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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 16, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Missing Records

Q: My grandmother, Iona Bodner, came to the United States in 1899 from Austria-Hungary. She came to work as a servant in western Pennsylvania. My question is, could she have been processed on the ship before she got to Ellis Island and how? -- Richard

A: If you are wondering if your grandmother could have been on a ship that went into port at New York and not appear on the manifest, the answer is yes. It is possible.

There are a number of different reasons why your grandmother may not appear on the passenger list. Often it is because the page in question has not survived or the immigrant did not go through the port in question.

The general procedures for any ship that docked in New York, was for the doctors to go on board and examine (in the most cursory of ways) the first and second class passengers. However, these names were recorded on the passenger lists. Once these passengers had been examined, they were allowed to disembark and go on their way. The third class, or steerage, passengers were the ones who had to go through Ellis Island.

As I mentioned, not all of the pages survived. Recently I had this pointed out in vivid detail. A researcher had located her ancestor in the index for the passenger lists in New York. However, when she went to the actual passenger lists, she could not locate her ancestor on the list. Confused, she asked questions to various online resources about what the possibilities were, and one of those questions was eventually forwarded to me. She had suspected that somehow the cabin class passengers were not included on the lists. However, additional research revealed that this was not the case.

Reverse research from the port of embarkation revealed that the ancestor had indeed been on the boat in question. So, it seemed likely that a page of the records had been misplaced. This may seem odd, but if you ever use these records, you will see how it is quite possible that a page could have been lost before the microfilming project.

If an ancestor is found in the index, then they were on the passenger list at the time the indexing was taking place (the 1930s). If they are not on the index, then you need to reexamine the information known. In addition to having been overlooked during indexing, you have to accept the possibility that your ancestor came through a different port. Since your grandmother was a servant in Pennsylvania, you will also want to look at the Philadelphia and Baltimore passenger lists as well.

Looking Up Ship's Records

Q: I have the date that my great grandfather landed in the Port of New York. He left Scotland 30 Apr 1903 and arrived 13 May 1903. I got this information from his naturalization records. How do I find the ship? And when I do find the ship, how do I find the ship's records? -- Catherine

A: It sounds like you may not have all of the naturalization records. Usually the application for the declaration of intent, where the individual is declaring their intent to become a naturalized citizen, will include not only the date of arrival and the port, but also the name of the ship. However, it is possible that your ancestor did not remember this when supplying the information for these papers.

The good news is that for the year that your great grandfather immigrated, the passenger lists for New York have been indexed. You can access these microfilmed indexes through your local Family History Center. Family History Centers are branches of the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The Family History Library has over 2 million reels of microfilm, many of which have more than one document type on them.

You can find these records listed in the Family History Library Catalog under NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION. You will know when you get to the entry that deals with the records for 1903 because it is one of the larger entries, comprised of many microfilms. You will find both the index and the actual passenger lists included in the entry.

Even if the passenger lists were not indexed, as is the case of the New York port for the years 1847 through 1896, the information you had from the naturalization records would have narrowed you down to probably a single reel of microfilm. You could have then skimmed the ships, ignoring those that did not come from the British Isles.

Teenagers and Genealogy

Q: We are going to Utah in May with the kids to do some genealogy research. Where do we begin? We are doing my side of the family first. We homeschool our two teenagers and they are wanting to know their family history and roots. -- Steffield

A: The first thing that you will want to do is to begin by talking to the living relatives, especially the older ones. These are the people who will hold the clues to your ancestors.

If you are unsure of what to ask and the information you should be hoping to find, there are some online lessons that will be of help to you in understanding this.

  • Genealogy Classes offers six lessons geared toward beginning genealogists. They also have some lessons for researching your immigrant ancestor and for using computers in your research.
  • RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees looks at getting started and the record types you will eventually be using.
  • How-To Articles - offer many different subjects, written by those who are knowledgeable with those record types and those areas of research that are covered.

Since you will be visiting the library in Salt Lake City, once you have begun to get some names, dates and places (and counties are very important for those places), then you will want to see what might be available at the Family History Library. To see what they have available, you will want to begin working with the Family History Library Catalog (which is available on CD-ROM at all local Family History Centers). Part of it is also online through the web site, though this is not complete yet.

Family History Centers are staffed by volunteers. They can be found in many local LDS (Mormon) chapels, but are open to anyone interested in researching their family tree. You can generally find them listed in your local phone book in the yellow pages. You will want to search the catalog to see what records are available for the localities and time periods you and your children will be researching. Either print them out or write down the pertinent information (this would be the title of the record, the dates covered, and the call number).

Migration to Russia

Q: I'm researching the place where my great great grandfather, Martin R. RITTEL, came from. He migrated to Bergdorf, Odessa, Russia some time during the early to mid 1800s. The only other clue I have is that he may have come from the State of Wuerttemburg, Germany. -- Allen

A: You have some very good clues to your research. Your great great grandfather, Martin R. RITTEL, appears to belong to the group known as "Germans from Russia." Your ancestor's settling in Bergdorf, puts him in a known Germans from Russia colony.

Germans first migrated to Russia in 1763. Catherine II, Empress of Russia found herself with a lot of land and no one to populate it. She issued a manifesto that invited immigrants to settle there. Her invitation included a number of inducements in the way of rights and privileges these settlers would be entitled to.

There are a number of great web sites that will be of use to you. The one that I think you will find most interesting is actually not a site, but a mailing list, the GCRA:Gl¸ckstal Colonies Research Association Electronic Discussion Group. You will find that Bergdorf is one of these colonies.

Some additional sites you will want to investigate include:

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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