She described surname searches, using a variety of spellings, and then narrowing down the region from which ancestors originated. In order to find possible alternate spellings, put the name into the Mormon data base on Familysearch.org, and one can then see the variations in spellings. One also should look up a name both with and without its prefix—e.g., as both Dowell and McDowell.
Marcia clarified a frequent misunderstanding. She pointed out that immigration officers in places like Ellis Island normally just verified the immigrant’s information that she/he already gave to the authorities at the departure city; errors may have occurred there rather than in America. She also indicated that many individuals on their own initiative changed the spellings of their names in order to Americanize them. The only original records created at Ellis Island were those done for stowaways. Men were allowed to leave their home country only if they were not of an age for being eligible to serve in the home country’s military.
The so-called “Island of Tears” name that is associated with Ellis Island came about because when an immigrant family member was found to have a communicable disease, he or she were sent back to the country of origin at the ship’s expense, but the ship would not pay for other family members to join that member. Thus, some families were sadly split up permanently by such events.
She made several recommendations for researchers:
- Research the record before using the record for research, i.e., analyze the nature and quality of the record first.
- Find a good historical map of a home country region and look at the geography of that region in order to understand ancestors' living patterns.
- Remember that in some countries, e.g., Italy, women retained their maiden names rather than adopting husbands' names, thus providing a strong alternative for frustrating searches.
- Before “crossing the pond” to do research in the home country, first make sure that one has exhausted all of the possible avenues of research in the USA.
Luncheon Speaker Marcia Melnyk (left) answers questions from members about European immigration research
A full summary of Marcia’s presentation will be available in the August 2010 issue of the CCGS Bulletin.