Ship passenger lists

The Pitfalls of Passenger Lists

Michael Tepper is a leading authority on passenger and immigration lists in the U.S. He is the author of “American Passenger Arrival Records,” which is a road map through the tens of millions of records and resources documenting immigrant arrivals from the time of the earliest settlements to the passage of the Quota Acts of the 1920s.

The following is an excerpt of an interview from Genealogy Pointers about some of the problems researchers run into when they are on the trail of an immigrant ancestor.

GP: “What would you say is the most common misconception about passenger lists?”

MT: “Almost certainly it is the belief that people had their names changed when they got to Ellis Island. In fact, immigrants did not change their names unless they applied for a change of name by deed poll at a courthouse or when they were naturalized. During processing at Ellis Island, officials had the actual ships’ manifests in front of them. They called each immigrant by name, according to the manifests, and often put a check next to the name after it had been called. So the passenger records are an exact reflection of the immigrants’ identities before they crossed the Atlantic, not after.”

GP: “Are there other false assumptions about passenger lists?”

MT: “Among Americans of relatively recent ancestry, say researchers whose immigrant forebears arrived after 1850, there is the belief that official passenger lists must also exist for the Colonial and Early National periods of our history. The fact is they don’t. No colony-wide or U.S. law requiring the compiling of immigration records was enacted before 1820. The only immigration records prior to 1820 to have survived are really kind of quirky. For instance, we have lists of German immigrants who immigrated to colonies like Pennsylvania because the authorities, intent on keeping tabs on these newcomers, required them to take a loyalty oath. Also, some of the most important published immigration records are not immigration records at all, but land records, such as Nugent’s “Cavaliers And Pioneers” and Skordas’s “Early Settlers Of Maryland,” which identify early immigrants taking up land grants.”

GP: “Let’s turn that situation around. Can you think of an instance when surviving records are frequently overlooked?”

MT: “Yes. Here’s a common mistake that’s made by researchers hoping to find an ancestor during the 1840s. Let’s say the genealogist is looking for a Sean O’Shaunessey, who is supposed to have come from Dublin to New York in June of 1849. The researcher finds a Sean in the official Customs Passenger Lists; however, because the record indicates that his country of origin is Great Britain, not Ireland, the genealogist concludes, mistakenly, that this Sean is not his relative. This is an error that could have been avoided had the researcher known that shipping agents, or bursars, or others who were responsible for compiling the ships’ manifests were far more likely to write ‘Great Britain’ and not Ireland as Sean’s country of origin during the 1840s because Ireland was, in fact, officially part of Great Britain.”

Image credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

CU Heritage image

Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

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ESMills

We’re all family. Cousins, actually

When we remember that we’re a part of the greater human family, will we be nicer to each other? Maybe, but hopefully we will at least remember to look beyond what we think we know.

Elizabeth Shown Mills is a historical writer who has spent her life studying Southern culture and the relationships between people—emotional as well as genetic. She is an accomplished researcher and writer, having her work published widely by both academic and popular press. Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

In We Are All Cousins, a brief video produced by National Genealogical Society, Mrs. Mills discusses her own family history and the richness that can be found with the realization of our own interconnectedness. She stresses the importance of not limiting ourselves to the ethnic and religious groups we believe we belong to exclusively, as our histories are often more complex and interwoven.

Photo Credit: Samford University