Thursday, June 25, 2009

CVGS Program Summary - Joan Lowrey on Passenger Lists

The June program meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society featured Joan Lowrey, who presented "Did They Really Come on That Ship?" Joan's CV was described here.

The presentation covered eight case studies of passenger lists and indexes that demonstrated one or more of the following problems:

* Some entries on passenger lists may be crossed out because the passenger didn't make the boat. However, they may be indexed in passenger list databases.

* Some index entries may provide wrong date of arrival. You can use several resources to try to find the correct date and find the passenger list entry.

* While a ship may have originated in one port, some passengers may have boarded at another port.

* More than one resource should be reviewed to obtain all possible information about names, ages, relationships, birthplace, etc. There may be inconsistencies between different resources because they were compiled by different entities.

* Persons not born in Germany (or earlier German entities) may not be listed in the book Germans to America, even though they boarded the ship in Germany.

* Some online passenger lists may be duplicates of an earlier passenger list of the same ship because of errors by providers, enumerators, or indexers.

* Different passenger list indexes may spell names differently. Search by ship (if known) or first name.

* Persons may have sailed on one ship, then boarded another ship in another port before landing in the USA. The departure list and arrival list may not match.

* The Castle Garden web site has more passenger records than those that arrived at Castle Garden between 1850 and 1890. The records on the website before 1850 and after 1890 may not reflect the actual arrival location.

For her case studies, Joan used the book series of Germans to America, the Ellis Island and Castle Garden websites, the USA passenger lists collection, the Hamburg departure lists on, and newspaper articles (especially The New York Times 1851-1980 archive). The San Diego Public Library in downtown San Diego has a complete collection of Germans to America in the Genealogy Room. Unfortunately, the Chula Vista library does not have this resource.

Joan's case studies demonstrated how poorly the handwriting on the lists were, and how poor some of the indexes are. Experienced genealogists know and understand this, and learn how to work with all of the available resources but novice researchers often expect perfect indexes and easily readable lists.

This was a well-done and useful presentation because it showed that the records and indexes are imperfect and that traditional resources can be used effectively with online resources to solve passenger list research problems. This is one of Joan's specialties and her counsel should be heeded!

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