Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step (Jewish Passengers)
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse, San Francisco

J1. How does this blue one-step search form differ from your original white one-step search form?

My white one-step search form is based on the search engine provided by the Ellis Island website.  And that search engine has its limitations.  Specifically it does not permit you to search by town name and does not permit you to do a soundex search (i.e., search for names that sound like the name you want).  The best you can do is a simulated search-by-town using the advanced search option on my white search form and a simulated soundex search using Edward Rosenbaum's Name Permutations program.

To get around these limitations, we have set up an alternate search engine that provides a true search-by-town capability and a true soundex-search capability.  For practical purposes, we have restricted this search engine to passengers having ethnicity of "Hebrew".  The results generated by the alternate search engine are pointers directly into the Ellis Island database for the passengers you find.

This blue one-step search form uses our alternate search engine whereas the original white one-step search form goes directly to the Ellis Island search engine.  It supports all fields that the white search from supports.  Furthermore it supports additional fields such as marital status, exact date of arrival, and year of birth.  It also supports searching for a ship by entering its first few letters rather than the entire ship name.  So the blue one-step form is now a more powerful search tool than the white one, providing that the passenger being searched for has ethnicity of "Hebrew".

J2. Must I be running a Netscape browser on a PC in order to use the search-by-town feature?

That was true for my simulated search-by-town facility on the white one-step form.  But the true search-by-town available through this blue one-step form does not have any limitations.  You can use it from the Internet Explorer browser, from a Macintosh computer, and even from the Netscape 6 browser without having to do anything special.

J3. <<Question has been removed -- no longer applicable>>

J4. What exactly is a soundex search and doesn't the Ellis Island database have something similar?

There are several soundex systems and basically they involve the use of a list of names that are phonetically equivalent to the one you are interested in.  A soundex search would return all names that exactly match the desired name as well as those that match any of the phonetically equivalents.  Currently the Ellis Island search engine does not do a soundex search.  However it does have the ability to generate a list of phonetic equivalents for you.  According to Gary Mokotoff (co-developer of the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex code), this list is probably better than one based solely on soundex.  However the Ellis Island search engine does not search on these equivalents for you automatically -- instead it gives you the ability to select equivalents (up to two at a time) and search on them.

In contrast, our alternate search engine does a true soundex search.  You enter one name on the blue search form and it will find all names that are phonetically equivalent.  It uses the Daitch-Mokotoff soundex code which was developed specifically for dealing with Eastern European Jewish names.

J6. Is it now possible to do a search to find all people who came from my grandparents' little shtetl?

Yes it is!

J7. My grandfather was Jewish and I'm able to find him using your white one-step form.  Why can't I find him from the blue form?

Unfortunately, not every Jewish passenger had ethnicity of "Hebrew" indicated on his ship record.  If your grandfather's ship record did not indicate "Hebrew", then he will not be accessible from the blue form.

Furthermore, I have been informed that starting from July 1, 1897 the passenger lists asked for "nationality" and "race" whereas prior to that date it asked only for "country".  Therefore there will be very few ethnicities of "hebrew" prior to July 1897.

To make matters worse, even if it says "Hebrew" on the ship record, there are instances in which the volunteers did not type in that fact when creating the passenger record.  And to compound the situation further, there are instances in which the Ellis Island volunteers typed in "Hebrew" but not in a format that would enable their own search engine to find it.

The bottom line is if a search from my white form (or from the Ellis Island site directly) specifies ethnicity=hebrew and no other ethnicities, and it fails to find a person, then that person will not be in the database that is searched by my blue search form.

J8. I read your answer to question J7.  Is there any way you could extend your blue search form to include more than just ethnicity=hebrew?

This is becoming one of the most frequent of all the frequently-asked-questions.  Unfortunately there are technical, political, and financial problems involved in doing so.  But it is something that we have been investigating and we are continuing to do so.

J9. <<Question has been removed -- no longer applicable>>

J10. I get a page of the first 50 out of 300 matches, but when I click on next-50 it says "none found".  How can I see the other matches?

A few people have reported this problem, although most people (myself included) have never experienced it.  I tried to find out what those people had in common and I discovered that they were all using old versions of Internet Explorer (version 4.0 and 4.01).  So this appears to be a bug in the browser itself (technical details below).  Here are several ways to work around this bug

- Rather than clicking the next-50 link, return to the search page, add 50 to the value in the "start search at" field, and press search.

- Better yet, upgrade your browser to a later version of IE or switch to a Netscape browser.

Here are the technical details for those of you who are interested.  If the information that a website sends to the browser contains special characters, the site encodes such characters using an ampersand-semicolon notation.  In particular, the Polish letter that looks like an upper case D with a line through it, Ð, is encoded as "&ETH;".  Now it turns out that the link for the next-50 that my website sends back to the browser will contain the URL of the next search, and if that search involves specifying an ethnicity (Russian for example), the URL will contain the string "&ETHS=Russian".  Well for some reason the IE 4.0 browser was seeing the &ETH as the special character even though there was no semicolon, and it was replacing that string with ÐS=Russian.  So of course that's a bad URL and when you click on the link containing it you will not get a successful search.

J11. How can I generate a nice composite list of the matches that I found?

All too often people attempt to combine the final result into a spreadsheet, and for the life of me I can't understand why.  There are much better ways to present such data.  The best in my opinion would be in html itself, which is the native language of the web.  But this is not for the novice, so the details are not presented here.  If you are interested, you can find the details at

J12. How can I import the list of matches that I obtain into a spreadsheet?

Again this fascination with spreadsheets!  See my response to question J11 for my view on this subject.

However there are some valid reasons for wanting spreadsheets, especially when column sorting is important.  For that purpose I have recently standardized the output displays from the blue form and the new-format display of the white form so that they can be mixed together on one spreadsheet.  Detailed and clearly written instructions for creating such a spreadsheet are given by Shawn Weil on his webpage at
I highly recommend this to anyone serious about creating a spreadsheet of the Ellis Island search results.

J13. Why do I get a match on "Passaic, New Jersey" when I search for all towns sounding like Nowy Sacz?  They don't sound alike.

The comparison  method that we use is to treat each word in the town name separately.  So we look for any matches having a word in the town name sounding like Nowy or any sounding like Sacz.  Unfortunately the New in New Jersey sounds like the Nowy in Nowy Sacz.  There are tricks that we could have used to eliminate such false positives, but they might eliminate some true matches as well.

J14. Each time I click on the search button, all it does is reload the search form.  Why can't I get the search results?

We use cookies to verify that the search request came from our site's search form and not from some external site.  If we determine that the request came from an external site, we will reject the search request and redirect you to our search form.

If you are making the search request from our search form but have cookies disabled, we will mistakenly assume that you are coming from an external site and redirect you back to our search form.  Since that is the symptom you described, it means that you have cookies disabled.

See question J15 to find out how to enable cookies.

J15. What do I do when I get the message saying that I need to enable cookies?

I presume you've run into the problem described in J14 and now want to enable your cookies.  The way you do that depends on the browser you are using.  Below are the instructions for the popular browsers.

Also try clearing your cache (see question 109 on the white-form's faq page).  Clearing the cache should have nothing to do with the cookies.  But at least one user was getting the message saying that he needed to enable cookies and he indeed had cookies enabled.  When he cleared is cache, the message stopped occurring.

Netscape Version 4.x

From the Edit menu select Preferences.
Click on the Advanced line on the left-hand side.
On the right-hand side make sure that "Accept all cookies" is checked.
Click OK to exit from the preferences box.
Netscape Version 6.x or 7.x
First you need to make sure that you are accepting cookies.  You do that as follows:
From the Edit menu select Preferences.
Click on the Privacy and Security line and then on Cookies on the left-hand side.
On the right-hand side make sure that "Enable all cookies" is checked.
Click OK to exit from the preferences box.
In addition, you need to make sure that you have not explicitly blocked coookies from jewishgen.  You can determine that as follows
From the tools menu select "Cookie Manger" and then "Manage Stored Cookies".
Click on the "Cookie Sites" tab.
See if jewishgen is on that list and tagged as not being able to set cookies.  If so, select it and press "Remove Site".
Click OK to exit from the preferences box.
Internet Explorer
Several people have commented that they have their browser set to accept cookies but are still getting this message.  Even though you think you are accepting cookies, you might not be accepting all cookies.  Specifically, Internet Explorer has a feature whereby you will reject cookies from sites that do not send back a so-called compact privacy policy.  Unfortunately the jewishgen server is not configured to send back such a policy.  So you need to change your cookie settings to allow jewishgen to set a cookie.  You can do this as follows:
From the Tools menu select "Internet Options".
Click on the "Privacy" tab.
Make sure the slider is not set to "Block" or to "High".  Any other setting would be fine.
Alternately you can keep the slider on "Block" or "High" providing you exlicitly allow cookies from jewishgen.  To do so
Click on the "Edit" button.
Enter the following in the "Address of Web site" field:
Press the "Allow" button and then press the "OK" button.
Click OK to exit from the Edit box.
Furthermore you need to make sure that you have not explicitly blocked cookies from jewishgen.  You can determine that as follows
Click on the "Edit" button.
See if there is an entry for jewishgen indicating that it is blocked.  If so, select it and press Remove.
Click OK to exit from the Edit box.
Finally click OK to exit from the "Internet Options" box.

-- Steve Morse