Last time, I detailed the type of information found on the ships’ manifests of immigrants to Ellis Island, documents that are available on the free site www.ellisisland.org. That site, one of the first to display manifests, can be very helpful, but it has its drawbacks. ellisisland.org sometimes maddeningly displays a manifest that clearly does not match the individual it says it is for. Also, though the site is free, printed copies of the manifests must be purchased from the Ellis Island – Statue of Liberty Foundation, unless you have screen-capture software and the skill to use it. As with all on-line sites, there are many errors in the spelling of names of persons and places. Another aspect of ellisisland.org that could be better is the ‘general search’ where you may want to get a list of all immigrants with a given surname or from a given town. ellisisland.org does not easily allow searches by town, and its general searches provide rather unwieldy lists that take time to navigate.
There are ways to get around these glitches. One is to use the site http://stevemorse.org/ellis/boat.html (known as the Steve Morse ‘white’ site). If you find a person’s name, date of immigration and ship of passage on ellisisland.org but it has the wrong manifest displayed, the ‘white’ site allows you to locate the correct manifest for a particular voyage of a particular ship, and search through it page by page for the passenger you want. This is tedious, but it can be effective.
To obtain hard copies of manifests, the subscription site www.Ancestry.com allows not only ship manifests, but any record found there to be saved to your computer and printed out. Of course, ordinarily you must pay for the Ancestry.com service, but that can be avoided if you use the service at a public library or a Mormon Family Search Center.
An excellent site for general searches of passenger manifests is another Steven Morse site, known as his ‘gold’ site, at http://stevemorse.org/ellis2/ellisgold.html. This site allows you to search for Ellis Island arrivals by one or all of the following, and more: first name; last name; ship name; town (including ‘sounds like’ and partial spellings); year of birth; and year of immigration. Once a list is obtained, it can be sorted by surname, year of birth, year of immigration, town of origin, etc. For example, my ancestral town, Serradifalco, is variously spelled on manifests as Terradifalco, Seradifoles, and so on. But I can search the ‘gold’ site for immigrants with the surname starting with the letters C-o-n-i-g who were born from 1885 – 1892, immigrated from 1910 – 1915, and came from a town whose name contained the string of letters ‘adif’. The result will be a list of anyone who fits that description. Selecting one from the list will transfer you to the ellisisland.org site.
Not every immigrant came to America through Ellis Island. Firstly, Ellis Island did not start operation until 1892. Prior to that, New York City arrivals disembarked at a site known as Castle Garden. Secondly, numerous other ports besides New York were the landing places of Sicilian immigrants. The foremost of these others were Boston and New Orleans, but Sicilians also found their way to the U. S. through Baltimore, Galveston, Philadelphia, and even San Francisco, as well as via some ports in Canada. Similarly, passengers whose final destination was Canada may have first landed at a U. S. port. Lists of Canadian – U. S. border crossings also exist. I’ll discuss these other ports and possibilities in future columns.