From Canada to Ellis Island

Tea01An island located south of Atlantic Canada was the portal where more than half of all Americans can trace their family history. Ellis Island is also where many Canadian ancestors first stepped foot on North American soil before travelling north. The almost 30-acre historical landmark is located off the tip of Manhattan Island, New York, USA.

Much has been written about the immigrants who landed on the island. Recently, I stumbled upon Alphabetical Index of Newfoundland Names at Ellis Island . Although most individuals in the database have a Newfoundland connection, some had resided in other parts of Canada, too. For example, Blanche Brown resided in Dartmouth, Canada. The 20-year-old arrived at Ellis Island in 1924.

Names found in the database connect with four links: Passenger Record, Text Manifest, Scanned Manifest and Ship Image.

The Text Manifest can reveal vital details such as marital status and possibly who was travelling with whom because surnames are in alphabetical order. For example, the common White and Smith surnames in the master list don’t reveal who is related to whom, but checking the text manifest, one can determine that Blanche (31) and John (31) White, both married and residing in Brooklyn, US, are husband and wife, and that Roland (30) and Walter (20) Smith of Spaniards Bay, NL may be brothers.

Passenger Records contain the name of individuals, ethnicity, last place of residence, date of arrival, age at arrival, gender, marital status, ship of travel, port of departure and manifest line number. For example, Joseph Kavanagh, age 21, of Newfoundland last resided in Winchester, England. The single English man departed Southampton and arrived at Ellis Island on August 3, 1918 aboard the Olympic. According to the Text Manifest, he did not travel with any relatives of the same surname.

Some entries are vague. For example, Sarah Smith, age 17, of Canada, arrived in 1910. The Passenger Records provides a little more detail: Ethnicity: Newfoundland, Single. The Text Manifest indicates she is not travelling with anyone with the same surname, however, listed above her are Alice (23) and Jeremiah (26) Tulk of Newfoundland and their child, Ella (1). Alice and Sarah may have been sisters or Sarah may have been the couple’s domestic help.

Check alternate spellings when searching for surnames. Spellings have changed over the years, and transcribers aren’t perfect, particularly when the original documents were hard to read because of old style hand writing and faded ink. Language barriers and illiteracy can also alter surname spellings.

The website host posted a Probable Transcription Errors or Variations page to help identify errors she noticed while creating the database. If you’re having problems finding a name, look there. From the list of surnames noted, it appears there were a lot of transcription errors, some making it hard to locate the correct one: Vendbgart instead of Prendregast, and Charles Bubber instead of Charles Butler.

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