Juliana Szucs, social community manager at Ancestry.com presented “Coming to America: Finding Your Ancestor’s Arrival Record on Ancestry” at the recent 2016 conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.
Juliana remembers when you couldn’t get immigration records online. You had to wade through lots of microfilm. People weren’t very excited about using them. As I recall, the films were organized by arrival date, so if you didn’t know the date, you had to scroll through every name on every page on every ship on every day of every year until you found your guy—or started looking at another port. Having just an approximate date saved days of work.
Look for stories when researching migrations. Juliana had found the arrival record of her ancestors, William and Mary Ann Huggins, in New York in 1844. But they were missing their three children. It wasn’t uncommon for some family members to come before others. It’s called chain migration. Juliana finally found the record of the three coming in 1849 on the Liverpool.
Put your ancestor’s trip in the context of history. In 1849, it took one or two months to cross the ocean. Most of the Liverpool’s journey had been in January and February. This was in the middle of the potato famine. If starvation was driving the Liverpool’s passengers from Ireland, many may have been ill prepared for the journey.
Look at your ancestor’s passenger list as a whole. The Liverpool’s passenger list indicates that of the 416 passengers who boarded the ship, 37 would die before reaching America.
Juliana said there were three eras of passenger lists. The 1820-1890 era followed the Steerage Act of 1819. Very little information was listed about passengers: name, age, gender, occupation, and nationality. In 1891 responsibility for passenger lists was transferred to the Office of Immigration which instituted standardized forms that collected much more information.
Before 1820 there were no laws requiring passenger lists. Of the few that exist, some have been published. An example is Directory of Scots in the Carolinas, 1680-1830 which is available on Ancestry.com. Another is the Great Migration series, also on Ancestry.com. Find published passenger lists on Ancestry.com through the card catalog using the filters along the left side of the page. Select the immigration and travel category and the USA location. Further filter down to passenger lists and the desired state. The results include databases and published books.
When searching for immigrants on Ancestry.com, there are some things to keep in mind:
- When dealing with non-English speakers, check ethnic name variations. BehindtheName.com is a good site for given name variations. Juliana gave an example list of variants for a surname: Mekalski, Mekala, Mensalski, Menkala, Menkalska. And this for a place name: Wyszków, Wiszkow, Vyszkov, Wischkow.
- Remember wildcards when searching. Me*kal*a will match many variations of the surname, above. W*zk*w will match many variations of the place name.
- Utilize the ability to add plus-or-minus values to dates.
- Don’t confuse country of origin with port of departure.
- Place the name of the ship in the keyword field when the search form doesn’t have an explicit ship’s name field.
Remember that Ancestry also has non-U.S. passenger lists, including “UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960”; “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934”; and “Gothenburg, Sweden, Passenger Lists, 1869-1951.”