Genealogy Hacks: Ellis Island

Genealogy Hacks: Ellis Island

Do your online ancestor searches feel like exercises in futility? Use our tricks to crack this top genealogy Web site.

Admit it. You return again and again to the popular genealogy Web sites – FamilySearch, USGenWeb, RootsWeb and others – looking for clues about your ancestors. If you’re repeating the same searches but not finding much, it’s time to give your technique an overhaul.

We’ve taken a fresh look at seven familiar sites, examined their search options, and even figured out how to use Google <google.com> to probe them more efficiently. So get out of that rut – and finally find your ancestors – with these “hacks” for effectively mining the Internet’s most-frequented family history stops.

Ellis Island <ellisisland.org>

 
This huge free database holds details on more than 22 million immigrants, crew and other passengers who came through the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. New York was the entry point for 71 percent of all immigrants during those years. Keep in mind that the database also lists US citizens returning home from travel abroad, so relatives who weren’t immigrants may show up, too. Once you find your ancestors in this online index, you can click to view an image of the actual ship’s manifest.

It’s a myth that Ellis Island officials purposefully changed immigrants’ names. The volunteer record transcribers may have made occasional mistakes, though, or had trouble interpreting handwritten records. So finding your relatives might require-some creative searching methods, such as:

Try the Advanced Search. Ellis Island’s basic search options include first and lastnames and an approximate year of birth. If you’re looking for a common name, select Advanced Search from the Passenger Search pull-down menu to access additional search options, such as similar-sounding names, year of arrival, town of origin and ethnicity.

Use Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step tools. At <stevemorse.org>, you can choose from two One-Step search forms — Gold and White — to sort through the Ellis Island database more efficiently. The White Form, which uses Ellis Island’s search engine, lets you look for up to 30 alternate surname spellings at once: Just select the Sounds Like (Many) option.

The Gold Form offers the most search flexibility, and because it uses a different search engine from the Ellis Island site’s, it retrieves results faster when you do searches with partial or no names. To search for every passenger from a particular place, leave the name fields blank and specify the town name. You also can do a more-precise Soundex search: Instead of using standard American Soundex codes with one letter and three digits, Morse’s Gold Form uses the six-digit Daitch-Mokot off Soundex system. (Find more hints for using Morse’s One-Step tools to trace immigrant ancestors in the February 2007 Family Tree Magazine.)

From the May 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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