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.
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 PremiumPodcast (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:
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:
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
Me with Barry Moreno at Ellis Island. Photo by Beth Forester.
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The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode #211 with Lisa Louise Cooke
Photo Credit: Beth Forester
In this episode, host and producer Lisa Louise Cooke talks with Barry Moreno, Historian at Ellis Island. Hear about the life cycle of this busy U.S. immigration station (1892-1954) and Barry’s research into thousands of Ellis Island employees?men and women?who worked there.
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More episode highlights:
Archive Lady Melissa Barker tells us about the National Archives Citizen Archivist program?and Lisa profiles a volunteer effort coordinated by the British Library to geo-tag thousands of old maps that are already online.
A giant genealogy lost-and-found! Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them to those who might be interested.
Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss talks about Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women?files that were unfortunately partially destroyed. Hear what he learned about his grandfather.
“Share Your Life Stories More Meaningfully” Premium Video
Every life is fascinating when it’s well shared! Learn from the author of Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy what stories you have that are worth telling–and several inspiring reasons to write them. Review different kinds of memories, why some memories are more vivid that others, and how to flesh them out. Learn tips for researching gaps in your memories, how to turn a memory into a good story, what to leave out and several ways to share your stories.
What can you do with a collection of unidentified photos?
Return them to a loving home. In this case, it was a local historical society. Linda wisely kept the collection together because often there’s power in what some of the photos may tell you about others.
Get them digitized and online so those who want them can find them. The historical society put images on Find A Grave memorials and Iowa GenWeb. They even plan to display them for locals to look at personally and try to identify!
Historical and genealogical societies can also share mystery photos on their websites (or their local library’s website if they don’t have their own) or on their blogs, Facebook pages or even in their regular newsletters. These are great conversation pieces, especially when you can later report that you have solved the mystery! (Click here for more tips aimed at supporting genealogy societies.)
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at https://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
MILITARY MINUTES: OFFICIAL MILITARY PERSONNEL FILES
The military service files for your ancestors who served during the twentieth century or later are located at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO as part of the National Archives. The files are called the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) and are available for each of the military branches; namely; Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.
Researchers should be keenly aware of the devastating fire that occurred on July 12, 1973 at the research facility that destroyed or damaged between 16-18 million service files from the United States Army and the Air Force. Remember that the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.com.
Watch the video below for an example of a family history video made with Animoto:
Barry Moreno is a leading authority on the history of Ellis Island, the famous receiving station for millions of immigrants to the United States from 1892-1954. He has worked in the Museum Services Division at Ellis Island for more than a decade. He is the author of several books, including Children of Ellis Island, Ellis Island’s Famous Immigrants (including Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, and Max Factor) and Encyclopedia of Ellis Island (which includes information on displaced persons).
Ellis Island: Historical highlights
Prior to 1890, immigration was handled by the states (primarily New York, as most passed through the Port of New York).
1920-1921: New regulations cut down immigration dramatically. Each country had quotas that could not be exceeded. New regulations were passed requiring immigrants to
have a passport from their home country
have medical examinations
pay a tax to the American Consulate in their home country.
During the last 30 years, Ellis Island mostly handled immigrants who were “in trouble.”
Starting in the 1930s some immigrants arrived by air (Colonial Airways from Canada). After WWII, Air France started service, and German and Italian airlines came in the 1950s.
Ellis Island was closed in 1954 by President Eisenhower. Immigrants who were still detained when it closed were sent to jails.
After 1954, Ellis Island was still used by the Coast Guard for training and by the Public Health Services department.
Barry’s research on workers at Ellis Island:
Most employees were men. Interestingly, blue collar men tended to die before age 60, and better educated ones lived much longer.
Female employees were typically widows, unmarried or had husbands who did not support them. “Char woman” was a common role held by Irish, Swedish and German women. Char means “chores” (cleaning women). They worked often for about $400/ year with no pension, and lived to old ages.
A nursery was opened at Ellis Island; many Christian missionaries worked there. Ludmila Foxlee (1885-1971) was one of them, a social worker with the YWCA. Click here to read more immigrant aid workers at Ellis Island.
Three more great resources for discovering the stories of your immigrant ancestors:
In Lias’s free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast (episodes 29-31), genealogist Steve Danko covers immigration and naturalization records in depth and even offers up some little-known tips about deciphering some of the cryptic notes researchers often find on passenger lists.
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Chalked full of a rich history, Ellis Island was the leading port of arrival for the United States for sixty years. Read more about this historic place and the inspirational stories of immigrants past.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants coming to the United States from January 1, 1892 until 1954 when it closed. In our Genealogy Gems Podcast #199, Lisa shared a blurb from Profile America, regarding Ellis Island in which a few key facts were shared.
Ellis Island: What was it like?
Many of our ancestors first stepped ashore at Ellis Island when they came to America seeking a new life. I can only imagine their first thought might have been, “Get me off this boat!” But then, perhaps there was worry and trepidation. Would they be sent home because they were sick? Would they find work, a place to live, or food to eat?
Immigration Day at Half Day School, Lincolnshire, Illinois. 2010. Courtesy of the author.
The very first immigrant was processed in 1892. Her name was Annie Moore and she was a 15-year-old Irish girl.  Can you imagine?
One elementary school in Lincolnshire, Illinois recreates this event with their yearly “Immigration Day.” Immigration Day is for all 3rd and 4th students to participate in what it’s like to come to this country for the first time. They dress up, pack up a few belongings, receive little tickets and passports, and experience in a small way the history of many of their ancestors.
Arriving on land again must have been quite the relief to passengers. Especially those in steerage. Steerage or third class passengers traveled in crowded and often unsanitary conditions near the bottom of the ship. Upon arrival in New York City, ships would dock at the Hudson or East River piers. First and second class passengers would disembark, and pass easily through Customs. They were free to enter the United States. The steerage and third class passengers, however, were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection. 
If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall). Here, doctors would quickly look over every immigrant for obvious physical ailments.
If the immigrant was found with a minor ailment, broken bone, or found to be pregnant, they would be sent to the “Island Hospital, built to restore the health of people suffering minor injuries [and] broken bones.” 
An Ellis Island Myth
The ship’s manifest log, that had been filled out back at the port of embarkation, contained the immigrant’s name and his/her answers to twenty-nine questions. This document was used by the legal inspectors at Ellis Island to cross-examine the immigrant during the legal (or primary) inspection. 
There are some genealogical myths regarding Ellis Island. Many believe that their ancestors surnames were changed when they arrived. Some even believe the name change was due to the lack of native speakers of different languages and an overall lack of communication. This is not the case.
Nearly all […] name change stories are false. Names were not changed at Ellis Island. The proof is found when one considers that inspectors never wrote down the names of incoming immigrants. The only list of names came from the manifests of steamships, filled out by ship officials in Europe. In the era before visas, there was no official record of entering immigrants except those manifests. When immigrants reached the end of the line in the Great Hall, they stood before an immigration clerk with the huge manifest opened in front of him. The clerk then proceeded, usually through interpreters, to ask questions based on those found in the manifests. Their goal was to make sure that the answers matched. (p.402)
A First-hand Look at Ellis Island
The official, award-winning documentary shown today at Ellis Island (more about that here) is available to watch online below. It is a wonderful way to get a first-hand look at what it felt like to land at Ellis Island and the a land of liberty.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast (get our app) helps you make the most of your family history research time by providing quick and easy-to-use research techniques. Producer and host Lisa Louise Cooke brings you the best websites, best practices, and best resources available! Listen to all of Lisa’s podcast episodes on iTunes for free!
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 8: Best Genealogy Websites, Part 2
In a follow up to last week’s episode about subscription genealogy records website, in my first segment our guest is Yvette Arts, Director of Content Partnerships at World Vital Records. She tells us about exciting developments at the website that have helped make it a success.
In our second segment we look at five organizations that provide free online access to genealogy records for those with North American roots: FamilySearch, the National Archives of the United States, Ellis Island Foundation, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and Library and Archives Canada.
Now for some updates on these sites and MORE since the show first aired:
FamilySearch.org is still free and growing exponentially. It captures records from all over the world, not just North America and the U.K. It is now home to over 3.5 billion names in searchable databases, with over 35 million new records added every month. In addition, they’ve added over 60,000 digital books to the site. The layout of the website has changed dramatically since I described it in the original show. Click on Search to get to their databases, then enter an ancestor’s name and, if you can, a life event (birth, marriage, residence or death). A significant portion of new online records are browsable but not yet indexed. So now, after you search for individuals in their databases, scroll down to the Browse section below the search fields. There you’ll be able to see what records you can browse for a locale (choose the international region, then you can choose more specific locations). You can still order microfilmed records at the Family History Library to a satellite FamilySearch library near you. From the Search screen, choose Catalog, and you can search for and order available records by location.
The National Archives (U.S.), also known as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) also offers more on its website now. The portal for genealogists looks a little different now but still helps you see how to search and use the site for genealogy. There’s a direct link to the 1940 census, with images, maps and descriptions. Remember that Footnote, the subscription site I mentioned that’s digitizing military records, is now Fold3, which we talked about in Episode 7.
EllisIsland.org still offers free access to the passenger records of those who landed at Ellis Island. In addition, you can still look at ship information (click on Ships from the home page). The Immigrant Experience and timeline I mention can be found by clicking on the Ellis Island tab.
The National Archives (U.K.) links from the home page to resources for ordering birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Read about updating order information, including costs, at these sites. There is still a portal for genealogists from which you can learn all about the various record groups I mention in the podcast and more.
Library and Archives Canada continues to add more valuable genealogical data to its site, including census data! Start from its Genealogy and Family History page. In addition to the features I mention in the show, they’ve improved their online indexes: scroll down on the above page and you’ll find the Ancestors Search (Databases) link to a main search engine and individual databases for vital records, censuses, immigration, land, military and several directories.