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):

Family History Episode 30 – Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished May 6, 2014

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Download the Show Notes for this Episode

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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 30: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 2

This episode continues last episode’s conversation about immigration and naturalization records. With me again is Stephen Danko, PhD,  a genealogy lecturer and a very popular blogger.  In today’s show Steve and I talk more about passenger lists, and some of the ramifications of an immigrant being detained or deported. We cover the multi-step naturalization process and you’ll hear about a fantastic find in naturalization papers–so fantastic that other researchers at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City wanted a copy!

Here are my favorite take-away points from this episode:

There were no requirements to keep passenger lists in the U.S. before 1820, or in Canada before 1867. (Many people originally arrived in one or the other of these countries, then migrated across the border, which was essentially unregulated before the 1890s.) There may have been records kept, but you’re not going to find them easily.

The passenger lists we’re most familiar with were filled out in the port of departure, then surrendered to U.S. government officials upon arrival. But other records were maintained at the port of departure. Departure information from European ports is often available on microfilm at the Family History Library, on Ancestry.com or other websites. Some of the passenger steamship lines themselves kept departure lists, like the White Star Line or the Red Star Line, and these are on microfilm. Here’s an excellent article on Passenger Departure Lists of German Emigrants, 1709-1914. Look for resources specific to other countries in genealogical guides under the headings “emigration” or “departure lists.”

Immigrants who were deported or even detained for further investigation, the steamship line had to pay the bill. If they were detained or they went back, the date and ship of deportation may be indicated on the passenger manifests.

Naturalization was a multistep process. The “first paper” is the declaration of intent. After a certain period of time, they applied for their petition for naturalization (“second papers”). Eventually they received their certificate of naturalization. After 1926, there may also be a certificate of arrival. (See Episode 29.)

Naturalization records may be at the county level or may be in federal court. Increasingly these are coming online. Meanwhile, some are easier to track down than others. Most Massachusetts naturalizations are available on microfilm and at the Massachusetts State Library. Some books

Many 20th-century naturalizations are packed with family information. Steve shared an example for one of his relatives. Her naturalization had her name, birthdate and birthplace, name of her husband and date of her marriage, her husband’s birthplace and date, the names of all her children, her date of arrival and the ship she came on! Some later naturalizations also have photographs. Microfilmed files may also have the certificate of arrival.

Updates and Links

About 70 million immigration and naturalization records have been indexed in recent years through an enormous community indexing project led by FamilySearch. Check out their site (below) to see what records are searchable now.

Ancestry.com

Ellis Island.org

FamilySearch.org Immigration and Naturalization Online Resources

One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse (Ellis Island Search Tool)

Timeline of U.S. Immigration Laws

Family History Episode 29 – Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished April 29, 2014

family history genealogy made easy podcast

with Lisa Louise Cooke

 Download the Show Notes for this Episode

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 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 29: Immigration and Naturalization Records for Family History, Part 1

In this podcast episode, one of my favorite experts talks about one of my favorite topics: immigration and naturalization records. Stephen Danko, PhD is a genealogy lecturer and a very popular blogger. In this episode he’s helping U.S. genealogists cross the pond through the use of immigration and naturalization records. He’ll talk to us about the challenges we’ll face in locating these records—and some documents you may not even know existed: certificates of arrival.

In the next episode, we’ll continue our conversation with a discussion of Departure Passenger Lists. Departure information from European ports is often available on microfilm at the Family History Library, on Ancestry.com or other websites. Some of the passenger steamship lines themselves kept departure lists, like the White Star Line or the Red Star Line, and these are on microfilm.

Here are my favorite tips from the episode:

Once you find an ancestral hometown, use Stephen Morse’s advanced search tools (see below) to look for others who arrived from the same place. This can help you identify other relatives, friends and others who part of a group or chain migration.

Usually we start with the most recent records and work backward. But when we look for immigration and naturalization records, look FIRST for immigration papers. THEN look for naturalization papers they may have filed later. You know they arrived—but not every immigrant naturalized, and their naturalization papers may have been filed in multiple places and may not be indexed.

Beginning in 1926, applicants for naturalization who arrived in 1906 or later had to be issued a certificate of arrival. These certificates were issued after their names were confirmed by the government on the original passenger lists. Between 1926 and 1943, information about certificates of arrival was noted on the original passenger lists.

The certificate of arrival information helps you in two ways:

  • The date tells you about when they applied for naturalization
  • The first part of the certificate number is the naturalization district (Northeast, Midwest, West coast, etc), to help you narrow down where to look.

Anything that helps you narrow down a search for naturalization records helps!

Updates and Links

About 70 million immigration and naturalization records have been indexed in recent years through an enormous community indexing project led by FamilySearch. Check out their site (below) to see what records are searchable now.

Ancestry.com

Ellis Island.org

FamilySearch.org Immigration and Naturalization Online Resources

One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse (Ellis Island Search Tool)

Timeline of U.S. Immigration Laws

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