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Overheard in GenForum: What Does This Mean?
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

November 18, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have been given some data by a fellow genealogy friend, but he said that the notes were so old he is not sure what it means. I was given data that my relative Martin Lukes landed in New York Harbor on Dec 19th, 1854 on the Ship Wenderman. I was also told that this data is found on National Archive Film #d8122 from Salt Lake. Does this mean I need to go to my FHC and ask for this film or go to my local National Archives and ask for this film. As you can tell I don't do this much and any help would be greatly appreciated. -- Robert

A: Your questions is a perfect example of what happens with research through time. Finding that resource will take a little more effort because you lack some of the important details, such as the title or type of record in which the information was found.

As genealogists, we tend to convince ourselves, albeit subconsciously, that we will be around forever. We also convince ourselves that we will always remember everything about every little research note we have ever taken. However, neither assumption is true. We will not be around forever, and seldom do we remember what that quickly jotted research note meant six months down the road. Because of this, it is essential that we be sure to be diligent in our note taking and in the citing of our sources.

For the benefit of those researchers who will come after us, it is important that we be diligent in our note taking and source citations.

Understanding What You Have

Even if you hadn't mentioned that the research was very old, that would have been apparent to me based on the call number. While your note has some useful information, you still have to do a little leg work, and not only because of the now outdated call number.

About ten years ago, the Family History Library changed the call numbers for its microfilms. The numbers now go up to a seven-digit number. So the film numbers now look like 0000001 to 2004335. However, at an earlier time they were much different, and your note refers to that older styled film number.

Converting the Number

The easiest way to convert the film number you have to the new one is to relocate the film in the Family History Library Catalog. It is this reason that the title of the source is so important. You will simply be guessing as to the film used, whereas if proper source citation information had been included, you would know exactly what you were looking for in the catalog.

Because this has to do with the immigration of an ancestor, the note most likely refers to the passenger list on which your ancestor arrived. However, because you do not have the full citation, you will have to go through a couple different steps exactly to recreate the details.

Back to Basics

Because you were not given a page number, it would be natural to access an index first. However, because your ancestor came through New York during the unindexed years, you get a little additional research training. An excellent resource when you know the name of the ship is Register of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports, 1789-1919, on 27 rolls of microfilm.

You actually have the date of arrival, so this may not be a necessary step for you. However, I mention it here for those who do not have that added bonus. And sometimes it doesn't hurt to double check the arrival date. In your case though, you could locate in the Family History Library Catalog the reel of microfilm that would have the listing for the date of arrival listed in your note. You will find that passenger records are listed under NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION. And there are many, so you will want to be sure to get the right one. You are going to be looking for the entry in the catalog that will take some time to be displayed on the screen and will begin in 1820 and go up to 1897. You will then look for the appropriate year, then month and then day.

Don't Make the Same Mistake Twice

Once you relocate the entry in the passenger lists, you will want to take the time to include a couple of additional items in your note taking. You will want to be sure to include the date your did the research. This way you can tell immediately how long ago the research was conducted. You will also want to include the page number from the manifest itself. This way you can immediately head back to the correct page. Finally, you will want to include the complete title of the source, as found in the catalog, so that the next researcher who relies on your information doesn't have to guess at which resource you got that information from.

In Conclusion

You are one of the lucky ones in that you do have past research that can be of help. However, we have grown a lot in the genealogical field and we have so many resources and record types that it is important to always cite the source properly. Library systems change. We still want to be able to head right back to that source with a minimal of effort, and we cannot guarantee that we will remember exactly where we found that tidbit.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

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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