Which One-Step Ellis Island Search Form Should I Use?
Preferred Search
Original Search

We acknowledge the work of  Dr. Stephen Morse the originator of the One-Step Search Tools,
as well as his collaborators,


NOTE: THE WHITE FORM NO LONGER EXISTS.  PLEASE IGNORE ALL REFERENCES TO IT.


A. Overview

As you can see, this project consists of several search forms.  They provide overlapping functionality, so let me try to briefly explain the differences between them.

1. Ellis Island Database 1892-1924 (Preferred Search) -- gold form

Searches all New York passengers from 1892 to 1924 using enhanced search options.  Uses the database at ellisisland.org but has its own search form and search engine which provides the enhanced features.

2. Ellis Island Database 1892-1924 (Original Search) -- white form

Searches all New York passengers from 1892 to 1924 using basic search options.  Uses the database and search engine at ellisisland.org, but has its own search form which provides features not found at the ellisisland.org website
3. All New York Arrivals 1820-1957
Searches all New York passengers from 1820 to 1957.  Includes the Ellis Island years as well as many other years.  Uses the database and search engine at ancestry.com, but has its own search form which provides features not found at the ancestry.com website.
When searching the Ellis Island years (1892 to 1924), the gold form should always be the form of choice.  The white form should be used only when you cannot find a passenger using the gold form and you'd like to try a fresh perspective on the search using a different search engine.

When searching for arrivals outside of the Ellis Island years, you must use  the All-NY-Arrivals search form.  It can be useful for the Ellis Island years as well because it provides an independent name index as well as a third search engine that might give yet another perspective on finding elusive passengers.
 

B. Details of White and Gold Forms

Let me clarify the differences between the white and gold forms by giving details on their specific search fields.  These are not the only differences, but are some of the more significant ones.
 

1. Last Name Field

a. Requires at least first two letters (white form)

The search engine for the white form requires that you specify a last name and that you specify at least the first two letters of that name.  Although the white form uses the ellisisland.org search engine, it gets around this requirement by submitting numerous search requests on your behalf.  For example, if you specify only a single character for the last name, the white form will submit 26 requests and stitch the results together.  If you leave out the last name completely, the white form will submit 26-times-26 requests.  This could take up to several minutes.

b. No requirements on last name (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form has no requirement on the last name field.  You can specify only the first character, or you can even leave the last name out completely.  In any case there will be only a single search performed on your behalf, and the results will appear relatively quickly.
 

2. First Name Field and Town Field

a. No sounds-like searches (white form)

The search engine for the white form allows you to search for first names that exactly match the name you entered or that start with or contain the name you entered.  But it does not allow you to search for first names that sound like the name you entered.  The same is true for the town name.

b. Sounds-like searches (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form can find passengers with first names or towns that sound like the first name or town you entered.  For example, if you entered a first name of Stephen, it would find passengers with first name of Steven, Stefan, Stephan, etc.
 

3. Traveling Companion

a. Not supported (white form)

The search engine for the white form does not allow you to specify additional people traveling with the passenger.

b. Can search on traveling companion (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form allow you to specify additional people traveling with the passenger.  For example, searching for John Smith would give too many matches to be useful, but searching for John Smith traveling with Mary Smith might give a reasonable number of matches.
 

4. Marital Status

a. Not supported (white form)

The search engine for the white form does not allow you to search on marital status.

b. Can specify marital status (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form lets you search on any of the following marital statuses: single, married, widowed, divorced.
 

5. Date of Arrival

a. Year only (white form)

The search engine for the white form allows you to specify the year of arrival but not the month or day.

b. Exact date (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form allows you to specify the month and day of arrival as well as the year.  This helps narrow down the search if you happen to know the precise date of arrival, or at least the month and year.
 

6. Year of Birth

The years of birth is not in the database.  The year of arrival and the age at arrival are in the database.

a. Imprecise calculation (white form)

The search engine for the white form computes the year of birth for each passenger in the database by subtracting the age from the year of arrival.  That could result in a one year error if the person arrived before his birthday.  For example, suppose the passenger arrived in 1907 and was 15 years old at the time.  If he arrived after his birthday, his year of birth would be 1892; if he arrived before his birthday, his year of birth would be 1891.  Let's assume that he arrived before his birthday.  If you search for him using the white form and you specify 1891 (his true year of birth), you will not find him.

b. Precise calculation (gold form)

The search engine for the white form computes the year of birth by subtracting the age from the year of arrival, and then considers that year as well as the preceding one as valid matches for the year of birth.  So in the example given for the white form (above), that passenger would be found if you specified a year of birth of 1891 or 1892.
 

7. Departure Port

a. Select from list (white form)

The white form provides you with drop down lists that allow you to pick up to 700 of the common ports from which ships sailed.  You do this by first selecting a region, then a country with that region, and then a port within that country.  This is useful if you want to search by port but don't know the correct spelling of the port, or if you don't know which ports exist.

b. Free format (gold form)

The gold form provides you with a text field in which you type the name of the departure port.  This gives you more flexibility in specifying your port, and many ports not supported with the white form can be specified on the gold form.
 

8. Soundexing Methods

A sounds-like search is done using an encoding known as soundex.  There white and gold form uses different soundexing methods.

a. American Soundex (white form)

The search engine for the white form uses American Soundex which is derived from Russell Soundex.  This is the same encoding that is used extensively by the National Archives.

b. Daitch-Mokotoff soundex (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form uses Daitch Mokotoff Soundex.  This soundexing method uses a superior algorithm and consequently is better able to handle some of the strange sounds and spellings in eastern European names.  It also extends the coding to the first six consonants rather than the four used by American Soundex, thereby eliminating many false hits.
 

9. Display Format

a. Not supported (white form)

The search engine for the white form does not allow you to alter the display format.

b. Fields and sort order (gold form)

The search engine for the gold form allows you to specify which fields you want to see displayed on the results page, and what order the results are to appear in.
 

-- Steve Morse