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Ellis Island Immigration Records
Learn how to find personal deatils about your ancestors in Ellis Island Immigration records

By Elizabeth Powell Crowe

Are you one of the 40 percent of Americans who can trace an ancestor to the immigration center at Ellis Island? If so, you’ll want to check out Ellis Island Records Online.

The searchable database covers records from 1898 to 1924, and includes more than 22 million names. It is part of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and is the Web version of the database available at the museum itself. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the National Park Service, and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation cooperated to bring the project online. All of the funding has come from the private sector, donations, and the membership of the Ellis Island Foundation.

The records, which were transcribed by volunteers from the LDS church, are from the ships’ manifests. In the Passenger Record Archive, you’ll find passenger records that give the passenger:

  • name
  • date of arrival
  • name of ship
  • age upon arrival
  • gender
  • marital status
  • citizenship
  • ethnicity
  • place of residence
  • port of departure
  • ship of travel

The original ships’ manifests show the passenger names, ages, and associated passengers, which is useful for clues to relationships. The ship information, often with a picture, gives the history and background of each ship that brought the immigrants.

If you register as a regular user (free of charge), you can keep copies of the passenger records, manifests, and ship images in Your Ellis Island File. This can be opened on the computers at Ellis Island or on the Web site. You can purchase copies of these documents at the online Gift Shop or at the Interpretive Shop on Ellis Island.

If you join as a Foundation member at $45 per year, you can:

  • Annotate passenger records in the Ellis Island Archives
  • Create and maintain your Family History Scrapbook
  • Order one free copy of your initial Scrapbook (print or CD-ROM
    receive a 10 percent discount at the online Gift Shop or at the Center; and
  • Support the ongoing work of the Foundation at Ellis Island and possibly get a tax deduction (check with your accountant).

A Guided Tour
The site is divided into two parts: free services and services available only to Foundation members. You must register to gain access to the free services. This involves choosing a login name and password, and providing your name and address.

Even without the free registration, you have access to “The Immigrant Experience,” which is two sets of articles about the population of the United States. “Family Histories” gives real-life examples of people whose ancestors passed through Ellis Island, and “The Peopling of America” is a series of articles showing the timeline of people coming to the United States from all over the world, beginning with those that crossed the Bering Straits 20,000 years ago.

Here are the basic steps to performing a basic Passenger search:

  • Click on Passenger Search from the main page to get to the screen in Figure 1.
  • Simply enter the first and last name of the individual you are seeking, and click Search Archives. If you want to do a more targeted search, click Passenger Search at the top of the page, and then click New Search. On that search page, you can input a first name and a last name, and choose either male or female, although a gender is not required.
  • The results will be presented in a table as shown in Figure 2. If the results list is too long, you can refine the search with the choices in the bar at the left of the screen, filtering for year of arrival, ethnicity, age on arrival, port of departure, and/or name of ship. For example, without the exact match, “Abraham” would also return “Ibrahim,” “Abraam,” and other near matches.
  • Choosing one of the names gives you the screen in Figure 3. The details of the person as listed on the manifest are displayed. You can look at the transcription of the ship’s manifest to see who is recorded near the person, and you can click on the ship link to view details about the vessel. Registered members can save the searches and results in an online file for later reference and use.

Community Archives
Only members of the Foundation may create annotations to the records, but all registered users of the Web site can view them. Annotations supplement information in the record, telling more about the passenger’s background and life in the United States. This information has not been verified as accurate and complete; it is simply what the annotating member believes to be factual.

Click View Annotations on the passenger record. If there is no View Annotations button, the record hasn’t been annotated. If you are registered with the site, you’ll see a list of annotations; if you haven’t registered yet, a screen will appear allowing you to do so.

Ellis Island Family History Scrapbooks
Paid members of The Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation can also contribute Family History Scrapbooks on the Web site or at the American Family Immigration History Center on Ellis Island.

Family Scrapbooks combine member-submitted pictures, images from the Ellis Island archives, written stories and memories, and sound recordings. Members can choose to keep the scrapbook private, or add it to the publicly available Ellis Island Family History Archive. At the physical location of the center, members can use a scanner, camera, and recording equipment to work on scrapbooks.

When you begin your scrapbook, you have sixteen pages to work on, including a title page and an author page. Ten of those pages have space for your images, and four pages have space for an image from the Ellis Island Foundation archives. The site’s documentation suggests that you decide on a particular story or theme for your scrapbook. Begin with a passenger search in the archives to find passenger records, ship images, and ship manifests to save in Your Ellis Island File and add to your scrapbook.

A Foundation member who has registered and signed in with the site can click Family Scrapbooks on the main menu; then click Start New Scrapbook if this is the first time, or click Create New Scrapbook if there are previous scrapbooks.

The member can choose a style and create a title page and author page. Once completing those steps, he or she can see the scrapbook’s table of contents. From there, the member can compose the scrapbook pages.

The scrapbook pages can accept both pictures and audio recordings. It is a good idea to gather image and audio files in one location on your hard drive so they’re easy to find. On a Scrapbook page, under Add an Image, click Your Computer. In the Upload Image window, you can browse the local computer for the file or simply enter the file name. The files are uploaded one at a time; they can be 180 kilobytes or smaller. If a file is larger than 210 x 210 pixels, it will be resized, proportionally; if it is smaller, it will not be resized. When Use Selected Image is clicked, the image will appear on the page and the window will close.

Members can also add files from the Ellis Island Library by clicking Our Library on a scrapbook page under Add an Image. Your Ellis Island File may also contain passenger records, ship images, and ship manifests that you saved during a passenger search. Click the left and right arrows to review the images in Our Library or Your Ellis Island File; then click Use this Image to add it to the page. On a scrapbook page, under Add Audio, click Your Computer.

Uploading audio files is very similar to uploading images. The member can click the Upload Audio window, browse for or enter the local file name, and upload up to 1.8 megabytes per file. Then, he or she can enter a title for the audio file. Click Use Selected File and the title assigned to the file will appear on the page and the window will close. To remove an audio file, under Remove Audio?, click Delete this Audio File.

At the online gift shop, paid Foundation members can order one free copy of their scrapbooks, choosing either a high-quality print or a CD-ROM copy. Additional copies are available for purchase. On the table of contents, just click Purchase Scrapbook.

In Person
You can also do all of these things onsite at the museum, but you have to make an appointment within 90 days of your arrival. Click on Schedule a Visit in the navigation bar at the top of any page on the site. You can choose to do a passenger search ($5 entry fee to the museum) or to work on a scrapbook. As with the online version, you must be an annual member of the Foundation to work on a scrapbook.

You input your choice of undertaking for the visit, list the number in your party (up to 7), select whether anyone will need a wheelchair, and select the date and check-in time. Your actual appointment time will be assigned at check-in. You will be given a confirmation number at the end of the process to present at check-in; print it out to present at the desk. The screen also gives you links to articles on how to research and gather information for either a search session or a scrapbook session.

Alternative Access
Once you have registered as a free or paying member, you may find Stephen P. Moore’s page a very useful tool for the Ellis Island Records site.

The form, “Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step,” has all the search parameters on one page. Simply type in the names of the person and/or ship, check the boxes as appropriate, and click Search. The input is sent to the Ellis Island site and the results are displayed.

Moore has a Frequently Asked Questions file that spells out the details of how best to use both Moore’s form and the Ellis Island site. For example, if you wish to examine a ship’s manifest line-by-line instead of searching by name, Moore describes how to do a broad search, find any passenger arriving on the right date or near it, and then start browsing the manifest. He also explains how to deal with missing manifests, solve printing problems, and other issues.

A Gem
The Ellis Island site is the best thing to happen to online genealogy since the launch of FamilySearch. The interface is a little cluttered, but easy to understand, the searches are fast (now that the site has enough servers to handle the traffic), and the results are understandable. At this writing, the scrapbook features were still being programmed, but they should be up soon. In all, it is a superb effort.

Elizabeth Powell Crowe is the author of several books, including Genealogy Online AOL Edition. She also wrote Information for Sale with John Everett and The Electronic Traveller, both for McGraw-Hill. She has been a contributing editor for Computer Currents magazine and author of numerous articles in both popular and technical publications. She can be reached by e-mail at libbic@prodigy.net.

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Additional Historical Record & Family History Resources

- www.ellisislandimmigrants.org
- www.last-names.net
- www.1891-census.co.uk
- www.1930census.net
- www.searchgenealogy.net
- www.censusrecords.net
- www.classicnewspapers.com

- www.genealogy.org
- www.allvitalrecords.com
- www.genrec.net
- www.genealogy-mormons.com
- www.free-geneology.com
- www.familymilitaryrecords.com
- www.familyhistory.com

- www.familybirthrecords.com
- www.familymarriagerecords.com
- www.familycensusrecords.com
- www.familydeathrecords.com
- www.familygenealogyrecords.com
- www.uftree.com