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Overheard in GenForum: Immigrants Arrived NYC 1846
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.

November 25, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: According to family information, great grandfather Alexander Delatore THURSTON was born aboard ship in U.S. waters at New York City, 23 June 1846. I can not learn the names of his parents. The ship supposedly came from France, but I don't know if the family was French or just traveling on the French ship. Can someone help find the name of the ship? -- Helen

A: Your research is hovering near that time period when there is no index for the immigrants who were coming into New York City. You are in good company. Many researchers find themselves having to solve similar problems. They are trying to discover the name of the ship and the actual date of arrival.

Actually, your information gives you a benefit that most genealogists don't have. Because of the birth date of Alexander, you have a date that you can concentrate on. Most genealogists are forced to try and deal with this from the angle of only having a year of arrival. You can search a couple of days prior to the date of birth, the date of birth, and then a couple of days past the date of birth. However, that is a lot easier than having to search an entire month or year.

Having the date of birth for your great grandfather gives you a benefit most genealogists do not have in searching those unindexed passenger lists.

Working with Passenger Lists

Before discussing the passenger lists themselves, it is important to discuss what information one can get from them. Prior to about 1890, the information included on a given individual is limited. If you were looking for an adult, you would most likely only have the individual's name, age, occupation and country of origin. Most researchers are disappointed by this information, as they hope to find a place of birth.

However, because of the information you are seeking, this is not an issue. You do need to keep in mind that there will be no relationships listed in the passenger lists. Although, families are usually listed together on the passenger lists.

Working the Index

Your ancestor may actually show up in the index to passenger lists. The Index for immigrants to New York is supposed to go through 1846. This would mean that Alexander Delatore Thurston should appear in there. If he does not show up on the index, you will want to ask yourself a couple of questions.

The first question that should come up is the validity of the date of birth. Is it exact? Could it be a year off? If so, then it puts you automatically into the unindexed years. If it is correct, then you need to think of other reasons that the name did not appear in the index. One that comes immediately to mind is the surname. You mention that they were on a French ship. Alexander's middle name is definitely French. Is it possible that the family was listed under Delatore instead of Thurston? If you haven't exhausted this search in the index, you will want to.

The French Ship

If you do determine that Alexander was not born in 1846 but was actually born later on (such as 1847), then your research will take you to a new approach. While you have a possible date of arrival, I will explain a useful method for locating records for those who do not have that exact a date.

Microfilm M1066 is the Registers of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports, 1789-1919. These registers offer you some valuable information on the ships that arrived in New York. These are especially useful to those who do not have the indexes to help them.

The register page contains information on the following:

  • Name of the vessel
  • Country of origin
  • Type of rig
  • Date of entry
  • Name of the Master
  • Last port of embarkation

Using the Registers

Generally researchers know where their family was coming from, at least the country. As such, it is sometimes possible to use these registers to narrow down the dates needed to search in the passenger lists. Since you know the approximate date of arrival and the country of origin, you can search the registers and then write down the names of the ships that arrive during that time period with the dates of arrival for the country of origin you are seeking.

In Conclusion

Sometimes searching for passenger lists requires that you be very methodical. Other times you will find that you luck out and you get to use an index. Of course, sometimes they can offer their own difficulties, but that is for another time.

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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