Thursday, October 21, 2004


by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

Many of us put our ancestors' passenger arrival records at the bottom
of our to-do lists, if only because locating them can be so
challenging. Perhaps you tried scrolling through microfilmed records
or searching the Ellis Island database
but came up empty-handed.
Maybe you followed the leads included in
your grandfather's naturalization documents, but learned that the
ship he claimed to have traveled on wasn't built until eight years
after he arrived in the U.S. Or maybe you are one of the many whose
ancestors came in the era before naturalization records routinely
provided valuable clues about arrival details. If any of these
scenarios describe your circumstances, now's a good time to try
again. In an upcoming article, I'll address an underutilized resource
that includes many of our forebears--the Hamburg Emigration records--
but first I'd like to cover one resource that's even broader in


Less than a year ago, introduced its Immigration
. While it's true that the site had been home to a variety
of immigration and naturalization resources before then, this
collection brought them all together, added fresh ones, and included
a major bonus--the first ever indexing of New York arrival records
for 1851 through 1891. Yes, certain ethnic groups had been extracted
from these records and indexed previously, but this was the first
comprehensive index of its kind.

To get to the collection and browse its contents, go to , select "Search Records" from the menu on
top, and click on "Immigration Records" in the right column. This
will bring you to a page with a specialized search screen and a
scrollable list of relevant databases, ranging from San Francisco
Passenger Lists to Virginia Immigrants, 1623-66. It's your choice
whether to search one database or all of them simultaneously.

I was one of those frustrated people who had tucked her passenger
arrival wish list aside, so I decided it was time to give it another
go. I started with one of my great-great-grandmothers, Ellen
Nelligan. I knew she had arrived after 1850, as she wasn't in the
1850 U.S. census. And I knew that she was here by October 9, 1853, as
she appeared as a sponsor at a nephew's baptism in Piermont, New
York, on that date. A New York arrival seemed logical given that she
initially settled just on the other side of the Hudson in Rockland

I pulled up the immigration-specific search form, but decided not to
limit the search to any particular database, since several (e.g.,
Irish Immigrants 1846-51, New York 1820-50, New York 1851-91, etc.)
could apply. From here, I entered Ellen Nelligan, but chose the
Soundex option, since Nelligan can be found as Neligan and other
variations. Then I took advantage of the Year of Arrival fields and
limited the search to 1850-1853. Crossing my fingers, I hit the
Search key.

A total of 25 possibilities appeared--mostly because Nelligan shares
a Soundex code with more common names, such as Nelson and Neilson.
But when I sifted through them, one candidate stood out: 17-year-old
Ellen Nelligan arrived in New York on July 1, 1853, on the Intrinsic.
I was expecting "my" Ellen to be about 20, but this was in the
neighborhood and the timing dovetailed nicely with the October 1853
baptism. I was thrilled to see that a digitized image of the manifest
was available, so I clicked to take a look at it. There was Ellen
traveling with a 10-year-old Edward. Hmmm...Ellen had a younger
brother named Edward who also emigrated to the U.S. at some point-
and, yes, he would have been about 10 at the time. And just above
Ellen's entry was one for Annie Reidy. One of Ellen's sisters would
shortly marry a Reidy--not a big surprise since the Nelligans and
Reidys had frequently intermarried. Not absolute proof, of course,
but all these details, coupled with exact spelling and the fact that
there were no other candidates with appropriate names and ages, lead
me to the conclusion that this is likely my great-great-grandmother's
arrival record. Could I find another one?

I decided to take the collection for another test ride with one of my
great-grandmothers, Margaret McKaig. Margaret had come much later
than Ellen--somewhere around 1880 to 1883--but still well before
Ellis Island opened. I tried entering Margaret McKaig (and also
experimented with Marg* and Mgt to be sure to snare all likely
candidates). Once again, I used the Soundex feature because McKaig is
one of those names that invites distortion. Limiting the search to
1880-83, I was presented 28 possibilities among four databases, but
most were easily eliminated since they were for other surnames, such
as McHugh.

A listing for Margaret McCague (the way McKaig is pronounced) caught
my eye. She was 20 years old and arrived in New York on May 17, 1880.
That fit with the expected age and timeframe, and she had settled in
Jersey City, New Jersey, so a New York arrival made sense. Once again,
I was able to click to view the original image. There was Margaret--
and five lines above her, a 26-year-old Catherine McCague. Margaret
did indeed have a sister named Catherine, so I was encouraged that I
probably had the right woman.

I went back to the list of candidates to see whether there were any
others that should be considered and wound up with a bonus. The only
other likely entry was for the same Margaret McCague, but led me to
an image of the ship she came on, the City of Richmond.

I had succeeded in locating the probable arrival records for two
ancestors, as well as an image of one of their ships. Not bad for a
few minutes' work! If you've been postponing your passenger record
quest, why not invest a few minutes yourself? Granddad just might be
waiting for you!


Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of the
recently released the books:-

"Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to
Explore Your Family Tree"

(as well as "In Search of Our Ancestors,"

"Honoring Our Ancestors"

and "They Came to America"),
can be
contacted through and



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