Posted by on October 6, 2009 in Collections, News, Website

We are pleased to announce an expansion to our relationship with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that enables us to digitize NARA record collections at a new facility in the Washington, D.C., area.

Since the signing of an agreement in May 2008, we have worked with NARA to digitize historical records collections on-location at NARA’s archive in Maryland. This is the first time NARA has partnered with a commercial entity to have documents scanned off-site. The new scanning facility will allow us to digitize more than five times the records than it could at the NARA archive, with the capacity to scan at least 5 million documents, many still in paper form, each year.

To celebrate this growing relationship with NARA, we have launched two collections that were a part of the May 2008 partnership announcement:

Honolulu Passenger List, 1900-1953
Honolulu Passenger Lists, 1900-1953, consists of more than 1.4 million records of passenger arrivals to Honolulu, Hawaii.  Included in this collection are some familiar names who visited the island of Oahu from 1900 to 1953:

  • Rita Hayworth – For the filming of Miss Sadie Thompson, Rita traveled to Hawaii aboard the ship Lurline and arrived in Honolulu on May 23, 1953.
  • Shirley Temple – In 1935, at the age of six, Shirley Temple traveled to Hawaii with her parents, Gertrude and George, for the filming of Curly Top. She returned to Hawaii in 1937 and 1939.
  • Cary Grant (Archibald Leach) – Traveling with Mary Astor (Lucille) and her husband, Manuel Del Campo, aboard the Mastonia, in 1938.
  • John Wayne – Arrived in Honolulu with wife, Esperanza, aboard the ship Lurline on March 19, 1952 for the filming of Big Jim McLain.

Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1963-1974
We also launched Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1963-1974. This first installment of more than 80,000 records consists of letters, formal reports, passports and other key historical documents that verify deaths of Americans overseas. Included in this valuable collection are some familiar names:

  • Judy Garland – Listed as “Judy Garland DeVinko”, Garland died of “barbiturate poisoning, incautious overdose, accidental” in her Chelsea, London, house in 1969.
  • Sylvia Plath – The death record states that American author “Sylvia Plath-Hughes” died of “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (domestic gas) whilst suffering from depression. Did kill herself” in February 1963 in London. She is buried in Yorkshire, England.
  • Mama Cass – Listed as “Ellen Naomi Cohen”, Mama Cass, from The Mamas and the Papas, died of “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity,” contrary to rumors she choked on a ham sandwich, while in London in 1974.
  • Jimi Hendrix – In 1970, controversy surrounded Jimi Hendrix’s London death, as there was no solid confirmation of his cause of death. This record collection continues to add to the mystery: James Marshall Hendrix’s death record was replaced with a note showing that J. White checked out the death record in 1979. Today, the check-out slip is the only document in Jimi Hendrix’s file.


  1. Kirk Sellman

    Great news! Can you tell us which collections might be available within the next year or two?

  2. MikeF

    Gee who’da thunk it? More 1900s databases for folks stuck on their grandparents. When Ancestry could be digitizing War of 1812 compiled service records, pensions and bounty land records for real researchers stuck on the American frontier between the Revolution and 1830 or so.


  3. John H

    Let’s try to recognize that different genealogists hit brick walls at different places and this all is going help various people. I too would like to know what has planned next. It would also be informative if might share with us how they decide on their priorities, get customer input, etc.

  4. Andy Hatchett

    John Re: #5

    Since we know Ancestry has the capability to send each member mail it would seem the simplest thing to do is for Ancestry to send a list of the databases they have to work on and then let each member list their top 5 they want to see worked on and then compile those results to determine the order they are worked on.

    Any new databases that Ancestry gets after that original survey would be added to the bottom of the list in order of acquisition.

    To keep it fair perhaps choosing the top database from each country would be the way to go.

  5. Mary Beth Marchant

    #3 MikeF-I agree 100%. So Ancestry is trumpeting records of American Movie Stars. Why in the world would I care about that. Real genealogy records-War of 1812-pensions from by gone years, wills & probate records from bygone years. Instead, Ancestry gives us this kind of crap along with this whole multitude of German language records that many of us cannot read anyway. My lineage is German but these records are no good to me since I cannot read the language.

  6. MikeF


    On your #5. I do indeed realize that people get stuck on a line at different times. Which argues for state level vital databases from the 1900s. But ship passenger lists from the 50s and 60s? Come on.

    This is wasted time and effort on Ancestry’s part because such databases which provide “filler” content, as in providing more info on grandparents already known, is not as important as helping where most tough brickwalls occur, i.e. pre-1850.


  7. MikeF

    Even though I acknowledged above that folks do get stuck nearer in time to themselves, I would also make the point that from my experience in helping others researching their families, that being stuck at the next generation past one’s grandparents is usually due to either or both of two causes:

    1) For whatever reason, including estrangement, not conducting thorough interviews with all of one’s closest living relatives.

    2) Lack of very basic genealogical research skills which could be cured by reading a book or two or various online sites with such tutorials.

    Digitizing all of the public records from the 1900s is not going to cure the above two causes. Talking to one’s relatives and learning basic methodology will.


  8. MikeF

    Mary Beth,

    On your #7, and your comment about German records not being of use because you cannot read the language. I have seen you make that comment before, but surely that is not a valid criticism implied or explicit, of Ancestry.

    One quarter of my ancestry is German and as far as reading civil registry or church records, just learning a few hundred words *plus learning to read Kurrent handwriting*, will usually be enough to decipher such records.

    Of course the problem with not being fluent is that you can’t guess well enough to even be able to type such a guess into 2-way dictionary (I have an ifinger Oxford dictionary on my computer that allows one to double click on a word on the screen and get a translation popup *if* spelled correctly).

    You can find old FSI German courses online for free (fsi-language-courses dot org), as well as Family Search’s research guidance German word list, plus you can buy Thode’s German-English Genealogical Dictionary (very thorough).

    Of course there is another language problem, which is that even for Lutheran records, one must also acquire a working knowledge of genealogical Latin, as both German and Latin were often used in such records.


  9. Ida

    I just hate how they add parts of a database and then seem to forget it. An example is city directories. They skip around on the years and it would be nice if they started with the oldest first and then moved forward. Just my opinion 🙂

  10. Andy Hatchett

    Ida Re:#10

    They have to take what is made available to them – which isn’t always a complete set on one roll of microfilm.

    I’m no apologist for Ancestry as my posting record will show; but they don’t always have full control to get complete datasets.

  11. Roberta Whitacre

    For any one that is upset about getting records from a country that their ancestors came from there are books with key words because most of the civil records were worded the same so all you have to do is find the person’s name most of the time and then in the genealogical community there are people that will help you; if I did not order my French ancestors or my German Ancestors years ago from an Lds library I would have missed out on so much. I wish I could just upload a copy of a German record I have here to show how they are indexed. I can pick out my ancestor’s name and date of birth as if it were in English. Don’t give up because you don’t read another language fluently because you can understand certain words and after a little time you will be able to read more than you ever thought possible. Don’t give up or someday you may regret it. It will open up many doors to many previous generations just by reading some of those records and the Germans, also had Family Books, which kept track of the families and they are priceless; in fact, I was told by a German pro who helped me a lot that during the second world war that the priest in the villages in Germany sometimes would even change those books to prove that someone that was Jewish was not because people had to prove they were not; the priests or others that changed the family info made it possible for some to survive.

  12. Ida

    Andy #11

    So where do they get the microfilm from?

    I think my frustration is all the broken promises. I renewed a few months ago and haven’t gotten my moneys worth this go around. It is just so frustrating because they won’t give a straight answer. They are really good at dancing around it.

  13. Andy Hatchett

    Ida Re: #13

    They get the microfilm from whatever source owns it- be it state, local, federal government, or private companies.

    When most of these thngs were microfilmed it ws just to be sure ther was a copy. They were not filmed with the idea that later genealogists would make use of them so it didn’t matter if a city directory was spread over 3 or more rolls.

  14. jim condon

    I just wanted to add to Ida’s comment. The city directories are a great resource, but when they are “updated,” why can’t Ancestry specify the new additions? Just a put a “new” sign next to the most recently-added directories!

  15. Ida

    Jim #16

    I am so with you on the updating. To have to go back to each state and each city to see what has been added takes up so much time. There is no reason they can’t let us know exactly what the update is. When they send out surveys I always add that. I haven’t had a survey in a very long time. They act like they want to know how to make things better but I don’t buy it anymore.

  16. mj Taft

    Just reading through the comments…OK, I am wondering has anyone successfully found some form of family members through this DNA test that has been adopted and has no known biological family?

  17. Webblend

    I think its time for Ancestry to sharpen their pencils (or the equivalent) and try getting the US 1850 Federal Census for Pennsylvania correct before they take on any new databases. Maybe its their search engine that needs improving? I can find folks on other sites that cannot be found on Ancestry. Come on Ancestry, you can do better!

  18. I am very new to this site, and rather new to genealogy-although I have done it off-line via family members and records for years, and have other family on this site and others that are reasearching as well.

    My point?

    I agree with MikeF. And others here.

    About being able to connect with extended data regarding my older ancestors.

    I do not care about the “Stars” They get enough attention. I want to know about MY family.

    Can we maybe try to reach back a ways with these databases and “scanners” and get to the meat?
    Don’t need the fluff.


  19. Robert Esch

    I would like to know if the Civil War Pension Files at NARA will be made available to Ancestry members. Those files are invaluable. Unfortunately I had to pay $75 to obtain the complete file for one of my relatives, and so I would only ask for another ancestor’s file unless it were critical to my research. The pension file for my GG grandmother’s first husband included a document which identified her rapist, whose child was a half-brother of my G grandmother. I still maintain contact with a descendant of this half brother. After all, we can’t choose our ancestors. Bob

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