IDentifying Your Ancestral Town

Photo by Giovanni Morreale

      Censuses give a person’s age in the census year, from which an approximate birth year can be determined. In addition, often the following information is listed: date of arrival in the U.S.; country of origin; whether naturalized; occupation; and address. Family members living at the same address are shown with the same information as above for each member. A man and wife’s record may also include their ‘age at first marriage’ or ‘year of marriage’, but the wife’s maiden name is not given. The children’s names may be helpful if you remember the naming conavention previously discussed. The first name of a man’s oldest son would be the same as the man’s father; oldest daughter named after his mother, etc. Children’s names may help to confirm the person’s identity when other records are found. If you plan to research the wife named in a census, the younger children’s names may reflect her parents’ given names.

Having the census information, you can search on-line for the person by first and last name, at,, or Use the census information to narrow the search to those who fit. The most commonly used of these sources is the free site which has over 25 million passenger records, and the following discussion refers to that site.

When you log on to, if it is your first use, you’ll be asked to join or contribute to the Ellis Island Foundation, but this is optional. You can register for free, with a user name and password. Future searches may ask for those, but there is no charge to do the searches. After registering, you’ll see search boxes for first (optional) and last names, year of birth (approximate or exact), and gender. If your search is too general (last name only), you may get TOO MUCH information, with hundreds of names to sort through, or you may get a warning that there were too many passengers by that name and you should be more specific in your search.

If your search is too specific (searching first and last names, exact year of birth, and gender), you may get NO matches. This is not necessarily because the person’s name is not in the database, but may be because the recorded data (whether correct or not) doesn’t exactly match your search criteria. For example, obviously your grandfather Andrea Petix was a male, but whoever entered the information in the original manifest or in the database may have interpreted ‘Andrea’ as a female name and entered the gender as female. Therefore, your nannu wouldn’t show up if you searched for males only!

I usually start my search just with my best guess for the first name and surname. That will produce either a message saying no one by that name was found (with options for alternative searches), or a list of folks with the requested first name and surname. It may contain as few as one, or as many as hundreds of folks with the same name as your ancestor. Here’s where the census information comes in. The manifest list gives first and last name; residence, usually nation of origin and TOWN (which is what we are seeking); year of arrival; and age on arrival. Study the list to see if there is anyone with your ancestor’s name whose arrival year and age at arrival result in a birth year close to the one calculated from the census information. For those that are close, check the nation of origin. If you suspect or already know the town of origin, that narrows it further, but be careful because town names are often horribly misspelled. Again, there may be several people with the same name, approximate birth date, and town of origin as your ancestor.

In the display, each name listed is followed by three links. Clicking on ‘View’ for each will bring up more information as noted below, but you must be a registered user.

  • Viewing the ‘Passenger Record’ will give the ethnicity, origin, age, gender, date of arrival and ship name.
  • Viewing the ‘Ship Manifest’ will give a “thumbnail” of the original manifest with options to a) enlarge it or b) look at a shortened ‘text version’. Original manifests may have more than one page. Follow the instructions to see other pages. Note: later records are typewritten, but most are handwritten. The handwritten names are NOT the signatures of the passengers, but the name as written in by a ticket agent or ship’s officer.
  • Viewing the ‘Ship Image’ can be skipped until you confirm you’ve found the right person.
  • Next time, I’ll review the information available on typical passenger manifests.

Angelo Coniglio

…….. The Lady of the Wheel
Angelo Coniglio
Angelo Coniglio
Angelo F. Coniglio is a retired civil engineer and university adjunct professor. Today Angelo is a genealogy researcher and author of the historical novella The Lady of the Wheel, set in 1860s Sicily. Details on the book and information on ordering can be found at For genealogy questions, Coniglio may be contacted at Coniglio is a proud son of parents who emigrated to America from Serradifalco one hundred years ago. He has traced his family, as well as his wife's, back seven generations to the early 1700's, and each and every one was Sicilian. See his history of Sicily at Order the paperback or the Kindle version at

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  1. Thank you so much, Mr. Coniglio, for this very helpful article on tracing our family heritage.

    Your advice led me to find the Ship Manifest and Passenger Record for my great-grandparents, who came to Ellis Island from Augusta, Sicilia in 1906.

    My family and I greatly appreciate your helpful instructions.

  2. Dear Mr. Coniglio,

    Some time ago I located some of my grandparents’ records on the manifests of ships coming in to Ellis Island. I am now trying to find any records pertaining to my grandparents that may exist in their home towns in Sicily. I would greatly appreciate any help or guidance you might offer toward that effort. I am currently writing a memoir based on stories told to me by my maternal grandmother.

    I am particularly interested in finding records of my maternal grandmother, Sebastiana Linares (her mother’s name is Rosa Scamporrino Linares). My maternal grandmother, Sebastiana Linares was born in January of 1904 in Melilli, Sicily. She sailed from Naples aboard the SS Columbia on July 6th, 1919 and arrived at Ellis Island on July 25th, 1919 along with her father, Paulo Linares (age 42), and her two brothers Sebastiano Linares (age 13)and Salvatore Linares (age 17). Paolo Linares (my maternal great-grandfather)had originally immigrated to the U.S. aboard the SS Boma which sailed from Naples on July 13, 1910 and arrived at Ellis Island on July 26th. I was told Paola Linares returned to Sicily during WWI but I do not have any detailed information as to dates or as to his military service – only that he returned to the US in 1919 with my grandmother and her brothers as previously noted in this message. Rosa Scamporrino (my maternal great grandmother) immigrated the U.S. to join my great grandfather at age of 31 along with her baby daughter, Vincenza (age 1). She arrived at Ellis Island aboard the SS Principe De Piemonte which left Palermo, Sicily on October 21, 1911 and arrived in New York on November 5th, 1911. I was told that the oldest daughter, Viola Linares (age 11 at the time) sailed with her however I cannot find record of her sailing with them or any record of her on any ship.

    Again, any help or guidance you might offer me in my attempt to locate additional records of my grandparents would be greatly appreciated. Names and some information follows;

    Maternal grandmother – Sebatiana Linares
    from Melilli, Sicily – born 1904
    Ellis Island record listed in above message

    Maternal Grandfather – Sebastiano Salonia
    from Melilli, Sicily – born 1904
    left Napoli aboard SS Nord-America
    on January 18, 1906 arrived February 11th, 1906

    Paternal grandmother – Anna Amenta
    from Priolo, Sicily born 1895 (+ or – months)
    left Naples aboard SS Indiana on April 8th, 1911
    arrived April 24, 1911

    Paternal grandfather – Nicolo DiMauro
    from Melilli, Siclily born 1889 (+ or – months)
    left Naples aboard SS Virginia on July 7th, 1907
    arrived July 21, 1907

    Thank you,
    Doreen DiMauro

  3. Doreen:

    Melilli (Siracusa Province) civil records of birth, marriage and death for the years 1820 – 1929 are available on microfilm from the Mormon church. Click here for a list:

    If the other town you refer to is Priolo Gargallo (Siracusa Province), similar records are available for the same years; see

    These films may be ordered on-line to be delivered to and viewed at a Mormon FamilySearch Center (FSC) near you. Go to, register for free, and order the films. They may take up to a month to be delivered, and remain at your FSC for anywhere from a month to indefinitely, depending on the rental fee you pay. Go to my page at for more details.

    If you live in the Buffalo area, three Melilli microfilms are already on extended loan at the Maple Road FamilySearch Center, available to any patron there for free. Those films cover births and marriage records from 1866 – 1899, as well as death records for 1866 – 1881.

    Some (not as extensive) Melilli and Priolo Gargallo records are viewable on-line on at

    Good luck!

  4. Hi Doreen. Your maternal grandmother was my great aunt Nellie. My grandfather, Salvatore Linares, was her brother. I remember your grandmother well. She was a beautiful women. If you want any information, I can connect you with the my sister Debbie or cousin Eva.

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