This is an online dictionary with multiple language options available. Depending on the word, it may provide sentence examples and other entries where your word is found. This helps you to ensure the translated word is the right option for your text.
  3. Google.com: Although Google Translate can’t always get the meaning right, the Google.com search engine is a wonderful reference. If you can’t find your foreign word on the sites above, try typing it into a Google search with the word English after it. Sometimes you will find forums where your word is discussed by various family historians. If this doesn’t work, try adding genealogy after English, or taking English out and just writing genealogy. Playing around with your search request may very well give you different results. And Lisa Louise Cooke recommends putting quotation marks around the word in order to ensure it appears in every search result. Here’s an example of how that search would look: “Geburt” English Genealogy

Katherine Schober head shotI’ve previously recommended top websites especially for German translations on this blog: click here to check it out. Good luck to Sue, who commented after reading that post: “Great article! I can’t wait to try some of these websites. We have a large stack of German letters written to my husband’s mother that look impossible to read. Thank you!”

Katherine Schober of SK Translations specializes in translating German genealogical and historical documents. She has recently joined Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast: catch her creative, use-in-any-language translation tips in episodes #151 and #152. Not a Premium member yet? Click here to see what you’re missing out on in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast: Premium members get a year’s worth of access to all episodes! (Time for a binge-listening weekend??)  And if you’d like to learn how to learn how to read the old German handwriting check out her online course here

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