Q. I have not been able to find my grandparents in the Ellis Island records. My mother’s maiden name does not even appear at all in the records. What now?
A: To find ancestors on the Ellis Island passenger lists, you need to know the ancestor’s original name in the homeland. The name your ancestor gave when he or she purchased the ticket to America will be the name that will be recorded on the list. But, just like any document, the name could have been accidentally misspelled, or the name could appear to be spelled a different way because of the clerk’s handwriting—an a looks like an o or an e, for example. When using the database online, keep in mind that you are at the mercy of the transcriber who looked at the microfilmed copy of the passenger list and tried to interpret the name to enter it into the database. A transcriber unfamiliar with the clerk’s script may convolute a name you would find easy to read because you’ve looked at records with that type of script before. But all isn’t lost. You can do it the old-fashioned way by checking the microfilmed indexes and lists, where you have more flexibility to check variant spellings. For Ellis Island research strategies, see the December 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine, on newsstands Oct. 22.