A couple of weeks ago John wrote about the 20th century military records available on our website through Access to Archival Databases (AAD). Today, I want to talk about the immigration records that you can find in AAD.
In the late 1970s, the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies began compiling data from nineteenth century passenger arrival records. Researchers from the Balch Institute, now part of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, looked at passenger arrival records (primarily the ports of New York, Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia) for immigrants who identified themselves as Russian, Irish, German, or Italian. This research resulted in databases such as “Data Files Relating to the Immigration of Germans to the United States.” You can often find printed copies of these databases in genealogical libraries, but the original data files can be accessed on our website through AAD. The books, as well as the data files, are often referred to as “Germans to America” (or “Russians to America,” etc.).
Now I want to walk you through a typical search scenario.
The first image is a screenshot of the main page for these databases. Let’s use “Germans to America” as an example. Clicking on the search icon will take you to this next page. You’ll see a brief description and history of the data files here – take a look at it if you’re interested in how and why these records were created.
Click “search” again and you will see this screen.
I decided to search for “Johan Schmidt” and entered the name in the appropriate fields. I could have entered more information such as age or country of origin, but I have always liked to start searches with only the name. Below is part of the results page.
There were 112 people named Johan Schmidt who arrived in the US between 1850 and 1897 – this is when I would normally try to narrow a search by providing the age or some other identifying information. For the purposes of this example, however, I just chose the first Johan Schmidt. This next screen shows the results for him.
The data files don’t provide images of the passenger list, but all of the information you would find on the actual list is here, with one major exception that I will get to in a moment. We can see that Johan Schmidt is a 30 year old man from Hessen (Germany) who is a shoemaker by trade. But something is missing from this summary – the date of arrival and the name of the ship. This is where using these data files can get a little tricky. Do you see the category titled “Manifest Identification Number?” Take that number (in this case, 6637), and go back to the Series Description page.
Just beneath the search button we used before, there is another search button, for the Manifest Header Data File. Enter the number (6637) here.
And this is what we get. Now we know that our Johan Schmidt left Rotterdam on the Jane E. Williams and arrived in the US on October 7, 1850.
Some of you may wonder why you should use these databases when you can already view the entire passenger list on microfilm or online at Ancestry.com. Well, there are several reasons. The first, and probably the most important for genealogical research, is that if you are unable to find someone online at Ancestry, or on the microfilm, you can try these data files – I’ve found several people using them that I couldn’t locate otherwise. Another reason I find these useful is that you can search the database by multiple fields – if you wanted to, you could find out how many 30 year old men came to the US in 1850. If you do try to perform a search like that, keep in mind that these data files do not contain all of the immigration records, just those that the Balch Institute included in their studies. But you can still get some great demographic information out of them.