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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: There May Be More Than One Passenger List
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 31, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Whenever an ancestor immigrates to another country, we tend to concentrate on the country to which they come into. This is, after all, following the general rule of genealogy, where we work from the known to the unknown. We know that John SMITH emigrated in 1890. So we look for passenger lists at the country of arrival, beginning with the most likely of ports.

Unfortunately, we often stop with the passenger list research at this point. And sometimes this does our research a great disservice.

Passenger lists often exist for both the old country and the new.

Understanding the Resource

Like other avenues of research, immigration records have trends within them. Certain migration patterns allow us to estimate the possible port of entry for a given ancestor based on their year of travel and the country from which they are coming. For instance, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a larger number of immigrants came through Ellis Island, the port of New York than any other port on the eastern seaboard. Therefore, when we discover an ancestor arriving during that time period, it is not surprising that we turn to the passenger lists and indexes to those lists for New York City.

Unfortunately not all passenger lists have survived. Recently a genealogist contacted a fellow professional researcher looking for a passenger list page. The interesting part of this was that the individual did indeed show up in the index to the passenger lists, however, despite repeated searches of the supposed passenger list, the page referenced in the index could not be found.

Understanding Your Alternatives

This does happen on occasion. In the United States, the indexes were created during the 1930s as part of the WPA projects. However, the lists themselves were not microfilmed until the 1940s. There are stories of pages not surviving that time period. So what does a researcher do when they cannot locate their ancestor on the page in question?

In some cases, there may be emigrant lists that have survived in the old country. An excellent chart that can help you in determining if such records exist can be found in The Source edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking and published in 1997 by Ancestry, Inc.

From this chart you can determine not only what records exist, but also the dates covered, and whether or not the records are indexed. You will also learn where the originals can be found along with what repositories may have copies, including microfilmed copies. This chart includes emigrant lists for Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and the West Indies.

A Different Approach

Very often using these records does require that you know something about your ancestors' time of emigration. Perhaps more so than may have been needed in locating that same ancestor in records for their port of debarkation. Sometimes it is just a matter of rethinking your approach.

And of course, for most of these records, there is always the issue of a foreign language, since these records will be in the language of the originating country. For help with this, you may want to turn to the Word Lists created by the Family History Library and found in the SourceGuide of the web site as well as on the SourceGuide CD.

And some of these records that have been indexed are now finding their way online. For instance, there is the Danish Emigration Archives that allows you to search for your Danish emigrants up to 1904 currently (though the project is planning to include emigrants up through 1940).

In Conclusion

The first line of research should be the passenger lists at the point of debarkation. However, if you cannot locate your ancestor because the page is missing, or worse yet, the port of arrival has not been indexed for those years, there may be an option. Be sure to check for possible records at the port of embarkation.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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