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

July 20, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Accessing Passenger Lists

Q: My grandfather arrived in the Port of Boston on December 6, 1905 aboard the SS Saxonia according to his Naturalization papers. I would like to obtain a copy of the ship's passenger manifest. Can you refer me? — Everett

A: All surviving passenger lists were microfilmed back in the 1940s by the National Archives. These lists begin in 1820 when the United States began to record the information on passengers as they disembarked.

Many of these passenger lists were indexed in the 1930s as part of a Works Projects Administration (WPA) project. The WPA was one of the creations of the Roosevelt administration to generate jobs for those unemployed due to the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent depression that followed. In some cases, names that are included in the index cannot be found in the actual census records. This is no doubt due to the misplacement of select sheets, as the sheets were not microfilmed until ten years later.

The passenger lists that were microfilmed by the National Archives are available through the National Archives, the Family History Library, and some microfilm rental companies, such as Heritage Quest. The Family History Library is in Salt Lake City, but through your local Family History Center, you can have access to the films. Also, the information from select series of microfilm has been abstracted and published as part of the Family Archive Collection's Passenger and Immigration Lists series of CDs.

If your information is correct, you will find your grandfather's passenger list on FHL #1715585 - v. 163-164, Nov. 1, 1905 - Dec. 31, 1905. A good way to double-check your grandfather's date of arrival (since he may not have remembered it exactly at the time of his naturalization) is to look for him in an the index to these microfilmed records. The indexes will tell you the page and sometimes even the line number, leading you right to him. You can find these films listed in the Family History Library Catalog under Massachusetts, Suffolk, Boston - Emigration and Immigration.

Proving a Family Tradition

Q: One of my great-uncles (now deceased) recorded a partial family history. He knew that my great-great-grandfather came from Germany to the U.S. with his wife and daughter about 1871. They earned passage by working on a freighter bound for Chicago. But now my family is uncertain of where to look for a record to be certain that this is the case, and also to find out a more exact date. Is there anywhere we could look? — Ron

A: Family traditions usually have a grain of truth in them. The trick is in determining just what part of the story is the truth. The best way to do this is to apply proven genealogical principles.

What this means is to research a family as thoroughly as possible. In this case, the goal is to determine what ship they arrived on and when. That you have an approximate date gives you something to aim for.

The first step would be to locate the family in the 1880 and 1900 census. The 1880 census will tell you the place of birth for each individual in the household as well as the place of birth for the parents of each individual. The 1900 census was the first to ask specific questions about immigration and naturalization, including the years that such events took place.

Depending on when these events took place, you can then turn your attention to naturalization records, if indeed the family members were naturalized. The place to begin looking for those records is in the county where the family was living in 1880. The naturalization records, especially the declaration of intent, may hold the needed clues as to the boat and exact date of arrival in the United States. Some of these naturalization records have been microfilmed.

What is Proof?

Q: I have been researching since 1975. There is a family bible in my family that is displayed at the Virginia State Library. It was started in 1813. My grandfather John Isham Stanley was the first name in it. It only lists his descendants. In my research I have found that the name changes in spelling several times. Although I do not have proof (a paper that says he is the son of) I have in my mind enough to state with conviction that John Isham is the son of James Standley Jr. I had the marriage of James to Sally Ezell in 1796, for a full year, before I found Benjamin Ezell's will which shows his daughter Sally Standley and grandchildren John Standley, Benjamin Standley, Rebecca Standley, Sarah W. Stanley, William Standley, Martha Standley and a granddaughter Polly Standley. I have traced the descendants of most of these children. The Ezell name is also prevalent as a middle name in many of the families. I sent this information to a genealogist and she says that I have no proof that this John in Benjamin's will is my John. Your opinion? — Ernest

A: What you have is a perfect example of a research problem that requires the Genealogical Proof Standard. Because there is no one given record that states, John Isham Stanley is the son of James Standley, Jr., it becomes necessary to compile an array of documents to support the conclusion at hand.

While the will certainly appears to support your conclusion, a case could be made that there was more than one family in the area with the same surname and the same given names. Your researching into the children offers some additional weight to your conclusion, as does the appearance of the Ezell name in later generations.

Looking at this from the contemporary records of the time of James Standley, Jr., you need to extend your research for that generation. Exhaust the census records. Even though they do not list the names of those living in the household, they could help to support your theory if no other Standley or Ezell families are shown other than yours.

Additional research should be done in the probate records. Search and examine the probate records for all Ezell and Standley families in the area at the right time period. Also, thoroughly investigate available land records. Often those early land records include relationships, and you may find one where James is selling land to his son John for a nominal fee. If you follow that to when John sells the land and the spouse in question is the same as your John, it is one more piece of corroborating evidence.

Research needs to go beyond the individual in question. It needs to go beyond the one record that supports your theory. You need to be able to say without doubt that all other records for that time period and in that area do not offer a conflicting lineage.

The Correct Place

Q: When filling out family record information, does one put the place where the couple were married or the place where the marriage license was obtained? For instance, my husband and I were married in Ashland County, Ohio, but purchased the license in Richland County, Ohio. — Bev

A: When recording the place of any event, it should be the locality where the event actually took place. For instance, an individual may have been born on the family farm in East Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, but the birth certificate was registered in Boston.

If you look at your marriage license, it should state that the marriage took place in Ashland County, Ohio.

A corollary to this question deals with places that have changed names or no longer exist. While it may be necessary to make note that a place changed names, when recording the event, you would want to record it with the name of the town or city as it was at the time the event took place.

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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