Follow these step-by-step secrets to searching the Ellis Island passenger database.
Let’s say you’re searching for a Norwegian immigrant named John Olsen. Here’s an example of how you might go about it:
1. Do a basic search. Begin your search on the EllisIsland.org home page
by filling in at least a last name. If the surname is common, add a
first name, year of birth and gender. Next, click on Start Search.
2. View matching passenger records. This search produced 90 exact matches. If you have too few matches, click on the tabs to view Close Matches, Alternate Spellings and Sounds Like matches to find names similar to those you entered. To narrow your search by adding more criteria, click the Refine Search button.
3. Refine the search by experimenting with other search criteria. Adding the year of arrival, 1921, narrows the list to 18 matches. (For birth year and arrival year, you can use the Year Range selections to add a range of one, two, five or 10 years before and after the specified year.) Selecting Norwegian as the ethnicity cuts the matches down to seven. Adding the ship’s name, Calamares, zeros in on one John Olsen. Don’t worry if you don’t know that much about your ancestors—at any point, you can stop refining and start looking through search results.
4. Click a name in your search results to view the Passenger Record with transcribed information from the manifest. (You’ll be prompted to sign in or register if you haven’t already.)
5. The Ship link at the top gives you a history and an image of the vessel. Next to that, use the View Annotations link to see notes from other researchers, or the Create Annotations link to create a note.
Click the link on the lower right to submit corrections. Below that, there’s an option to add this record to your Ellis Island File. Click view Original Ship Manifest on the right to see the passenger list.
On the Original Ship Manifest screen, hit Click to Enlarge Manifest to zoom in on the list (the enlarged image opens in a new window). The View Text Version Manifest button shows you a transcription of the entire list.
If a passenger search doesn’t work, maybe the name was transcribed incorrectly or the passenger’s name was recorded in a way you don’t expect. If you know the ship’s name and approximate date of arrival, try the new ship search so you can browse for the passenger’s name. For example, let’s say a passenger search turns up no sign of your relative Rudolph Valentino’s immigration from Italy. You suspect that wasn’t his original name. You know he was born in 1895 and arrived from Genoa Dec. 23, 1913 on the ship Cleveland.
1. Select Search by Ship from the Passenger Search menu.
2. Click on the first letter of the ship’s name, C. Then, from the alphabet ranges that appear, click on Ca-Cl.
3. Click on the ship’s name, Cleveland.
4. Select the ship’s year of arrival, 1913.
Click on the link for the ship arriving on Dec. 23, 1913,from Genoa.
6. Page through the list of names looking for a person whose name and age are similar to Rudolph Valentino. The closest match is Rodolfo Guglielmi, age 18 years and 7 months. (An X in the crew column means the person is a crewmember.)
7. Click the link to view the Passenger Record and see the person’s other details. (Silent screen heartthrob Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Guglielmi.)
From the August 2010 Family Tree Magazine