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

April 03, 2003
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Castle Garden

Q: How can I research my ancestors if they arrived in New York around 1886/1887? -- Margaret

A: Before Ellis Island opened in 1892, Castle Garden was the immigrant processing center used for the Port of New York. Unfortunately, there is a gap in indexing from 1847 through 1897 for the port of New York City. Even a single year in those microfilmed passenger lists can take a while to go through when you must look at each page in search of one passenger.

By learning some additional information about your ancestor, though, you may be able to limit the number of lists you will need to go though. For example, knowing what port your ancestor emigrated from or the shipping line can help narrow your search. Just knowing the country may even help you to narrow the search some. You'll find a number of suggestions in John Colletta's They Came in Ships a small book published by Genealogical Publishing Company that is packed with useful information.

You may find additional information in other records. For instance, if your ancestor was naturalized you may find the exact date of arrival and name of the ship in either the declaration of intent or the application for naturalization. If you can find your ancestor in the 1900 census or later, you'll find columns that ask about immigration and naturalization. These columns can help you figure out if and when your ancestor was naturalized.

Keep in mind that information on where your ancestor was born was not recorded on passenger lists at this time. Instead, the naturalization record is a better record for possibly listing the place of birth of an immigrant ancestor.

Born at Sea

Q: I have a ship's name and approximate arrival date. The ship's name, as it appeared in a family bible, was the "Prince Sepio" My grandfather, William Fletcher, was listed as being "born at sea" in December 1858. However, a birth certificate for a child born to William Fletcher and his (second) wife, Carrie Marks, in 1903 lists William's age as 46. The dates do not agree so I am not sure if the ship arrived in 1856 or 1858. I am interested in locating a source for ship arrivals on the east coast during the late 1850s. I believe the family emigrated from Ireland. -- Michael

A: Eastern ports in the 1850s are likely to include New York City, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. You did not mention where William and his second wife were living when their child was born in 1903. You may want to begin your search of ports based on where William lived. Some of these eastern ports are indexed. The only one that doesn't appear to be indexed for the years in question is New York City. So, even if the family was living in New York, you may want to rule out the other ports first since they are indexed and easier to search.

Before you begin going through all of the passenger lists though, look back at the census records for William. From 1900 forward you will find a column that asks about a person's immigration year and naturalization. These may help you determine if the year listed in the family bible is accurate or not. If you discover that William was naturalized then you'll want to search for his naturalization records to see what they say about when/where he was born and when/where he arrived aboard ship.

There is always a possibility that the age listed on the birth certificate is the one that is incorrect. Keep this in mind as you look through the census records. Hopefully you will find William Fletcher in the passenger lists as born at sea. It is possible, however, that you may not find a passenger list showing William and may instead have to rely on the compilation of other records to make your case.

Tracking Family Through Ellis Island

Q: I have found the manifest and the ship for my grandfather's arrival on Ellis Island in 1902 from Hungary. I was told that my dad, the youngest child of my grandfather and grandmother was the first child born in America. I also know that my grandmother Elinor Eros and five or six of my father's brothers and sisters came to America with my grandfather or soon thereafter. That said, no other members of my grandfather's family is listed as having sailed on the ship my grandfather arrived on. Searching the years from 1902 (when I know my grandfather arrived) until 1908 when my dad was born, I cannot find any record that list the rest of the family. Did they only list the head of the household (in this case, my grandfather) in the manifests of ships? -- Lynn

A: Let me qualify your statement a little bit. You said that you cannot find any record that the rest of the family arrived in America. It sounds like you cannot find any record of the rest of the family arriving in America through Ellis Island. My first suggestion is that perhaps that the rest of the family arrived via another port. Too often we assume that all of our immigrants came through Ellis Island. While it is true that a large number of immigrants did arrive in the United States through Ellis Island, it was just one possible port of entry. In fact, it was the processing center for the port of New York City only from 1892, though immigrants came in through New York City long before Ellis Island opened.

The first thing I would do to verify the story you described would be to find the family in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 censuses. When does it say your grandmother and the other children arrived in the United States? Do the census records support what you have been told about your father being the first child in the family born in the United States? If not what other children are listed as born in the United States?

I suspect that you have search for Elinor Eros in the Ellis Island Records database and have not found her in the index. This could be the result of a spelling error or a typo when the index was compiled. It is known that there are omissions in this index, though that does not negate its usefulness.

You asked who was listed on ship manifests and the answer is that all passengers were supposed to be listed. Generally speaking in those later years, it is also common to see brackets and other notations to identify parents and children of a family as well. Have you looked for all the Eros immigrants from 1902 to 1908? If not, you may want to do that and see if any of the names are recognizable in the list.

The 1890 Census

Q: How do I look at 1890 census for the state of Michigan when there is no way to get to it ? -- Del

A: The 1890 census, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. The majority of the 1890 census was destroyed by a fire in the basement of the Commerce Building in Washington, DC and only about one percent of the census survived. In her book Your Guide to the Federal Census, Kathleen Hinckley lists the following surviving fragments

  • Alabama - Perry County (Perryville beat number 11 and Severe beat number 8)
  • District of Columbia - Q, 13th, 14th, R, W, Corcoran, 15th, S, R, and Riggs Streets and Johnson Avenue
  • Georgia - Muscogee County (Columbus)
  • Illinois - McDonough County (Mound Township)
  • Minnesota - Wright County (Rockford)
  • New Jersey - Hudson County (Jersey City)
  • New York - Westchester County (Eastchester) and Suffolk County (Brookhaven Township)
  • North Carolina - Gaston County (South Point Township and River Bend Township) and Cleveland County (Township No. 2)
  • Ohio - Hamilton County (Cincinnati) and Clinton County (Wayne Township)
  • South Dakota - Union County (Jefferson Township)
  • Texas - Ellis County (J.P. No. 6, Mountain Peak, and Ovilla Precinct), Hood County (Precinct No. 5), Rusk County (No. 6 and JP No. 7), Trinity County (Trinity Town and Precinct No. 2), and Kaufman County (Kaufman)

There have been some attempts to create 1890 census substitutes, but nothing has been able to recreate the original census. More of the 1890 Veterans' Schedule has survived but this doesn't list everyone in a household. The Veterans' Schedule is limited to entries for people who fought in the Civil War or who are widows of someone who fought in the Civil War, though this is limited to those who fought for the Union.

The fragments of the 1890 census that do exist have been indexed and made available as part of the U.S. Census Collection. An index to the veteran's schedule is available although the schedule itself has not been digitized yet. It is available on microfilm through the National Archives and your local Family History Center.

Generally speaking, genealogists move from the 1880 census to the 1900 census. This large gap sometimes causes problems in identifying families though. For example, a child born in 1881 may have been married by the time the 1900 census was taken and would no longer be listed with his or her parents.

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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