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February Newsletter

      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor

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Conflicting Evidence - by Charles Hansen

        Recently, I was selected to serve on a jury. The Prosecutor outlined that the case had to do with a call to the police reporting a case of road rage caused by a motorcyclist at 2 A.M.. A policeman saw a motorcycle matching the description in the report, and took off after the motorcycle with the siren blaring and the lights flashing. The motorcycle sped off trying to loose the police. He did elude them for a while, but soon the police found the motorcycle parked a few blocks away and a man hiding in the bushes nearby. The police told the man to lie down and as he did he threw something into the bushes. The expected item in the bushes was drugs, but it turned out to be a motorcycle key and it fit the motorcycle the police had been chasing.

        Then the defense began, and it was their contention that the defendant was too injured to drive the motorcycle, as he had hurt his knée a few days before. So then, five witnesses told how bad the defendant's knée was hurting, and all five witnesses saw one of the party guests, drive the defendant away from the party on the motorcycle in question.

        Now, what does that have to do with genealogy? As a genealogist you have to weigh the evidence you find while looking for your ancestors just as a juror weighs the evidence presented at a trial. You may receive conflicting sources; one could be "Aunt Minnie" telling you that the birth certificate of your mother is incorrect, since she, "...was there". Have you found any other evidence to prove Aunt Minnie is correct? Sometimes your only proof is a "preponderance" of evidence that this is the correct ancestor, but some evidence may be more convincing. A will that names the children is probably better evidence than a census. A birth certificate is better than a census, and a "preponderance" does not just mean if you find ten sources saying one thing and one or two saying something else, you pick the ten sources. You might find several online family trees that do not match the will or birth certificate, which one do you believe? Just as a juror has to weigh the evidence you are the jury for the evidence you have collected, you should include your arguments and use that to pick which source to believe.

        Back to the trial - In closing, the jury came to the unanimous decision that the two police officers had found the correct person, and that he was the only person on the motorcycle when the chase began. The original driver could have gotten off anywhere before the chase started. It was also decided that the testimony of the five witnesses was pretty unreliable (alchohol & drugs were present). Are your sources unreliable? You are the juror.

Working with Ships Passenger Lists - by Carol Sanderson

        At some time in our research we may find that we want to know more about our ancestors...where they were from. Of course, you may already know the country they came from but you want to know more. What town were they from, who came with them and where they came to in this country. How do you find that out.

        By the time we get to the question of where they came to in this country we may know that they in fact landed in whatever seaport we have found for them. We may not know the port but may know the ship's name. The next step is to find the ship. We may be fortunate enough to have this information but you want to verify it. This is when we look for the passenger list for that ship at that particular time.

        In the early days of this country, when it was still colonies of Great Britain, or of the Dutch, or the Spanish, people came but didn't have to register as they were usually traveling within their own country. An exception was the some 38,000 German men who arrived in Pennsylvania between 1727 and 1808. Lists of their arrivals have survived.

        In 1819, Congress, hoping to improve conditions aboard ships passed a law regulating the number of passengers based on the tonnage of the ship. While it didn't help much it did mandate the keeping of lists of arrivals. This has been a big help for genealogists.

        The Bureau of Customs was given the keeping of these lists called "Customs Passenger Lists." They date from 1820 to about 1891 depending on the port. The Bureau provided forms to the shipping companies. They were filled out aboard ship by the captains or their mates and were collected by customs on arrival in port. The first forms in 1819 required only six items...the name of the passenger, age, gender, occupation, nationality and the intended country of destination. As the laws changed the size of the form increased to contain more information.

        Both the Customs and Immigration Lists have been microfilmed over the years by the National Archives. They are available through all the Regional National Archives, the Family History Library and its centers. Commercial firms also sell or rent these to individuals or libraries.

        The passenger lists before the 1819/1820 dates have been abstracted and put into book form by many people. You may search the name indexes to this published materials in libraries. One example is P. William Filby's Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Today, these are also found on CD-ROMs on your computer

        For after 1820, there are National Archives indexes on microfilm for the various ports. These indexes do not cover every passenger for every port for every year. There are some who slipped through cracks.

        There are new CD-ROM indexes of new publications are coming out all the time. A visit to the Web site of the major publishers will show some of the latest updates. There are sites on the Internet also that will give you information. Some of these are:

        The American Family Immigration History Center on Ellis Island. This work contains digitized images of the passenger arrival records of New York for the year when it was the immigrant receiving station from 1892 -1924. This site also contains transcriptions of nine facts for every passenger named on the lists. It also has a search engine to help you find persons whose name, the spelling of which you are uncertain.

        Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet has links to numerous sites with information about passenger lists, crew lists, and ships.

        The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild contains lists of passengers before 1820. These are transcribed by volunteers and the list is added to at irregular intervals. Check back often.

        The National Archives contain the index mentioned above (beginning "For after 1820") under printed material and also some essays on a variety of other helpful material.

        Hamburg Emigration Lists (1850 -1934) are lists compiled in European ports of debarkation are available on microfilm. Beginning with lists starting 1890 they are being transcribe and put on the Internet at

        Family Search, the Web site of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints at is another site to use. Use their online catalog (an article in the Jan. newsletter by Tom Coleman) for further searching.

        John Philip Colletta, in an article. Technology's Impact on Immigration Records says, "For maximum effectiveness, the ever-mutating electronic resources should be used in conjunction with traditional materials in paper and microform. Tried-and-true principles of sound methodology sill apply. This means that genealogists whether traveling the old or the new path. Should bring to their research a good dose of skepticism. Always look to see where the editor or compiler or publisher found the information, and then access that source to confirm that he or she got it right. It is getting easier and easier to do, even if like me, you aren't a computer whiz." 1

Recommended reading & viewing:
Rediscovering Passenger Lists, by Kary L. Meyerink, AG, published in the Ancestry Magazine, pp. 21 - 28, November/December 2001 Vol. 19 No 6 by My, Inc, 360 W 4800 North, Provo, UT 84604

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