For the past several weeks, weâ€™ve been covering various ways to search the data at Ancestry (see the links following this article if you missed these articles). This week weâ€™re going to stray a little and weâ€™ll begin this installment with some hand-slapping. Not high-fives mind you, this will be hand-slapping of the reprimand variety. The target of this reprimand? Yours truly.
In last weekâ€™s column, I used an example of how I had found a possible passenger arrival for my Tobin ancestors by searching by surname, ship name, and date.
In the article, I said, â€œImages are not available for this database. . .â€ but as my co-worker Chad Milliner told me in an e-mail, these records are also available as part of a larger database–New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957Â and in this database there are images available. Clearly I hadnâ€™t investigated all the possibilities when this new database was posted. Slap! I was still basing research on my original search from several years ago and hadnâ€™t taken the time to follow up with the original record. Slap! Slap!
Well, at least now I could remedy the problem. I was off to search New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. A search using the same criteria in this database gave me some new results. Searching for Tobin on the â€œRobert Isaacâ€ in 1841, I found:
What? Where were â€œGeo??â€ and Peter Tobin from the other index? And who the heck was John? I don’t know a John!
Mary’s birth date of 1798 also gave me pause. She had dropped a couple decades on me. Now, I am used to ancestors playing it loose with their age, but twenty years?
Fortunately after viewing the image, I determined that Peter is indeed traveling with them. And itâ€™s tough to make out the first number in Maryâ€™s age. Could be forty-three; could be sixty-three. I tried comparing the number to other numbers on the page, but it doesnâ€™t look like legible fours or sixes on that page. What do you think? (Click on the image to the left to enlarge it.)
The bottom line–I still have a bit to go before I can determine for certain whether or not this is my Tobin family. While John could be another sibling Iâ€™m not aware of, it serves as an important reminder that viewing the original can change the whole picture and my research isnâ€™t complete without it.
So, from here I was off in search of more information, and as I searched I remembered a few more search tips we should keep in mind when searching Ancestry collections (or any collection for that matter).
If youâ€™re having a tough time finding an ancestor in a particular record group, try a search using on the first initial of the given name. In looking at other passenger arrival records for my Tobins, I found an entire passenger list where only the first initial was recorded.Â
This is not only true of passenger arrivals, but also some censuses. In the 1860 Census for Brooklyn, New Yorkâ€™s Sixth Ward, Second District, the vast majority of given names are represented by initials. For example on image seventy-five of that district, only seven of the forty names on the page include a given name or abbreviation for the given name. The remaining thirty-three names are represented by initials.
This isnâ€™t an isolated incident either. For that same year, in New York City, Ninth Ward, Second District, I may have found my elusive James Kelly listed as J Kelly. On that page only one of forty people are enumerated with a first name given and one woman didnâ€™t even get an initial. She is enumerated as Mrs. McIntire. Who knows how many more lazy enumerators and record keepers there were! Give it a try.
If you know your ancestorâ€™s middle initial, try using that in the field for given names in place of the first name. Where available, middle initials are typically indexed in that field and using only that middle initial, you could pick up on a badly mangled given name.
When in Doubt, Leave It Out
Going back to passenger arrivals, in the New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, there is a search field on this database for â€œEthnicity/Race/Nationality.â€ I typically leave this blank. The problem with this field is that many of the records donâ€™t include that information, so by adding it you could be ruling out the person youâ€™re seeking.
For example, try a search for James Kelly. A straight out search for this very common Irish name turns up 6,042 hits. Now add Irish. The number of hits is reduced to 1,952. More than two out of three of the James Kellys are gone, even though many of them are listed as departing from an Irish port and were very likely Irish. If you need to narrow your search, try rotating it in and out and trying port of departure as an alternative. Even here care needs to be used though. Using just the country of departure will often be picked up in that field, but there are a number of entries where only a county is listed in that field and no country. Try a search using Wexford or Sligo to see some examples. Also, the country is sometimes abbreviated in a way you might not think to search. (Ex: Irl for Ireland)
Itâ€™s a good idea to become familiar with database structure and abbreviations. Try searches for common names or even just a year or location to get a feel for the various ways search fields are listed. This will allow you to better tailor your searches to the content within.
Search for All Members of the Family
As we mentioned last week, searching for other members of the family can often be helpful. As I pointed out earlier in this column, Peter Tobin was missing from the index for the images of the New York Passenger Lists. After finding the rest of the family, I searched by ship name and date and browsing through all the passengers found him indexed as Sobin.
Next Time. . .
Weâ€™ve dealt largely with historical records over the past few articles. Next time weâ€™ll talk about searching whatâ€™s often referred to as â€œrich contentâ€–photos, yearbooks, maps, etc.
Past articles in this series:
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.