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Overheard in GenForum: Passengers: Moodys from Eng to US 1868
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

August 09, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I would like to find family of William, Mary, Edwin, Frederick, Sidney and Rose Moody on a passenger list from England to the U.S. in 1868. They were from E. Pennard, Somerset, England. They settled in Nebraska -- Debby

A: Researching immigrants can be an adventure, but also a frustration. It is important to understand why we use the records we do and what information those records will have for us. This is more true of passenger lists than of others because of the work involved sometimes in locating our ancestor on the passenger list.

So often people extend great energy and expense to find an ancestor on the passenger list only to be disappointed in the information given on that list. Over the years the passenger lists have changed in regard to information collected. The more recent the list, the more information included.

Know what the record contains before seeking it.

Desired Information

Depending on the information desired, it is possible that you will not be happy when and if you find the passenger list. Prior to about 1891, the lists were maintained by the Customs Agents and fall under the responsibility of the Bureau of Customs. These lists contain only five columns and ask for the individuals name, age, gender, occupation, and nationality.

Most people who are searching for a passenger list are hoping to find the place of birth for their ancestor. Unfortunately for those pre-1891 lists, that information just doesn't exist. It is up to the researcher to find this information in other records.

Another reason researchers turn to the passenger lists is to find the family all together. Again, while it is possible that they are together, there will be no indication on the passenger list that they are indeed a family. You may be able to infer as such based on their order on the passenger list, but other records would need to be used to corroborate this conclusion.

Possible Ports of Arrival

The Customs Passenger Lists begin in 1820 and continue for most ports up through 1891. Some of these records have been indexed, and they are all available on microfilm. The following list includes the ports that have records from 1820.

  • Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes Ports: 1820-874 (this excludes New York City)
  • Baltimore, Maryland: 1820-1897
  • Boston, Massachusetts: 1820-1891
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: 1820-1902
  • New York, New York: 1820-1897
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1800-1882

Many of these ports also have indexes available on microfilm. The big exception, being New York. There is a fifty year gap in the index for the passenger lists for this port. It begins in 1846 and goes up through 1896, which includes the time period your Moodys were traveling.

It would be a good idea to concentrate first on those ports that are indexed. This will allow you to eliminate them. If it does come down to the port of New York, you will need to do additional research to narrow your search down to a smaller time frame than a year.

Who Might You Find?

When working in the indexes, it is possible that you will need to search for more than just the head of the family. Many times the head of the family would travel to America first and get a job and a place to live. Then he would send for the rest of the family.

It is not unusual to find the head of the family traveling alone or to find the rest of the family without the head of the family. It might even be possible, depending on where he settled, that he arrived at one port and the rest of the family arrives at another port.

In Conclusion

Keep an open mind when looking in the indexes for all variant spellings. Also search for all the given names in the family. You never know what you will find. While you appear not to be hoping to find place of birth, for those that are, you will need to turn your attention to naturalization records, biographical sources, and perhaps death records or obituaries. A passenger list in 1868 will not include the place of birth for those traveling.

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 rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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