10 Tips for Finding Your Family on Passenger Manifests

Those of us with ancestors who immigrated to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries know how valuable passenger manifests can be, as they often provide the name of the immigrant’s place of birth. We also know how frustrating it can sometimes be to find those immigrants in indexed databases such as Ellis Island and AncestryToday I’d like to review some basic concepts regarding passenger manifests, and then share a few tips for finding your ancestors in those databases.

Types of Manifests:  Embarkation vs. Arrival

It helps to begin with an understanding of the manifests themselves and how they were created. There’s a persistent myth in American culture that names were changed at Ellis Island. This article explains more fully why that isn’t true, but the short version is that the manifests were recorded at the port of embarkation, and Ellis Island officials were merely working from those original lists. Many of these manifests recorded at ports of embarkation did not survive. For example, most of the Bremen lists were destroyed due to lack of space in the Bremen Archives. However, the Hamburg emigration lists recorded between 1850-1934 have largely survived, and sometimes it’s possible to find both the outgoing Hamburg manifest and the incoming Port of New York manifest for the same immigrant.

Types of Errors:  Original vs. Transcription

There are undoubtedly errors in spelling and transliteration that occurred on these passenger manifests, but most of the name changes that people attribute to “Ellis Island” were adopted by the immigrants themselves as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. In my experience, far more dramatic spelling errors were created during the process of transcribing and indexing the passenger manifests to create a searchable database, than occurred during the original recording of the manifests. I don’t want to place too much blame on the indexers here, as they’re faced with a formidable task. Anyone who’s ever looked at a passenger manifest knows that the handwriting can be cramped and illegible, the manifest might have been torn, taped, or faded, and the microfilmed image might be blurry or grainy. Combine this with the fact that you might see on the same page immigrants from a variety of different countries, each with its own language and maybe its own alphabet, and it’s immediately clear that indexers are brave and hardy heroes, indeed.

Faced with all these obstacles, how do we find our immigrant ancestors on those manifests?

1. Use wild-card searches.

If you have a subscription to Ancestry (or can access it at your local public library or Family History Center), you can search their immigration database using wildcard characters. Ancestry‘s directions state,

“An asterisk “*” replaces zero or more characters, and a question mark “?” replaces exactly one character. For example, a search for “fran*” will return matches on words like “Fran,” “Franny,” or “Frank.” A search for “Johns?n” matches “Johnson” and “Johnsen,” but not “Johnston.”

2. Try leaving off the surname entirely.

In cases where I suspect a surname has been butchered in the transcription, I sometimes omit it entirely, and search for the immigrant based on other identifying information.  For example, I could search for my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, by looking for a female passenger named Weronika, born about 1876, stating Polish ethnicity, arriving about 1898.

3. Play with the search parameters.

If your parameters are too specific, you get too few hits, but if they’re too broad, you get too many, so try tinkering with them one by one. Sometimes male passengers are marked as female and vice versa, sometimes first and last names are reversed, and that “race/nationality” box is tricky for Poles, who might be marked as Polish, Russian, German, or Austrian. Be flexible.

4. Determine your ancestor’s name at the time of immigration before you search.

I’d bet a million dollars that a Polish ancestor named “Walter Cherry” will not be listed under that name on his passenger manifest. There’s a good chance you’d find him under “Władysław Wiśniewski,” though. That’s because many of our ancestors adopted new given names, or new versions of their surnames, as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. Some common name changes among Polish-Americans were Władysław to Walter, Stanisław to Stanley, Czesław to Chester, Bronisław to Bruno, and Wojciech to Albert or George. For women, common changes include Jadwiga to Ida or Hattie, Władysława to Lottie or Charlotte, Pelagia to Pearl, and Bronisława to Bertha. These are generalizations, and it’s important to recognize that there were no hard and fast rules. You need to do research into your own family history to determine the names that your immigrant ancestors used. (See here for my story of my challenge in finding the passenger manifest for an immigrant who used Edward in the U.S. when his real name was Stanisław!) For Polish ancestors who settled in the U.S., try checking church records from the parish they attended here, as those are frequently a good clue to their original names.

5. Familiarize yourself with spelling and pronunciation rules in your ancestor’s native language.

In Polish, “Szcz” is a common combination of two digraphs (sz and cz), and there are a lot of surnames that start this way. In contrast, surnames that start with “Lz” are quite rare (I found exactly one example, Lzarewicz, which belonged to exactly 1 person in Poland as of 1990, in this database). So when your search results at Ellis Island or Ancestry include results for passengers with names like “Lzczerba,” “Lzcrepaniak,” and “Lzcsepansky,” you can bet that those names are misspelled and actually start with “S.” In these examples, when I checked the original image of the manifest, those names were clearly Szczerba, Szczepaniak, and Szczepansky.

6. Databases index differently, so if you can’t find your ancestor in one database, check another.

My husband’s great-grandfather had a sister named Marcjanna Szczepankiewicz who was indexed on Ellis Island as “Marcyanna Sezezefsankiewiez” and on Ancestry as “Marcyanna Sczezyoankiemg.” On the manifest, the surname is clearly “Szczepankiewicz,” so this is a case of the indexers having no familiarity with Polish surnames. Even better, in looking up those examples, I came across one poor guy who was indexed on Ancestry as a 24-year-old Ruthenian woman named  “Fazel Lzczzvca.” I took a look at the actual manifest, and the passenger was a 24-year-old Ruthenian man named Józef Szczyrba. I didn’t have the heart to see how he was indexed on Ellis Island, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

7. Give Steve Morse’s site a try.

If you’re not familiar with Steve Morse’s website, you’re missing out. He’s got a variety of very helpful tools for genealogists, including resources for translations, DNA, searching census records, and a search portal for the different immigration databases (both free, like Ellis Island and Castle Garden, and paid, like Ancestry). I used to use his search portal all the time back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, because it was far superior to Ellis Island‘s search portal for the same data. But to be honest, a lot has changed since then, and both Ancestry and Ellis Island now offer fairly powerful, flexible search parameters that are comparable to Steve Morse’s. However, you may find that his search page is laid out in a more intuitive fashion, so it can’t hurt to try if you’re not having luck with the other search engines.

 8. If you already know your ancestor’s hometown but you still can’t find his manifest, try searching according to place of origin.

This technique is not only useful for finding missing manifests, but also can sometimes be used to gain insight into the family groups in your ancestral village. For example, one of my ancestral parishes is Młodzieszyn in Sochaczew County, Poland. Records for Młodzieszyn were largely destroyed in World War II, leaving only records from 1885-1908. So, my understanding of my family history there is very incomplete. However, I’ve discovered that passenger records can offer a surprising amount of information to help fill in some of these blanks. Manifests for emigrants from Młodzieszyn have given me their names, approximate birth dates, and the names and relationships of contacts in the new world (often family members), as well as the names and relationships of family members still living in their former home town. Many of these emigrants were born before 1885 when existing birth records for Młodzieszyn begin, so their passenger manifests are incredibly useful in constructing family groups. Of course, one problem with this is that the hometown is just as likely to be misspelled as the passenger’s name, but it’s still worth a shot.

9. If your ancestor has a common name but he immigrated with other family members, try searching for the manifest using the family member with the least common name.

For example, “Nowak” is the most common Polish surname there is, so if your great-grandfather was Jan Nowak, you’ll probably have to wade through a lot of manifests to find the right one.  But if you have reason to believe that he emigrated at the same time as his wife, Pelagia, try searching for her instead.

10. If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, get his naturalization papers first, then try to find his manifest.

I was really stuck trying to find a manifest for my husband’s great-grandfather Joseph Bartoszewicz. He was supposed to have come in with a large family group, and I’d tried pretty much all the tips I mentioned here, but I just couldn’t tease the data out of the search engines. However, he naturalized in 1914, and after 1906, Petitions for Naturalization included questions about the person’s arrival date in the U.S., the port of entry, and the name of the ship. I obtained Joseph’s naturalization petition, which told me that he arrived on 12 October 1890 in the Port of Philadelphia on the ship Pennsylvania. Great! Only I still couldn’t find him, using that date as an exact search term. Further investigation revealed that Joseph reported his arrival date inaccurately — the Pennsylvania did not arrive in Philadelphia on 12 October 1890, but rather on the 13th. I finally found Joseph and his family by browsing through the manifest page by page.

If you’ve been struggling to find the right passenger manifests for your family, know that you’re not alone. It can certainly be frustrating sometimes, and we’ve all been there. But persistence and flexible search strategies will usually pay off. As always, I’m happy to hear from other researchers, so if you try some of these strategies and they work for you, or if you’d like to offer other suggestions, please leave a note in the comments.  Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Productive Insomnia

We genealogists often have a sense that our ancestors want to be found.  It sounds a little crazy or superstitious, but I think there might be something to it.  Judy Russell wrote about this serendipity in genealogy recently, and her post got me thinking of instances when I’ve had similar experiences.  My favorite example occurred when I awakened suddenly one night with one thought:  “Take another look at that passenger manifest for the Lewandowski family.”

The Lewandowskis (or Levanduskis, or Levindoskis….) of Orleans County

Katherine Lewandowski (or Levanduski, as the family came to spell it in the U.S.) was my husband Bruce’s great-grandmother.  She emigrated from Poland with her parents when she was about three years old, and the family settled in the village of Shelby in Orleans County, New York.  Now the funny thing was, I wasn’t actively researching this family when I woke up with this sudden insight.  I could almost understand it, if I’d been researching them before I went to bed, and my subconsious brain came up with this great idea while I slept.  But in this case, my subconscious brain must have been working overtime, because I hadn’t given any thought to the Levanduskis in about a year.  But this thought just wouldn’t fade away.  After tossing and turning for another half hour, I finally gave up and went downstairs to rev up my laptop and pull up the image of the passenger manifest.

I should backtrack for a moment here to explain that finding this particular manifest was something of an accomplishment for me.  I discovered Katherine’s parents’ names from the record of her marriage to Joseph Bartoszewicz in 1907 (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Marriage record for Joseph F. Bartoszewicz and Katherine Levinduski, 1907.Katherine Levanduski and Joseph Bartoszewicz 1907

The marriage record stated that Katherine’s parents were Edward Levinduski and Mary Wozniak, and this information facilitated the identification of the family in census records for Orleans County.  Mary was only seen in one census record, that for New York State in 1892 (Figure 2), as she passed away in 1896 (1).

Figure 2:  Extract from the 1892 New York State Census for Shelby, Orleans County, New York, showing the family of Edward Levanduski.

Edward Lewandowski fam 1892 NY State Census crop

The family’s names are a bit mangled here — Edward is recorded as “Adcker,” his son Peter has become Patrick, and the surname looks more like “Lewenoboski,” than “Lewandowski.”  But the ages, birthplaces, and location match up very well with family recollections and other documentation.

By 1900, we see Edward “Lavindusky” married to his second wife, Anna (Figure 3).  His son, Joe, and daughter Anna from his first marriage are still living at home, but the other children (Katherine, John and Peter) are apparently living independently. He also has three children with his second wife: Tony  and “Wallace,” (probably known to his parents by the Polish name Władysław, he becomes Walter in later records), shown on this page, and Martha, who appears at the top of the next page.

Figure 3:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census for Shelby, Orleans County, showing the family of Edward Levanduski.

1900 census for Edward Lavenduski family

This census tells us (among other things) that Edward was born in “Poland (Ger)” — in other words, he was an ethnic Pole from the Prussian Partition who immigrated in 1886 and was already naturalized by 1900.

Finding their *&%# Passenger Manifest

My next step was to look for his passenger manifest.  Frustratingly, I wasn’t finding it, no matter how I tweaked the search parameters.  I assumed I was looking for a family group, although I realized that it was also possible that Edward came first and sent for his wife and children later on.  But I thought I had enough information to go on that this should have been straightforward:  immigration year about 1886, father Edward Lewandowski, born about 1858; mother Mary (probably Marianna, in Polish), born about 1856; children Katherine (in Polish, Katarzyna), born about 1883, and John (Jan in Polish, Johann in German), born about 1885, all coming from Prussia.  But I just couldn’t find them.

Sometimes, when faced with this problem, it helps to obtain a copy of the individual’s naturalization records.  For naturalizations that took place after 1906, the Petition for Naturalization will often tell the name of the ship, the port of entry, and the specific date of arrival of an immigrant, as seen in this petition for Katherine Levanduski’s husband, Joseph Bartoszewicz (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Extract of Petition for Naturalization for Joseph Bartoszewicz, showing arrival at the port of Philadelphia, PA on the 12th day of October, 1890, on the vessel Pennsylvania.

Joseph Bartoszewicz Petition for Naturalization crop.png

However, prior to 1906, naturalization records were less standardized, and these tend to state only the country from which the immigrant renounced citizenship, rather than providing any specifics about how or when he arrived in the U.S.  The fact that Edward Levanduski was already a naturalized citizen by 1900 meant that his naturalization records might be nice to have, for the sake of completeness, but they weren’t likely to give me any significant hints.

A Critical Clue

My breakthrough came one day when a distant cousin of my husband’s found me through a Rootsweb message board, and sent me the following message:  “I came across an old web site where you were researching Edward. An uncle recently gave me some of our history and we are maybe looking for the same Great-grandfather. If this email is still active get back to me.”  (This is Reason #503 why it pays to post online about the ancestors and geographic areas you’re researching.)  When I contacted him, he wrote that his Uncle Walter Lewandowski told him that Edward Levanduski’s name was originally Stanisław!  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Stanisław?!  It’s not uncommon for Polish immigrants with traditional Slavic names like Stanisław to choose to Anglicize them in their attempts to assimilate into American culture.  But most men named Stanisław choose a name that’s got some phonetic similarity, like Stanley, rather than something completely different, like Edward.

Armed with this information, it was easy.  I found their Hamburg Emigration manifest, shown below (Figure 5).   The departure date was 10 April 1886, the father was Stanislaus Lewandowsky, age 27, from “Wolla,” Prussia, with his wife, Maria, age 23, and children Kateryna, 3, and Jan, 1.  Bingo!  A perfect match!  I was so excited to try to figure out where “Wolla” might be that I paid no attention to the names below theirs on the manifest.

Figure 5:  Extract from Hamburg Emigration manifest for Stanislaus Lewandowsky and family.

Lewandowski family passenger manifest

Or at least, not consciously.

“I see dead people….”

But my subconscious brain had my back, or maybe the spirit of Weronika Wozniak was talking to me in my sleep, just like in the movie, The Sixth Sense. But whatever it was, something woke me up on the night of November 17, 2o13, and I just had to check that manifest again.  And when I did, I noticed the two passengers mentioned after my Lewandowski family:  Weronika Wozniak and Michał Lewandowski.  If you remember from that marriage record in Figure 1, Stanisław “Edward” Lewandowski’s wife, Maria, had the maiden name of Woźniak.

By this point I was wide awake, so I spent the next few hours running through records online to see where this discovery might lead me.  I had to wade through a bit of a mess with the various surname and given name changes that were typical in the Polish community in Orleans County, but by 5:30 am, when Bruce came downstairs, shaking his head, I had new information on his family to report.  My preliminary evidence, which I shored up later with additional documentation, indicated that Weronika Woźniak settled near Edward and Mary Levanduski in Shelby, New York, became Veronica “Lena” Wisnock, and married Stanisław “Edward” Lepkoske/Lepkowski.  My guess — and I still don’t know the answer to this definitively — is that Veronica will end up being a younger sibling to Maria Woźniak Levanduska.  I’m sure the answers lie in the vital records in Poland, as the U.S. records seem to be inconclusive on this question, but suggesting a common father, at least. Interestingly, this Stanisław also adopted Edward as his name in the U.S.  Two Stanisław-to-Edward transitions in the same tiny town makes me wonder if someone (parish priest, maybe?) was really pushing the idea that men named Stanisław should prefer Edward over the more-common Stanley when choosing a name to go by.

A Lightbulb Moment

Edward and Lena Lepkoske had eight children, including a son, Joseph, who married Margaret Wisnock (probably a distant cousin on his mother’s side).  Suddenly, the 1920 Census for my husband’s grandfather’s family made so much more sense (Figure 6).  In 1920, Bruce’s grandfather, Henry, was a baby living at what his family considers to be the Bartoszewicz family home at 929 Smith Street in Buffalo.  But in 1920, the Bartoszewicz family weren’t the only ones living there — it was also the home of Anthony and Frances Lewandowski and Joseph and Margaret Lipkowski.

Figure 6:  Extract of 1920 U.S. Federal Census for the families of Anthony Lewandowski, Joseph Lipkowski and Joseph Bartoszewicz.  1920 United States Federal Census10 crop

When I first located this census record, Anthony Lewandowski’s presence there seemed natural.  He was the oldest son of Edward Levanduski and his second wife, Anna Budzynska, and so half-brother to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz.  The house at 929 Smith Street was a multi-family home, so at that time, I didn’t think about the presence of the Lipkowskis too much, figuring they were just friends of the family, distant cousins, or maybe just unrelated boarders.  But if I’m correct with my hypothesis that Marianna and Weronika Wozniak were sisters, then this would make Joseph Lepkoske first cousin to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz.

It’s interesting to note that the census taker in Buffalo automatically wrote these names with their correct Polish spellings (Lewandowski, Lipkowski) rather than with the phonetic versions (Levanduski, Lepkoske) the family used in rural Orleans County.  Census records for Orleans County also show some Lewandowski families who persisted with the correct, original spelling, and of course, there are many Lewandowski families in Buffalo, as well, so it remains to be determined exactly which families are related, and how.  There seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth movement between Buffalo and Orleans County for members of these families, and tracking the movement of the family members geographically, given the diverse spellings of the surname, can be challenging.  “Lewandowski” is among the most popular Polish surnames, so caution must be taken in researching, because there are probably quite a few Lewandowskis who were living in Buffalo in the early 1900s who were unrelated to these Lewandowski/Levanduskis.

All in the Family

One final point of interest here:  This census shows Anthony’s wife, Frances, under her married name of Levanduski.  But it’s interesting to note that her maiden name was Lepkoske — and she was none other than the daughter of Edward and Lena Lepkoske and sister of Joseph Lepkoske!  To sum up, Joseph and Frances Lepkoske were full siblings.  Joseph married Margaret Wisnock/Wozniak, who is probably his distant cousin.  Frances married Anthony Levanduski, who is the half-brother to Katherine Levanduska, whose mother was a Wisnock/Wozniak.  And Joseph and Frances Lepkoske are probably first cousins to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz, assuming that Weronika Wozniak and Mary Wozniak are sisters.  Whew!

For now, this research is on the back burner for me, due to time constraints. But my work is certainly cut out for me when I’m ready to return, as there are a lot of unanswered questions.  Here are the final take-home messages with which I’d like to conclude:

1.  Be sure to utilize ALL the information available from a given source.

Don’t do what I did and focus on one piece of information (the Lewandowskis’ place of origin, “Wolla,” — which, by the way, I was eventually able to locate) to such an extent that you ignore other valuable clues contained in the source.

2.  Pay attention to your ancestors’ FANS (Friends, Associates and Neighbors).

The FAN principle was elucidated by Elizabeth Shown Mills as a strategy for learning more about our ancestors through careful analysis of indirect evidence.  In hindsight, I might have suspected a connection between the Lepkoske and Levanduski families even without that passenger manifest, because census records often show their families living in close proximity or listed sequentially.  This approach can be especially helpful when researching ancestors with common surnames.

3.  Follow your hunches.

Whether you believe it to be serendipity, wild coincidence, luck, the promptings of your subconscious mind, or nudges from Great-Grandma up in heaven, every genealogist seems to have these stories.  Go with it, and see what turns up.

Sources:

  1.  Shelby, Orleans, New York, “Death Records”, 1896, April 10, record for Mary Levenduski.

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016