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Ellis Island Database FAQ & Tips

In April 2001, the Ellis Island Foundation launched an exciting new resource for anyone with family who immigrated to the United States through the Port of New York from 1892-1924. This resource is called the American Family Immigration History Center (AFIHC). The heart of the AFIHC is a searchable database of over 22 million passengers and crew of the ships that landed at the Port of New York. This database is affectionately known as the "Ellis Island Database" or, more simply, the EIDB.

The launch of the EIDB has brought about much discussion and many questions on the JewishGen Discussion Group and other SIG mailing lists about how to use this new resource to the best of its capabilities. This document will attempt to capture the most frequently asked questions and the excellent tips that fellow researchers have provided.

This document is divided into several sections, to help make it easier to locate the information you are looking for. The sections are as follows:

LOCATIONS -- URLs of sites referenced in this FAQ and other useful sites
REGISTRATION -- How to register on the EIDB website
SEARCHING -- How to perform passenger searches
MANIFESTS -- How to view and interpret manifests
ERRORS -- How to report data errors and understand website errors
TIPS -- Lessons learned and shortcuts


LOCATIONS

  1. Ellis Island Database
    http://www.ellisislandrecords.org - Welcome Page
    http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/default.asp - Main Page
    http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/search/index.asp - Passenger Search Page

  2. Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step, by Stephen Morse
    Enables users to specify search criteria all at once.
    http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/EIDB/ellis.html
    http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/EIDB/ellisjw.html - Jewish Passengers

  3. Ellis Island Database Name Permutations, by Edward Rosenbaum
    Downloadable program that provides lists of alternate spellings of a provided surname (PC version only).
    http://erosenbaum.netfirms.com/jg_eidb.shtml
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EIDB_permutations - Yahoo! Group

  4. Accessing a Specific Manifest, by Alex Calzareth
    Procedure for bypassing the name search to directly access a manifest when an arrival date is known.
    http://www.geocities.com/alcalz/om.htm

  5. NARA's listing of ship manifest film numbers for the port of New York
    These listings will help those trying to access a specific ship manifest using Alex Calzareth's procedure.

    January 1820 to June 1897 (M237)
    http://www.archives.gov/publications/microfilm_catalogs/immigrant/microfilm_675_rolls_m237.html

    June 1897 to July 1957 (T715)
    http://www.archives.gov/publications/microfilm_catalogs/immigrant/microfilm_8892_rolls_t715.html

  6. Passenger List Microfilms (JewishGen InfoFile)
    Listing of NARA microfilms of US passenger arrival manifests, available via LDS Family History Centers
    http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/PassLists/

  7. Cimorelli Ship Database
    An online directory of passenger ship arrivals from 1890-1930
    http://www.cimorelli.com/safe/shipmenu.htm

  8. Jewish Given Names, by Warren Blatt
    Presentation on several aspects of Jewish given names. See slide 60 for examples of names on passenger lists.
    http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/GivenNames/

  9. Deciphering Old-Time Handwriting
    These sites may be useful in deciphering some of the more difficult-to-read handwriting on ship manifests.
    http://www.iltrails.org/handwritingA-T.html

  10. Strategies for Using the Ellis Island Database, by Gary Mokotoff
    Internet article, originally published in AVOTAYNU, Summer 2001

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REGISTRATION

  1. Does it cost anything to use the Ellis Island Database?

    No, the basic functions of the site are free. You can perform searches and view original manifests. However, to view the manifests, you must complete the free registration and get a username and password.

  2. How do I register?

    Go to the Welcome page of the Ellis Island website and click "continue". Then at the top of the next page, there is a registration link. Click that and follow the instructions to fill out all required information and to choose a username and password.

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SEARCHING

  1. How do I begin a search?

    There are four different places you can begin a search from:

    • Main Page of EIDB website
    • Passenger Search Page of EIDB website
    • Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step website
    • Ellis Island Database Name Permutations program

    The two EIDB pages allow you to enter a first name and a surname, then just click Search. Links to these are in the LOCATIONS section above. The other two places are discussed in various questions below.

  2. How do I use the Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step website?

    Stephen Morse maintains his own FAQ for the use of his website. You can go there using one of the links in the LOCATIONS section above, then click the FAQ button. The direct URL is http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/EIDB/faq.htm.

  3. How do I use the Ellis Island Database Name Permutations program?

    Edward Rosenbaum maintains his own FAQ for the use of his program. You can go there using the link in the LOCATIONS section above, then click the FAQ link. The direct URL is http://erosenbaum.netfirms.com/eidb.shtml#FAQ.

  4. How do I edit the search criteria on the EIDB website?

    Before you can enter search criteria other than a name, you need to do an initial search on a name. When you get the results page with a list of names, you'll see a blue section called the Passenger Search Profile on the left side of the page. This includes all information that was included in the previous search.

    There are six Edit buttons that enable you to edit the search criteria. You can edit the following: Name/Gender, Year of Arrival, Ethnicity, Age on Arrival, Port of Departure, Name of Ship. Each of these items needs to be edited separately, by using the appropriate Edit button for the criteria you want to edit.

    After you edit a particular item, a new search will be performed based on your edited criteria. Then if you want to edit another item, you'll go through the same process again.

  5. Isn't there a way to edit the search criteria all at once?

    On the EIDB website itself, no. However, JewishGenner Stephen Morse has created a website (Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step) that does let users enter all the search criteria at once. Once you click the search button on this website, the script sends your search criteria to the EIDB to do the actual search. From there, you use the EIDB website as normal. See the LOCATIONS section above for a link to the "One Step" website.

    Note that the Ellis Island Database Name Permutations program also provides the ability to enter all search criteria at once, with the exception of the port of departure.

  6. How do I find someone when I know the arrival date and name of the ship, but can't find them by searching for the name?

    JewishGenner Alex Calzareth figured out how to search for a specific ship manifest by editing the URL by hand. His website, listed in the LOCATIONS section above, explains how to do this. Stephen Morse created an adaptation of Alex's procedure. This can be found by clicking the Missing Manifests button on the One Step site.

    Once you find the correct manifest, you'll probably need to view each page to find the person you are looking for. However, if you already have a copy of the manifest and are just trying to find it online, then you should be able to easily skip around through the manifest to find the correct page. You can do this from the Missing Manifests page or by hand using Alex's procedure. Alex also includes info about how to find the correct original manifest when you know what frame of the text manifest the person is on.

  7. I found my relatives listed twice, the second voyage not long after the first. Why would this be?

    Most likely, your relatives were manifested on the first voyage and for one reason or another, ended up not taking that ship. When you view the earlier manifest, there should be a line through your relatives' names indicating that they didn't actually take that voyage.

  8. I found a relative listed more than once, but the trips were spread out over a span of years. Why?

    Your relative apparently went back and forth between the US and his/her hometown, probably to visit family or to bring other relatives to the US. Check each manifest carefully, as each may give slightly different information.

  9. I can't find my relative at all and I've tried several variations of the surnames. What other spellings should I try?

    JewishGenner Edward Rosenbaum created a software program called Ellis Island Database Name Permutations that generates alternate spellings of a provided surname. Alternate spellings are generated using three criteria:

    • Confusing letters (those that could easily be confused with others)
    • American soundex system
    • Daitch-Mokotoff soundex system

    You can download the program using the link provided in the LOCATIONS section above.

    The One Step website now has an alternate search page that can be used to search for Jewish passengers only (those with Hebrew listed as their ethnicity). This page allows a soundex search on the surname. This alternate search page is located at http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/EIDB/ellisjw.html.

  10. Is there any way to do a wildcard search?

    The Ellis Island website does not provide true wildcard search capabilities. It does, however, allow partial surnames to be entered. You can enter two or more letters of the surname you are searching for and the Ellis Island website will obtain for you all surnames that begin with those letters and list them in the "close matches" section. If you want to enter only the first letter of the surname, you can use a "%" as the second character. Be aware that if you don't use other search criteria to narrow down your search, then searching on only the first letter of the surname will result in tens of thousands of matches and will likely not be very useful.

    For given names, only a first initial or full name will provide a successful search. Partial given names will not work. Using a "%" will not work either.

    Note that the % is not necessary when using the One Step website. If you enter a single letter in the surname field, the One Step website will invisibly append the % for you before passing the search request to the Ellis Island database.

  11. What happened if the volunteers who did the data entry absolutely couldn't decipher one or more characters in the manifest? Did they guess? How do I search for those entries?

    In some cases, the handwriting was difficult enough to decipher that the volunteers couldn't even make an educated guess. In this case, they used an ellipsis (...) in place of the unreadable character(s). The ellipsis can be anywhere in the name. To search for this, you can use a ? in your search string in place of the letter that may have been unreadable. You can use the ? as many times in the search string as necessary.

    Note that this option is really only useful as a very last resort, since you wouldn't necessarily know that a certain letter was unreadable unless you already have a copy of the manifest in front of you. Using the ? includes a lot of guesswork. An ellipsis could represent a string of more than one unreadable letter, so you wouldn't know exactly what to even search for. Bottom line is that the capability is available, but has very limited use.

  12. Is there a way to search for everyone who came from a specific town?

    From the Ellis Island Database website itself, no. However, thanks to Stephen Morse and Michael Tobias, the Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step website has an alternate search page for Jewish passengers only (those who are listed with Hebrew as their ethnicity) that allows a search on the town name, both by partial name and by soundex.

    This alternate search page also provides the ability to do a soundex search on the last name and first name. And, it allows a search using a partial or full port name or ship name.

    This alternate search page is located at http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/EIDB/ellisjw.html and is also listed in the LOCATIONS section above.

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MANIFESTS

  1. How do I view the text manifest?

    When you find the name of the person you are searching for, click the name. You will then be shown a passenger record that includes a few additional details about the person. On the left side of that page, click the Ship Manifest link. This page will show an image of the original handwritten or typed manifest. Under the name of the ship, click View Text Version manifest.

  2. How do I view the original (scanned) manifest?

    When you find the name of the person you are searching for, click the name. You will then be shown a passenger record that includes a few additional details about the person. On the left side of that page, click the Ship Manifest link. This page will show a thumbnail (small) image of the original handwritten or typed manifest. If you click the thumbnail or the Zoom button, another window will pop up with a full-size copy of the original manifest page.

    If you are already on the text manifest page, you can get back to the original manifest by clicking the View Original Manifest button under the ship name.

    If there is no View Original Manifest link on your text manifest, it's possible the original manifest isn't properly linked to your relative's record in the EIDB. This is a problem in the EIDB software and the Ellis Island Foundation is working on fixing it. However, good news! Now armed with the exact date of arrival, ship name, and text listing of passengers on your relative's manifest page, you can easily search for the original manifest by using the Missing Manifests button on the One Step website. Or, if you are feeling brave, you can use Alex Calzareth's procedure, which explains how to find these unlinked manifests by editing the URL by hand.

    There are also situations where the View Original Manifests button is available, but when clicked, a "broken image" link appears instead of the manifest (looks like a red X in MSIE). Try clicking the Zoom button. If the manifest still doesn't appear, then it's possible that it isn't available yet (there are rumors that some microfilm rolls have yet to be scanned) or it could mean it isn't properly linked, like explained above. You can try the Missing Manifests button on the One Step website and if it's just a linking problem, this should yield results. However, if the manifest really isn't available, then Missing Manifests still won't find it either.

    One other situation in which you may want to use the Missing Manifests button is if the incorrect original manifest is linked to your relative's text record. In this case, you already have the necessary info (from the text record) to use the Missing Manifests procedure to find the correct original manifest.

  3. I found my relative's text manifest, but I've tried absolutely everything to find my relative's original manifest, with no luck. How else can I get a copy of the original manifest?

    Before the Ellis Island Database went online, researchers found ship manifests the "old fashioned" way: searching microfilm at the National Archives (NARA) or their local Family History Center (FHC). If you can't find an original manifest online and don't want to wait for it to be added/fixed, you'll have to obtain a copy directly from the microfilm.

    So the first thing you should do before heading to the microfilms is gather some information from the record you found on the EIDB: the exact arrival date, the name of the ship, the "page number" from the upper right corner of the text manifest and the line number that your relative is listed on.

    Next, if you plan to visit a regional NARA facility to get your original manifest copy, you'll want the correct NARA roll number. Go to the "NARA listing of ship manifest film numbers" website listed in the LOCATIONS section above. Find the microfilm roll that contains manifests for the date your relative arrived and note the roll number. Then when you go to NARA, you can immediately get the correct microfilm roll (you may have to order it, depending on what your local facility already has on site).

    On the other hand, if you plan to visit a location Family History Center to get your original manifest copy, you'll want the correct FHL film number. Then go to the "Passenger List Microfilms InfoFile" website listed in the LOCATIONS section above. Click New York. Then click the correct year range. Now find the mirofilm roll that contains manifests for the date your relative arrived and note the FHL microfilm number. You can now order this microfilm from your local FHC.

    Once you get the correct microfilm roll, you'll have to find your relative on it. Each roll can contain several days worth of ship manifests, so you'll have to look through the microfilm to find the correct date, ship and ultimately the page that your relative is listed on. The "page number" that you recorded from the EIDB should be a small page number that is stamped on the actual manifest. This stamp is usually in the lower left corner of the manifest, but it's sometimes seen in the upper right corner, or even in either of the other two corners. Once you find your relative, you can print out the manifest from a microfilm printer.

    Important Notes:

    • If the date you are looking for is the first date on a roll, you may want to consider ordering the previous roll as well. Ship arrivals for that date may be split across two rolls.
    • The arrival date listed in the EIDB may not be correct sometimes. Some researchers have noticed that sometimes the departure date was accidentally recorded as the arrival date. Or sometimes the arrival date is a day or two off. Before ordering microfilms, it's best to verify that the ship you are looking for arrived on the stated date. There are two popular ways to verify the date: check the Morton Allen Directory, available at most NARA branches or check the Cimorelli ship database (see LOCATIONS section above for URL).
    • Some manifests may have two sets of stamped page numbers in different corners (reason unknown). If you can't find your relative using one set of page numbers, try looking to see if another corner has different page numbers and try to find the correct manifest following those.
    • The NARA roll number can also be obtained from the EIDB. To obtain this information, go to the text manifest of your relative and click either previous or next. Then, look at the URL and find the string ...T715%2D####..., where T715 is NARA's series for ships arriving in New York on and after June 16, 1897 and #### is a four digit number for the roll. For example, roll 1 is written as 0001, etc.

  4. The original manifest that I'm looking at starts at column 13; where's the rest of the manifest?

    Manifests after a certain year had too many columns to fit on one page, so they were split into two pages. To view the other page, click either the "next" or "previous" link on the original manifest screen (not in the zoom window). Sometimes the manifests were scanned in the correct forward order, but other times they were scanned in the reverse order, so you may have to try both previous and next to find the other page.

  5. Why is Netscape freezing when trying to display the text manifest?

    Some earlier manifests (before 1900) were keyed into the Ellis Island database with the entire manifest being considered a single page, rather than the manifest being broken down into pages of 30 passengers each. The resulting text manifests are quite large (500+ passengers sometimes) and Netscape has difficulty displaying them. So Netscape may freeze or even crash while trying to load this type of manifest. Internet Explorer handles these large text manifests much better.

  6. What does an X or an S.I. next to a person's name mean?

    The X means the person was detained at Ellis Island for a period of time. They could have been detained for a few hours or a few days or even weeks. People on the detained list were usually just waiting for a family member to come for them or send them money for travel to another location.

    S.I. stands for Special Inquiry. This designation also means that the person was detained at Ellis Island, but these people were usually detained for circumstances other than waiting for a family member to come for them. Some of these circumstances were: disease or other sickness, no "sponsor" and no proof of any means for the person to support him/herself, an unmarried woman travelling alone and an unmarried woman travelling with children. There could have been many other reasons for someone to be held for Special Inquiry.

  7. How do I find out why a person was detained or held for Special Inquiry?

    At the very end of each ship manifest, there are lists of detained passengers and lists of passengers held for special inquiry. These pages usually provide the name of the passenger, the reason for detention, the date of release (or deportation) and how many meals were provided during the detention. There may be other information provided as well.

    In order to find the Detained Passengers and Special Inquiry pages, you'll need to use the "next" and "previous" links to get to the end of the manifest. There are shortcuts for this, provided in the TIPS section below. You can also use the frame+ and frame- feature on the Missing Manifests page of the One Step site.

  8. What do ADMITTED and DEPORTED mean?

    Admitted means the person was admitted into the country. Deported means the person was not admitted into the country and was sent back to where he or she came from. These stamps will usually only be next to someone's name who was held for Special Inquiry.

  9. What does LPC on a Special Inquiry page mean?

    LPC stands for Likely Public Charge. This means the person hasn't (yet) shown that they have someone to support them or the means to support him/herself.

  10. There's a handwritten number and date above my relative's name. What does this mean?

    When an immigrant applied for naturalization, they had to provide information about when they arrived in the country. The INS would use this information to find the appropriate ship manifest that included the immigrant to verify the arrival date. The notation found on the manifest is usually the date that this verification was done and the number is usually from a Certificate of Arrival or another document that was part of the process.

  11. How can I use the certificate number and date to help find my relative's naturalization info?

    The short answer is that the certificate number will not help you or the INS to find your relative's naturalization info. However, by providing the date in your request to the INS, it will help narrow down when your relative was naturalized, since your relative would not have been naturalized before the date noted on the manifest.

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ERRORS

  1. How do I correct a data error in the EIDB?

    The following is from a form-letter email received from the American Family Immigration History Center that addresses this question:

    "If you find, or have found what you believe to be a database error and wish to notify the Foundation, please contact us at dberrors@ellisisland.org and please delineate on the subject line of your e-mail what type of error you encountered. Choose from the following subjects:

    • Manifest error
    • Spelling error
    • Ship Image error
    • Other Database error

    There is no date for correcting the database errors and you will not receive a response to an error e-mail."

  2. While doing a search, I got a message that my request timed out and that I could modify the timeout variable to fix this. Is this something I can really fix and if so, how?

    No, this is not something you can fix. This type of error is intended for the site administrators to see and users of the site should not be seeing it. If you are getting the error, it's possible the site is overloaded at the time or is just having trouble completing your request. Try hitting reload or try again a few minutes later.

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TIPS

  1. Keep the names window open.

    When viewing a list of names returned by a search, right click on anyone whose record you'd like to see and select OPEN IN NEW WINDOW from the menu. That will send the record to a new browser window where you can either pursue the ship manifest or reject it. In this way, you won't lose your search list nor have to wait for it to regenerate. In fact, you can select several names from the list by opening each in a new window. (Note: In Netscape, the menu comes up as soon as you right-click. In MSIE, you need to release the mouse button after you right-click before the menu will come up.)

  2. Keep your search wide enough to allow for misspellings

    One of the most important things that JewishGenners are learning about the EIDB is that most relatives are not listed in the database with their names spelled the way we think they will be! Reasons for this are varied, but the main ones are unreadable handwriting and language differences. The way your relative's name was spelled in the US is very likely not the way it was spelled in Poland or Russia. You can try your search initially with the way you think the name was spelled, but if that doesn't work, widen your search parameters. Use only a first initial instead of a full first name. Use a partial surname, especially if the ending of the surname has different variations. Widen the years and ages you are searching with. It also may not be a good idea to limit your search by nationality and ethnicity... those are sometimes listed wrong. In other words.. be flexible and think "out of the box" when searching for your relatives!

  3. Saving search results

    When you get a listing of passengers from a search, you can save it easily as a text file on your computer. In your web browser, click File, then Save As. Give it a name and save as a TXT file. In Netscape, you will need to specifically add the ".txt" ending to your filename (for example, smith-list.txt). In MSIE, you can select "text file" in the Save As Type menu of the Save As box. Make sure you note where you are saving your file! You can then view the list using your favorite text editor or word processing program at any time.

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FAQ compiled by Elise Friedman. Send updates and corrections to elise@chatsystems.com.
Please send requests for help to the JewishGen Discussion Group, jewishgen@lyris.jewishgen.org, not to the FAQ author.
Thanks to the following contributors: Dena Abrams, Warren Blatt, Arnold Davidson, Dolph Klein, Bernard Kouchel, Phyllis Kramer, Steve Morse, Ida Recu, Edward Rosenbaum, Sandra Rozhon, Roberta Solit, Bob Wexler.

Copyright ©2001, 2003 JewishGen Inc.
www.jewishgen.org
Version 3.1 - Updated Aug 15, 2002; Mar 21, 2003.

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