Now What? Answers to Your Genealogy Questions 

Now What? Answers to Your Genealogy Questions 

Get answers to genealogy research questions about passenger lists and documentation of an ancestor's occupation. 

Question: Where should I look for a passenger record for an ancestor I think arrived in Philadelphia in 1783?

Answer: Good places to start looking for any passenger records include the Ships List and the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild. Both are free sites with thousands of volunteer-transcribed lists. Search each site for your ancestor’s name or just Philadelphia 1783. Use this same strategy with the US and Canada Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s, at

Unfortunately, the largest collections specifically of Philadelphia arrivals don’t begin until 1800. These include the National Archives microfilm M360, which indexes Philadelphia passenger and crew lists from 1800 to 1906, and M425, which has lists from 1800 to 1882. Both are available free online at FamilySearch. Slightly different collections with various end dates—but all beginning in 1800—are available at, MyHeritage and Findmypast.

For earlier Philadelphia arrivals, you also can try several extracts and transcriptions. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography published a series of “ship registers for the Port of Philadelphia, 1726-1775,” which you can find online by searching at <> or by running a keyword search of the series name in the Family-Search catalog. Also in the catalog, you’ll find “Rupps 30,000 names (extract): emigrants landed at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1730-1800,” which you can access on microfilm.

The Independence Seaport Museum might be able to help. Its library includes 18th-century records from the port of Philadelphia. You’ll find a collection guide at <>. For a German immigrant, try Pennsylvania German Pioneers, a list of arrivals at Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808. It’s searchable at 

Look for further clues in naturalization records, such as’s “Pennsylvania, Naturalization Records from Circuit and District Courts, 1795-1930” and the “Index to naturalization and declaration reports, 1802-1837 [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania],” on microfilm from FamilySearch.

Question: My relative was a tailor. Could this trade have been passed down in the family, and would that help narrow my search?

Answer: Possibly. It’s certainly true that fathers tended to pass a trade down to one or more of their sons, much as actual business enterprises might be inherited over several generations. Trades requiring equipment or other barriers to entry, such as a tailor or blacksmith shop, were more likely to stay in a family than employment such as office or factory work. 

How helpful this might be, however, depends on the occupation and the family. In most places, for example, having an ancestor who was a farmer won’t narrow your search much. If you have two candidates for an ancestor in a census, and only one was a tailor like a proven ancestor a generation apart, you could certainly focus first on the tailor. But the occupation alone, of course, doesn’t prove that man’s the right guy.

Certain jobs can help trace a family’s migrations. A family of coal miners in Illinois might have moved there from the coal-mining areas of Pennsylvania. Before that, they might’ve lived and mined in the coalfields of England, such as Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire or Kent, or in Wales.

Also keep in mind that city directories can help you discover ancestors’ jobs and track career changes over time.

Question: How can I find an 1881 Illinois marriage record?

Answer: Start by searching the free Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, online at the state archives <>. Once you’ve discovered the name of county where the marriage took place, use the Illinois Local Government Records Database at <
to learn which repository has the record. 

For example, for a marriage in Clinton County, you would select the county from the dropdown menu and type “marriage” in the search bar. The resulting page would tell you that the county’s marriage records from 1825 to 1937, as well as an index from 1874 to 1937, are at Southern Illinois University. Contact information for all state repositories is listed at <>.

FamilySearch also has an online database of Illinois marriages, covering 1815 to 1935 <>, and a partial index, 1810 to 1934 <>.


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