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):

Ellis Island Passenger Arrival Records: Relatives Now Searchable at MyHeritage

Millions of Ellis Island passenger arrival records include the names of the arrivals’ relatives, but those names haven’t been searchable in online indexes–until now. MyHeritage has added over 26.6 million relatives’ names to its passenger list collection and even digitally stitched together the pages for easier reading.

Ellis Island Passenger Arrival Records

New Names in Ellis Island Passenger Arrival Records at MyHeritage.com

Recently, I interviewed Ellis Island experts and shared my ongoing immigrant ancestor discoveries in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast (episode 211) and Premium Podcast (episode 153). I’ve made progress by searching Ellis Island records at different websites and by learning about clues we often don’t recognize in the records themselves. So I was pleased to hear that MyHeritage has added its own Ellis Island and Other New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957) collection and given it two unique features:

  • Its 94 million names include–for the very first time–26.6 million names of the relatives of passengers. Passenger lists recorded both the name of a relative or friend living at the arrival’s last residence and the name of a relative or friend the passenger was to visit in this country. Many times, this chain of names represents family links between an immigrant’s old and new homes. MyHeritage has indexed these names; their press release says they’re the first to do so. A quick check of Ellis Island collections at Ancestry.com, Ellis Island.org, Steve Morse’s One-Step Pages and FamilySearch confirms that none of them mention relatives’ names in their index descriptions.
  • MyHeritage has stitched together the two-age passenger manifest images, which I find pretty cool. It’s much easier not to miss the fact that there is a second page for each record, and to trace your ancestor’s line straight across the page. Here’s what it looks like:

Ellis Island passenger arrival records

Searching for Ellis Island Immigrant Ancestors

Louise (on the right) just before departure for America.

Interestingly, this search engine is the first one of any genealogy records site to pull up both sets of arrival listings for my great grandmother Louise Sporowsky and her daughter Martha, whom I talked about in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode #153.

I’m very fortunate that by a quirk of circumstance Louise and Martha were recorded twice in the same passenger list. But because each entry had variations, they’ve never come up in the same search – that is until now!

The search was a simple one: the name “Sporowksy” & 1910 as the year of arrival:

Ellis Island passenger arrival records

Premium Members may listen to that episode to find out why Louise and Martha had two passenger listings for the same crossing and what I learned from looking at both of them.

Here’s a tip: There isn’t a separate search field for relatives’ names in the MyHeritage index. I wondered about that, and Daniel Horowitz at MyHeritage confirms that you just use the regular search fields for first and last names of the passenger’s relatives. Results will include both the passengers themselves and the relatives they named.

Learn More about Ellis Island

Lisa and Barry by Beth Forester Ellis Island passenger arrival records

Me with Barry Moreno at Ellis Island. Photo by Beth Forester.

Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #211: Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island, talks about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and his research into the lives of Ellis Island employees.

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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