Bust a genealogy brick wall by learning to speak Google’s language. Proper use of Google’s basic search operators will have you plowing through walls in your research in nothing flat!
Genealogy information is sprinkled across the millions of websites on the web. Whether it’s a digital image of your great-great grandma on a distant cousins website or an out-of-print history book listed in the online card catalog in a library on the other side of the globe. Google can help you find it all.
Gaining access to that information is not as hard as you may think. I’d like to share a question I received recently from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, and show you how you can bust a brick wall by speaking Google’s language.
Here’s the email that I received from Ruth last week:
I’m sitting here listening to one of your free podcasts…I’m working, I’m listening, and I’m thinking…about my brick wall James Craig, what I know and what I’m trying to find out!
I know that James Craig was born about 1795-97 in New Jersey and was at Ft. Jesup, Louisiana in 1823, [and] that he was discharged in 1825. I researched New Jersey military records and found a James Craig, from Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey, who joined the Army [in] August 1820 for five years [and] he was sent to Fort Scott, Georgia. I read articles that state, when Fort Scott closed sometime around 1822/23, the men were sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Do you see the trail I’m following? It’s not hard to make the connection from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Fort Jesup, Louisiana. My problem is that I haven’t found any transfer papers!! So, how do I verify that James Craig from Pittsgrove, New Jersey is my 3rd great-grandfather. Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this?
Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have on this long standing brick wall!
Tips to Bust a Genealogy Brick Wall
Ruth asked “Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this?” I certainly think it is possible! I would suggest using Google to search the web because such items might be digitized online, or they might be listed on a library or archive website as being available at their location. Either way, you would gain valuable information on how to access the items.
Here’s an example of a search I would run:
This search is based on my Google Excellent Method Search Let’s break down the pieces of this search query:
The quotation marks tell Google that the word or phrase must be in every search result (in other words, they are mandatory.) When used around a phrase, that means the phrase must appear exactly as searched.
The asterisk tells Google there might be a word or two between the words in a phrase, such as a middle initial.
By putting OR between two versions of the phrases, such as last name first and first name first, you cover all your bases. Note that the word OR must be capitalized to work as a Google operator.
Finally, two numbers separated by 2 dots is called a “numrange search” and that tells Google a number that falls within that range must appear in each search result. And of course, four digit numbers represent years to genealogists!
Your Genealogy Google Guru
Google packs a powerful punch for genealogists. Let me be your Genealogy Google Guru and watch my video below for even more helpful tips and tricks. Remember to subscribe to my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll get all my upcoming Google video tips. Happy searching!
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!
Here’s a list of the type of information you may be able to find in passengers lists, depending on the year:
Place of Birth
Last Place of Residence
Where they are going
What Else You Can Find at the Ellis Island Passenger Search
Ellis Island Detention Records and Records of Special Inquiry
How to find Ellis Island records about detained passengers:
Find the manifest in the database.
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.
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.
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
Select from a variety of wild card searches. Kathryn recommends Close Matches, Sounds Like, and Alternative Spelling.
If you get too many results, click Filters, or use the Wizard or OnePageform. Kathryn recommends the One Page form.
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.
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.
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