My experience with the Ellis Island Database #general


I have finally been successful accessing the Ellis Island passenger
records online. It takes persistence but I found that once I was able to
register I had an easier time staying in and/or reentering the site.
That is the good news.

However, I was having little success finding those elusive passengers
in my family so I decided to do some experimentation with names for
which I have already found the manifest entries, in the past ten years
of researching, while using the microfilmed NY passenger lists at the
Family History Center of the local Mormon church.

To test the capabilities of the Ellis Island online database, I started with
the record of my grandmother, Basie SOSNOVSKY (a.k.a. Sosnofsky,
etc.) I know >from previous research that she is listed on the manifest of
the S.S. Umbria (Cunard Line) sailing >from Liverpool to NY on July 18,
1903. I have the manifest page in front of me and her name is spelled
on the page "Base SASNOWSKY." In 1991 I had little trouble finding it
using the standard soundex method. That method also returned most
of the variations one might encounter including the "SKI" ending. However,
using the online database I was unable to access it unless I entered the
exact spelling on the manifest. When I used any of the "sound-alike"
spellings I met with failure even with the alternate spelling summary.
Needless to say, I have a new found respect for the use of the soundex

My next experiment, with the database, was to enter the name of a
great uncle who arrived on the S.S. Batavia, 14 Apr 1907, >from Hamburg.
Once again I had "found" him on that manifest by using the standard

The name on the manifest is "Mottel Meziritzky." I have found many
of the entries for MEZHIRITZKY family members, all with different spellings
but all falling within the soundex code M263. With the manifest page in
front of me, I entered the name "Meziritzky." There was no such entry in
the database. Realizing that the vowels could easily be misinterpreted
by the transcriber, I tried substituting an "i" for the "e" with the same

After numerous failed attempts to bring up the entry, I decided to conduct
yet another experiment with the database. I took one entry on the same
page that I was certain could not have been misinterpreted by the
transcriber and I entered it. It returned the correct entry, which then
allowed me to bring up the whole page, on which my relative was listed. In
comparing the database spelling with the actual page I began to see a
pattern of misinterpretation in the data entries. I believe this comes in
part >from the more strict criteria of the database search and in the data
entry itself. At least on this page, there was somewhat of a lack of
familiarity with Jewish given names.

The name of my relative was entered as "Mezwitzky" which would
totally change the soundex code. I no longer have a copy of the soundex
entry for this person but I am reasonably certain it was listed in the
"correct" soundex (M263) by the WPA.

As for the present database, my hope is that the search criteria can be
broadened to recognize the possibility that vowels are easily substituted
and should not be stringently applied. There is the matter of the way the
"sky" is often spelled as "ski" and vice versa. The substitution of the "j"
for the "i" and "w" for "v". All the variations that the NARA and
Daitch/Mokotoff soundex deal with beautifully. I know little about how a
database works but am hopeful that the current one used by the Ellis Island
project can still be modified.

Lois Sernoff [Philadelphia, PA]

MEZHIRITZKY [MERITZ, MARRITZ, MARRITS] >from Korsun in Kiev Gub. to Phila.
SOSNOVSKY [SOSNOFSKY, SOSNOV - all spelling variations] >from Gorodishche
in Cherkassy uyezd, Kiev Gub.-> Ekaterinoslav -> Philadelphia, PA or
FRIEDMAN >from Beltsy/Balti ["Bels" Bessarabia] Moldova to anywhere
KUSHNER [all spelling variations} >from Tomashpol and Yampol in Podolia Gub.

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