Ellis Island Database Tips
A couple of months ago, I wrote a pair of articles about the online Ellis Island
database (EIDB) (www.ellisisland.org) and the
response was overwhelming. Never before have I received so many e- mails as a result of an
article I've publishedor so many requests to write more on a topic. In case you'd
like to refresh your memory, you can find them here:
Accurate is the Ellis Island Database Transcription?"
Ellis Island Experiment"
The responses essentially fell into two categories: 1) folks writing to share their own
experiences and 2) others asking questions about errors contained in the database. In this
article, I'd like to share some of the wisdom from the first group, and in another
article, I will do my best to address the concerns of the second cluster.
Morse's Site for Searching the EIDB in One Step In the earlier articles, I briefly
discussed Stephen P. Morse's remarkable website (home.pacbell.net/spmorse/ellis/ellis.html)
which, complements the EIDB and helps in excavating those hard-to- find ancestors. To my
delight, many finally found their elusive kin and wrote to tell of their success. Typical
were comments such as these:
"I finally found my grandfather. His name is August Slenkamp, formerly Schlehenkamp.
I found him by using August S, German, and arrived 1907. He came up as 'August Schenkemp.'
I never would have thought of that spelling. I ordered the manifest page containing my
grandfather's name and the photo of the ship. Both were a big hit at my mother's 85th
"I followed your tip and used Stephen Morse's website. I knew that my
great-grandfather, Julian Burzynski (pronounced Burr-jeen-skee or often Boo-jeen-skee),
had left German Poland in 1892. At the Morse website, I used his first name and then
"Bu" and there was Julian Bugjuski, age 36, wife Katarzyna (listed as
"Catha") and their six small children (with son, Theodore, listed as
"Therd"). That was one mutation of the spelling I had not thought of!"
Using Morse's site will greatly increase your odds of success, but our experienced readers
contributed additional tips that may prove useful to you, if you are still among those of
Try Likely and Not So Likely Misspellings
This piece of advice may seem fairly obvious, but it extends not only to names, but also
placesand even to relatives of the same name traveling together:
"My grandmother, Gizella Peto, appeared in the database as Yuella Peto . . . They
both came from the same hometown in Hungary. Patroha was transcribed as Pahoha on his and
Padrolia on hers."
"Another common error I have seen is the place name 'Liban' instead of 'Libau.'"
Libau (present day Liepaja in Latvia) was a common departure port."
"My grandmother, Astrid Naemi Englund, immigrated in 1912. She told me pretty much
the entire story of her immigration, so I knew when she arrived, what ship, etc. I also
knew she traveled with her brother, Fritz Englund. When I looked them up on the Ellis
Island site, her name had been changed to 'Astrid Norma Englund' (an understandable
error), but Fritz's last name had been changed to something un-phonetic, even though it is
given in the original manifest as ditto marks under her surname."
Try Others They May Have Traveled With
If you know or suspect that several family members came together, try other names than
your direct ancestor, especially those with simpler first names:
"After several failed attempts, I decided that the spelling of the name must be the
problem. I remembered that one record for my great- grandfather had his named spelled
'Marton,' so I tried that. Still, no success for my Margaret Martin. Then, I decided to
try using her son, Anton, as the key person. Success! He was listed as Anton Marton, and
all the family members were with him. His mother was recorded as 'Margarethe.'"
Joseph F. Martin
Try Maiden Names
Italian women in particular were apt to travel under their maiden names, and as we see in
this example, this habit could even lead to gender confusion:
"I finally found my grandmother, Maria Domenica DeNicco, listed as Domenico DeMicco,
a 27-year-old male. The reason I stayed with this listing is that the passenger list
showed a daughter, Maria, and under Maria was a male with the same last name as my
grandfather. I was overjoyed to find that Domenico was going to her husband, Vincenzo
LaTeana, in the town in PA where they lived."
Try Both Farm and Patronymic Names
Those of Scandinavian origin will want to keep this tip in mind, even if all the other
documents pertaining to your ancestor use just one of these names:
"It took me months to track down both of my grandfathers because both changed their
last name, and used that particular name only during emigration. My paternal grandfather,
Nels Elvik, called himself Nels Hanson. His father's given name was Hans. My maternal
grandfather Hans Ona, called himself Hans Lien. The family house was named Lien which
means the hillside. I found this only after discovering that three of his siblings went by
the name, Lien, and still do to this day."
"He was found to have traveled using his patronymic name instead of the farm name
(Ludvig Rasmussen instead of Ludvig Lie), although he didn't subsequently use that name,
nor did his siblings. He pops right up when doing a search on the patronymic name."
Try Reversing First and Last Names
As can be seen in these Hungarian and Scandinavian examples, this tactic is worthy of
trying regardless of your ethnic heritage:
"My grandfather, Gabor Nagy, appeared as Nagy Gobor. Hungarians listed their last
name first many times, but not always. The cursive handwriting tricked them with the a and
o. Only by typing in this misspelling of his first name in the last name search did I find
"He was found to have his name reversed and slightly misspelled. Instead of Halvard
Lie, he was listed as Lie Halward."
Try Using Less Information
Although online tools now give us plenty of options to help narrow searches for those with
common names, sometimes it's helpful to resist the urge to use them all:
"Remember the old adage about not typing in too much information? I should have left
out the boat name. I discovered that it is case- sensitive. I had been lazily typing
aquitania, as most indices would allow. But when I followed all the steps diligently,
including looking up the spelling of the ship's name, and cutting and pasting it in, I
found him. What was the difference? The capital A!"
Mary Jo C. Martin
Many thanks to all those who gifted all of us with their experience and insight. I'm
keeping my fingers crossed that the suggestions presented here will produce a fresh crop
of success stories!
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak* (*yes, that's her real name) is the author of the newly
released Honoring Our Ancestors: Inspiring Stories of the Quest for Our Roots and
can be reached through her website at www.honoringourancestors.com.
To see when she might be speaking in your area, please check the schedule page of her