Sunday, January 11, 1998




Immigrant arrivals going on computer


   An ongoing computerization project should make immigration research a lot easier for genealogistsThis project will put on computer the records of all immigrant passenger arrivals at the port of New York between 1892

and 1924, the peak years in which the Ellis Island immigrant processing facility operated.

   The announcement was made recently by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., which is sponsoring the project. Target date for completion is late 1999.

   The records will then be available in an electronic database at Ellis Island in its planned American Family Immigration History Center. What this means is that if your ancestor(s) passed through Ellis Island during those years, you should be able to go there and find the record through a computer search.

   The period 1892-1924 was chosen because it was the peak era of immigration into America. An estimated 20 million people passed through the port of New York during those years to settle in the United States.

The foundation plans to expand the computerization to earlier and later records once the initial project is completed and more money is raised to cover costs.

   The process of locating immigration records now is manageable but tricky and time-consuming. Microfilmed lists of passenger arrivals at major East Coast ports of entry are kept at the National Archives, in Washington, D.C.

   They include passenger lists for Boston (1820-1943), New York (1820-1957), Philadelphia (1800-1945) and Baltimore (1820-1909). Name indexes on microfilm are also available.

   Also, the New York City regional branch of the National Archives has the New York lists; the New England regional branch in Waltham, Mass., has the Boston records; and the Philadelphia regional branch has the

Philadelphia and Boston records.

   Many of these records are also available at the Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The area center is located in Clarks Summit and is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

   The problem with using the passenger lists now is that they were filed in the order of the ships' arrivals. So to look up your ancestor's arrival, you have to know where and when the ship docked. That means a lot of detective work so that you know what microfilms to go to.

   Computerization will make the search much easier.

   The passenger lists contain a lot of good information. They were required by federal law in 1819, and the earliest ones were filed in 1820. Those earlier lists tell each passenger's name, age, sex, occupation, country of origin and country of intended settlement. Births and the date and cause of death of anyone who died en route are also listed.

   In time, more information was required, including names, addresses and relationships of relatives the immigrants intended to join.

   Some passenger lists have been published in book form and are accessible in libraries. One of the most famous is the "Famine Immigrants" series, a set of books containing passenger lists for ships carrying Irish immigrants to New York in the late 1840s and early 1850s.


   If you do know your ancestor's arrival information (name, date, port and ship) you can write to the National Archives for NATF Form 81. Fill it out and send it to the Textual Reference Branch (NNRI), National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania, NW, Washington, D.C. 20408.

   The Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society will soon begin indexing the burials in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township. This is the area's largest cemetery, with about 57,000 graves. It is part of the society's ongoing project to index all area cemeteries on microfilm.

   President Tammy Lamb says the project could use some additional volunteers to help with the indexing. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1776, Shavertown, Pa. 18708-0776.    The next meeting of the society is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Local historian Dianne Deming will speak. Non-members are invited.    One of the benefits of membership ($12 a year at the above address) is the quarterly newsletter, which contains a wealth of factual information. Recent issues have contained a list of Luzerne County's Revolutionary War pensioners and the Wyoming Valley tax rolls for 1776.

   News notes:

   Interested in getting started with a planned new local Civil War re-creation group? Many genealogists say they enjoy the experience of studying technique, weapons and military life of the 19th century. If you do, call Mark at 283-3445.

   Remember, this column is now accessible through your computer at Then click on "Arts and Entertainment."

   Are you an out-of-town resident researching ancestors here in Wyoming Valley? Write me a letter, and I'll publish word of your search. Maybe someone locally has the answers you need.

   Have you solved some tough genealogical problems in your research? Do you have some tips you'd like to share with others? Would you like to report a success story? Drop me a line here at the paper. I'll get in touch with you and help you bring the benefits of your experience to others.

   Tom Mooney, The Times Leader, 15 N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 18711