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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

February 13, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Customs Lists

Q: My ancestors came from Germany and Switzerland in 1866. He was German and she was Swiss. I understand that this time frame was when the Immigration department used the "customs lists." Does have them indexed on their subscription? -- Audrey

A: It is possible that your ancestors are included in a subscription but first we should go over the Immigration department and the customs lists. You are correct about the customs lists. In 1866, the responsibility of tracking those arriving passengers was under the jurisdiction of the Customs officials. There wasn't an immigration department, though, at this time.

The fact that one of your ancestors was German, means that is possible that he will show up in the International & Passenger Lists subscription. One of the major databases in this subscription is the Germans to America collection. This multi-volume work was originally published in 50 volumes and covers the years 1850 to 1884. Be aware, though, that this set was not all inclusive, especially in the earliest volumes. Only those ships that were 90% Germans were indexed and I am unsure of what year of passenger lists they began to expand the project.

It is also possible that your ancestors may appear in the major work by P. William Filby, Immigrant and Passenger List Index that is also part of the International & Passenger Records subscription. While it is true that many of the entries in this work were pre-1820, his main focus was to index those passenger lists that were published elsewhere, so you would certainly want to check it.

If you haven't done so already, you will want to do a search on the names of your ancestors. While you could not actually view the items found, you would at least have an idea of how many hits were found for the names in question and in what subscriptions they appeared.

Searching the Online Census Records

Q: I am a new census subscriber and am having difficulties. Many of the names I am researching do not appear when I enter them. Because I have used the familysearch web site and accessed their 1880 census index, I know that these names are listed but I cannot find them in the database. Any suggestions? -- Ann

A: My first thought is that you are perhaps searching for individuals who are not appearing as the head of the household. Most of the currently available indexes in the census subscription are for the names of the heads of the household or for someone living in the household who has a different surname from the rest of those living there. There are, however, ways to work with the index even if you don't know the given name of the head of the household.

I usually try the most recent census that is indexed for which I do know the head of the household. This is usually the 1910 or the 1900. I will then do my first search with the given name and surname of the head of the household in question. There are times, though, due to strange spellings of the surname or if the given name has been listed with just an initial that I find I must try a different approach in my search. Unless it is a common surname, I will usually go to a surname only search at this point. This is effective if I am just looking for a specific county in the database rather than throwing a wide net, though I have been known to go through all the entries of a given surname regardless of the county when necessary.

You mentioned that you found some ancestors in 1880 elsewhere. That means you have the identifying information to find the original census page in the 1880 here at Regardless of how good a census index may be, it is important to always view the original census page. The index doesn't tell you everything about a family.

Remember that an index is only as good as the entries included. This usually means that we must apply some fuzzy logic to our searches, especially when the computer can't. This is a major issue with most of the genealogical searches we attempt online. The computer seldom understands spelling variations so we must usually do individual searches on each known spelling variation, and then on abbreviations. While had done quite a bit with recognizable abbreviations, such as Thos. or Tom for Thomas, we must remember that sometimes an enumerator simply recorded an initial.

Try again using variant spellings, or widening your search by using just the surname in the state in which your ancestors were living and I think you will find that your time is more fruitful. Also do not try to limit your searches so completely by including middle names. These were seldom used in the census and may serve only to exclude the person you were hoping to find.

Not Sure How to Find the Ship

Q: My grandfather came over in 1910 from the Netherlands on a ship called Pottsdam. I've tried to get the information from the Ellis Island site but I'm only having luck finding out about his uncles in 1904. Any help would be appreciated. -- Jolene

A: As impressive as the Ellis Island Records Web site is, there are some pages that were not indexed or that are difficult to find on the site. Still, there may be another way to locate the information and find the person in question.

There is a book that details the arrivals of ships for the various shipping lines for the port of New York and includes the year in question. The Morton Allan Directory lists entries by year. Under each year the individual shipping lines are listed alphabetically and under each shipping line you will find the names of the ships and the dates of arrival for the given year. This book is available at many libraries with genealogy collections. It is also available online and you can search by a specific ship by clicking here. You will find that the Potsdam, notice it has just one "T," arrived in New York City from the port of Rotterdam ten times in the year 1910.

It appears that the Potsdam arrived on the following dates in 1910:

  • January 15
  • February 17
  • March 21
  • April 26
  • May 30
  • July 5
  • August 15
  • September 19
  • October 25
  • November 29

You may also want to do your Ellis Island search at JewishGen, where they offer some additional search abilities, through special forms that might reveal your grandfather when you couldn't find him on the other site.

Importing PAF into Family Tree Maker

Q: Some years ago, I entered all my data into LDS' Personal Ancestral File. I don't really want to enter all of my information in again but am interested in using Family Tree Maker. Is it possible to export my data from PAF into Family Tree Maker? -- Susan

A: Let me tell you that you are not the first person to be concerned about making such a change. You shouldn't have to reenter anything again, though it is a good idea to have a back up file just in case something goes wrong. Computer are notorious for lulling us into a false sense of security and then reminding us they are in control.

In PAF, go ahead and do two things. First save your database as GEDCOM file. If it asks you which version of PAF or GEDCOM to save it as, you can save it as the highest version number it offers. This will be your backup in case the import described below doesn't import everything cleanly, though it should. You will also want to make a true backup of your PAF files. The backup option in PAF will save a duplicate, file so that again if something goes wrong you have all the information in an untouched file.

The next steps are done in Family Tree Maker. Most genealogy programs, including Family Tree Maker, can take the GEDCOM file you created and import the information this way. However, Family Tree Maker recognizes certain other versions of PAF files, specifically the version 2.x and the 3.0 versions. If your files are in either of these versions, then you can import the file directly into Family Tree Maker. This is done easily by creating a new Family File through the File menu and the Open Family File submenu.

Once you have selected the Open Family File menu option, an Open Family File window will appear. The most important field for you in here is the Files of type pull down menu which allows you to select the type of file you wish to open. As you click on the down arrow with your left mouse you will notice a number of choices, including GEDCOM, and the two PAF file options I mentioned above. If you are using a later version of PAF then you would want to select the GEDCOM file type. If you are using one of the recognized PAF file types, then select the appropriate one of those.

The next step is to tell Family Tree Maker where to find the file and this is done using the Look in field at the top of this window. Most likely you are heading for a PAF folder on your C drive. By having the file format already set, Family Tree Maker should show only those files that have the wanted file type. Simply select the file in question and click the Open button. You may find you have some additional choices at this point to help Family Tree Maker bring in the information as cleanly as possible.

Answer any questions the program asks and eventually you will be prompted to save the new file. This should then create the new Family File and bring in the data from PAF to Family Tree Maker, keeping most of it, if not all of it, in tact.

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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