Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About emigration & Immigration

List of Questions


  1. What does emigration mean?
    • To leave one country or region to settle in another - an emmigrant is a person who is leaving their native country.


  2. What does Immigration mean?
    • To enter, and then settle in a country or region to which one is not native.


  3. What are the index cards for?
    • To index, by soundex, all passenger arrivals for a certain time period into the USA.
      • Note: If you do not know when your ancestor emmigrated, this is a good place to start.


  4. Why are there differences in the passenger lists index cards for different years?


  5. What kind of info is on each type of index card?
    • For the port of New York, the arrivals for 1820-1846, and for June 16, 1897 -- June 30, 1902 are alphabetized indexes. There is no index for NY for 1846-1897. The information provided on the alphabetized index cards is basically a transcription of the passenger manifest information for the individual concerned. Thus, these cards will have all the information which was required on the manifest at the time (1897-1902) including last residence (village), prior entries, final destination, etc. Soundex cards for the period 1902 to approximately 1910 will have ship name, date of arrival, in addition to name, age, sex, but they wont contain full info such as village and prior entries. Cards after 1910 contain just name, age, sex, page number, line number, and volume number.


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  6. What are the volume numbers for?
    • They are the sequential microfilm numbers used by the National Archives and can be cross-referenced to a LDS Church microfilm.


  7. What are the group numbers/letters for?
    • They refer to the manifest page numbers on those rolls of microfilm.


  8. What are the line numbers for?
    • They refer to the line on the manifest page that a person can be found. Line numbers range from 1 to 30.


  9. What is a ship manifest?
    • A log of all passengers booked for passage on a ship.


  10. How do I find the ship manifest?
    • If you have access to the LDS Church's Family History Library (FHL) or a local Family History Center (FHC), you should:
      • Find the microfilm for the Passenger List Index of the time period you suspect your ancestor arrived.
      • The index consists of index cards sorted alphabetically or by soundex.
      • Once your ancestor's index card is found, make a note all of the information listed. At the very least will be three sets of numbers seperated by a space. These number correspond to the Volume, Group, and List number of the ancestor's manifest information.
      • The volume number is then cross-referenced to the actual microfilm you need.
      • The group number is the page number your ancestor is on.
      • The list number is the actual line on the page that your ancestor can be found.


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  11. What information will I find on a ship manifest?
    • Personal data on any person who has booked passage on the ship. This includes: age, marital status, last residence, final destination, and other interesting information.


  12. Why are the manifests themselves different?


  13. What type of info on the manifests can be found for different years?


  14. Why can't I find my ancestors previous date of arrival--it doesn't match the date listed on subsequent entries?
    • According to the instructions for filling out the manifest, this column should contain the dates of prior residence in the United States, along with the location of residence. Thus, "1907-1912, Chicago," should mean that the immigrant had resided in Chicago from 1907 to 1912. However, often these dates do not, in fact, indicate actual periods of previous residence. As a case in point, one ancestor's 1908 manifest listed prior residence as "1898-1902, Chicago," but after much searching, these dates were found to actually indicate dates of return to Italy. His periods of residence in the US were actually 1893-1898, and 1900-1902. Often whole periods of time ignored return trips to Italy -- another ancestor's 1901 arrival record indicated previous residence as "1891-1900, Chicago," but his actual residence in the US was 1891-1893, 1894-1900. Also, these dates might not necessarily correspond exactly to the actual dates in question -- another record showed "1907-1912" when the actual dates were 1906-1912. Of course, sometimes the dates are just what they are supposed to be: inclusive dates of previous residence.


  15. What is Head-tax Status for?


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  16. What does steerage mean?
    • It is similar to the modern "coach class."


  17. What does Second Cabin mean?
    • Second Class


  18. What color is Chestnut?
    • A shade of brown


  19. What information will I find on a Captain's log?
    • Passenger's name, and possibly age, is likely all you will find on a Captain's log, but it is still a very useful tool. It is usually organized by first letter of surname, but not alphabetically. All "A" surnames are on one page, all "B" on the next, etc. Remember that Italian women almost always traveled under their maiden names.


  20. How can I find the Captain's log?


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  21. What does "LPC" on a manifest mean?
    • The notation LPC on a ship's passenger list is "Likely to become a Public Charge." This usually indicated the immigrant didn't have money, didn't have a destination address in the US, or didn't have a friend or relative to meet them.


  22. Why was my ancestor's name changed during immigration?
    • There are undoubtably many reasons attributed to the changes in our Italian surnames upon entrance into the United States.
      The most common seem to be:
      • Illiteracy of the immigrant (couldn't write own name properly or at all).
      • Immigration officials changed the name either on purpose or mistakenly.

        Some stories indicate shortening or Americanizing the name to make it easier to pronounce. An immigrant, having spent a fortune to book passage probably would not speak up against this because of fear of not being let in the country.

      • Poorly written name. This could cause misinterpretation of the proper spelling of the name of the immigrant.


  23. How do I get a copy of "National Archives Request for Copies of Ships Passenger Records"?
    • See next question


  24. I know the name of the ship my ancestor came to America on, how do I find the passenger list?
    • Passenger lists can be found at the National Archives. To order copies of the lists by mail you must use NATF Form 81, National Archives Order for Copies of Ship Passenger Arrival Records.

      • This form will ask you the following questions:

        • Full name of passenger, age and sex
        • Date of Arrival
        • Where naturalized (if known)
        • Ship name (or carrier line)
        • Passenger's country of origin

        You do not need to answer all of these questions completely - but it helps to provide as much information as you can.

      • You can request this form one of two ways:
        1. Send e-mail to: inquire@arch2.nara.gov
        2. Request NATF Form 81 by mail:
          General Reference Branch (NNRG)
          National Archives and Records Administration
          7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
          Washington, DC  20408

          Ask for NATF Form 81, National Archives Order for Copies of Ship Passenger Arrival Records. Be sure to enclose your mailing address and the number of copies you would like. The indices will be searched by the NATF, and if the record you requested is found, will notify you, in which case you may be required to pay $10 for copies - but not always.


  25. How can I get a picture of the ship my ancestor came to America on?
    • One source is The Steamship Historical Society of America Collection at the University of Baltimore Library is a great source of information about ships--more than 100,000 ship photos and more than 30,000 negatives.

      Send your inquiries to:
      Ann Carvel House
      Librarian
      SSHSA Collection
      University of Baltimore Library
      Baltimore, MD 21201-5779
      (410) 837-4334

      Be sure to include all the information available to you about the ship, including the dates it was sailing and/or brought your ancestors to the USA. The librarian will advise you as to what info is available. There is a fee of only $10.00 per one-half hour of research time. You will be asked to pay only after info is located for you. If a photo is available, they will send you a price sheet and ordering info. This collection does not include any individual passenger information.

    • Other sources are:
      • Peabody Essex Museum
        East India Square
        Salem MA 01970-3783
        Tel: 508-745-1876
        Fax: 508-744-6776
      • The Mariners' Museum
        100 Museum Drive
        Newport News, VA 23606-3759
        Tel: 804-595-0368
        Fax: 804-591-8212
      • New York Hisorical Society
        170 Central Park West
        New York, NY  10024
      • South Street Seaport Museum
        16 Fulton Street
        New York, NY  10038


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  26. Where did the information on the passenger lists come from?


  27. Did the immigrant present documents to the officials?


  28. What info was on the passport?


  29. How were the manifests filled out?
    • Passenger lists were completed on board by the ship's purser, and reviewed by customs or immigration authorities upon arrival. The European, pre-Americanized names were written the way they sounded, and may not be spelled correctly. If your immigrant ancestor could not read or write, he or she would not have recognized an incorrect spelling.


  30. What instructions did the purser follow to complete the manifests?
    • Below is an extract from the Department of Commerce and Labor - "Special Instructions for Filling Alien Manifests", located on the back of a passenger list of 1906.

      The information returned on the manifest [Forms 500, 500 A, and 500 B], so far as it relates to alien arrivals (including those in transit and tourists), should be made in accordance with the following classifications. The number of the column on the manifest is given in these special instructions and is followed, in parentheses, in all cases up to and including column 16, by a descriptive title indicating briefly the subject to which it relates.

      • Column 3 (Age) - The return of age in column 3 should be expressed in years or months, the latter applying only to those under 1 year of age.
      • Column 4 (Sex) - The entry in column 4 should be either M (male) or F (female).
      • Column 5 (Married or single) - The entry in column 5 should be either M (married), S (single), Wd (widowed), or D (divorced).
      • Column 6 (Calling or occupation) - The entry in column 6 should describe as accurately as possible the occupation, trade, or profession of each alien arrival, as for example: Civil engineer, stationery engineer, locomotive engineer, mining engineer, brass polisher, steel polisher, iron molder, wood turner, etc., and not simply as engineer, polisher, molder, turner, or other indefinite designations. A distinction should be made between farmers and farm laborers, regardless of the amount of money shown, as follows: A farmer is one who operates a farm, either for himself or others. A farm laborer is one who works on a farm for the man who operates it. Steamship companies should make this distinction on the manifests, and corrections should be made, if necessary, by inspectors and registry clerks, during the personal examination of alien arrivals.
      • Column 7 (Able to read and write) - Column 7 is subdivided and the entries therein should be either Yes - Yes (can read and write), No - No (can neither read nor write), or Yes - No (can read but not write).
      • Column 8 (Nationality) - Column 8 should be construed to mean the country of which immigrant is a citizen or subject.
      • Column 9 (Race or people) - The entry in column 9 should show the race or people as given in list on reverse side of alien manifest. Special attention should be paid to the distinction between race and nationality, and manifests should be carefully revised by inspectors and registry clerks in this regard. For instance, "France" appearing on a manifest does not necessarily mean "French" by race or people, and similarly "French" appearing on a manifest does not necessarily mean "France" by nationality. An alien who is Irish, German, or Hebrew by race might properly come under the heading of United Kingdom or any other country by nationality. In this connection the following distinctions should be especially observed:
        • Italian (north): The people who are native to the basin of the River Po in northern Italy (i.e., compartments of Piedmont, Lombardy, Venetia and Emelia) and their descendants whether residing in Italy, Switzerland Austria-Hungary or any other country should be classed as "Italian (north)." Most of these people speak a Gallic dialect of the Italian language.
        • Italian (south): The people who are native to the portion of Italy south of the basin of the River Po (i.e., compartments of Liguria, Tuscany, Marches, Umbria, Latium, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia) and their descendants should be classified as "Italian (south)."
      • Column 10 (Last residence) - The entry in column 10 should show the country, and city or town of last permanent residence, instead of the province, city, or town.
      • Column 11 (Final destination) - The entry in column 11 should show definitely the place (city or town) of final destination.
      • Column 12 (Whether having a ticket to such final destination) - The entry in column 12 should be either Yes (ticket) or No (no ticket).
      • Column 13 (By whom was passage paid) - the entry in column 13 should show definitely by whom passage was paid, as self; husband, father, brother or other relative; friend; steamship company, etc.
      • Column 14 (Whether in possession of $50, and if less, how much) - The entry in column 14 should give in each case (individual or family) the exact amount of money shown.
      • Column 15 (Whether ever before in the United States; and if so, when and where) - The entries in column 15 should show whether or not (Yes or No) in the United States before; and if so, the year (or period of years) and place; as 1894-97, Philadelphia.
      • Column 16 (Going to join relative or friend; and if so, what relative or friend) - The entry in column 16 should show whether going to join either a relative or friend; and if so, what relative or friend, with name and complete address.
      • Columns 17 to 22 - The answers in these columns are subject to revision by any inspection officer in the examination of immigrants.



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Last updated on 24 May 1996.

For additions or comments, please contact either of the section owners: William J. Girimonti III, Cyndy Tabor, Peter Belmonte, or Dit Lasila


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