Now What: How Do I Find My Immigrant Ancestor?

Now What: How Do I Find My Immigrant Ancestor?

How do I find the arrival record of an ancestor who isn't in the Ellis Island database?

Q. I can’t find my ancestor Emma Berman’s record of arrival in the United States. She’s from a town in Romania beginning with a T. Various census records state her year of immigration as 1908 and 1911 and have her born in the early 1880s. I’ve searched the Ellis Island database for both years without success. What now?

A. Passenger records such as those for Ellis Island are often difficult to read and transcribe, and names could have been mixed up by those who recorded them. Further complicating such searches are the differences in names and even alphabets between America and the “old country.” Romanian, for example, uses 28 letters (31 since 1982) rather than our 26. To American eyes, some of these characters could appear to be a bunch of squiggles.

 
Dates of immigration on census forms can be highly unreliable, too, varying with the mists of time or misunderstanding of the question. Sometimes women were simply given the same arrival date as their husbands, even if they actually immigrated separately.
 
To overcome these challenges, try Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step search of passenger records at stevemorse.org. Searches here of the Ellis Island database are incredibly flexible; you don’t even have to supply a last name. We tried searching for arrivals from “Roumania” between 1906 and 1911 with last name that is or begins with “Berman.” Among the 51 hits was Nahama Bermann, born about 1882, from Tekutsch, Romania, who arrived on the President Lincoln Oct. 17, 1907. We’re betting that’s your ancestor.

From the December 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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