Try as I might, Jacob Olswang’s passenger list chooses not to surface as I dig through the records. But as I overheard recently, “It’s never all for nothing.” and with that, I can demonstrate the approaches and steps I took to try and get the record I needed. Few genealogical sources daunt me, but passenger lists are admittedly a mixed bag when it comes to getting results. I don’t always get the results I want, and especially in the 19th century, it comes down to documenting all the possible matches and implementing further deductive reasoning.
For this piece, I really focused on using one-database and searching for Jacob Olswang with as many angles as I could suffice. Spelling is an aspect of genealogical research that needs to always be treated with an open-mind and I will attempt to demonstrate this. My objective was fixated on researching Jacob Olswang with the One-Step Passenger List Search at Stephen P. Morse’s website. It is an excellent database and tool for that matter for researching immigrants to the United States and more:
“This site contains tools for finding immigration records, census records, vital records, and for dealing with calendars, maps, foreign alphabets, and numerous other applications. Some of these tools fetch data from other websites but do so in more versatile ways than the search tools provided on those websites.”
My last attempt at finding Jacob’s name on a passenger manifest was sometime ago, and I was not as careful in documenting everything like I am now. Regardless, it’s good to have a fresh start on a research problem.
Survey previous research on your ancestor to establish an estimated date of arrival
The acquisition of an exact or approximate arrival date is ideal for researching passenger lists. Our known information and facts will determine the range of dates we use.
- Jacob and his wife Margrette McGrevey were married in Waterloo, Lancashire, England, 2 Aug 1895.
- Their first child Walter Olswang was born 25 Dec 1896 in England.
- His naturalization record suggests an exact date of 28 Nov 1896.
- Jacob’s second son Arthur was born in New York City 1899.
- Jacob and his family are living on First Avenue in the Borough of Manhattan, New York County, New York in the 1900 US Census.
- The household schedule for Jacob Olswang in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Census consistently state his year of arrival as 1897.
With the facts in hand, I can determine he arrived about “1896-1899.” While it is a reasonable time span, it’s contained enough that we can manage the data results returned to us. I decided to extend the date range later to 1910, because many immigrants hopped overseas and back more than once.
I also had collected one other known first name Jacob had used in his life. According to his marriage certificate, he went by the name “John.” Any aliases associated with our ancestors need to be taken into account when we conduct research.
Using Steve Morse’s One-Step Ellis Island Search
This website is basically a one-stop shop for researching all passengers and immigrants who arrived in New York. There are several options or “search-forms” for researching New York passenger lists:
- Ellis Island Database, 1892-1957 (White Form)
- Ellis Island, 1892-1924 (Gold Form)
- All New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957
To be specific, the databases I was working with the post were of passenger lists for vessels arriving at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924.
Fig 1. Stephen P. Morse, “One-Step Search for Ellis Island Database, 1892-1957 (White Form.)
Yes, this plain set of search bars and buttons is what I’m raving about, exciting right? The excitement stems from how we can use different parameters to more easily locate the desired passenger list. I started by searching Jacob Olswang, except for the first name I only entered the character “J.”
Each parameter, i.e. “starts with”, “exactly”, “sounds like”, “spells like”, and “contains” all utilize a different algorithm to retrieve results. Notice how much the number of matches change when I use a different parameter.
Table 1. Search results for first name “J” and “Olswang”, year of arrival between 1896 and 1910. One Step Ellis Island Form (white). Performed 29 Jan 2016.
|is exactly “Olswang”||sounds like
Filtering results that sound like and spell like the surname bring back many more results. I decided to hold off on checking all of these and see if I can narrow in on some better matches using different tools on the website.
The “Gold” search forms for passenger lists on stevemorse.org uses a different set of logarithms to calculate the results, specifically Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching. It serves as an improvement of the Soundex Code. Alexander Beider and Stephen Morse configured a search form that could return results “phonetically equivalent to the desired name.” I found this helpful, because the results provided insight as to how one interpreted the pronunciation and spelling of the surname. Federal policy mandated that passenger lists for vessels arriving in the US were recorded before the vessel embarked to America, so the captain or appointed officer would have created the original manifest before filing a copy at the port of arrival.
Records of Jacob’s family in England and the U.S spell his name at Olswang, but the native tongue sometimes pronounces it more like “sch” then “s.” The following phonetic matches for Olswang came back when I performed the search in Ellis Island (Gold Form). This is important data to track in your research, because these variations of the surname needed to be considered when researching ancestors online.
Table 2. Phonetic Matches for Olswang. One-Step Ellis Island (Gold Form).
Try a different family member
Jacob Olswang did not arrive alone, but with his wife, Margaret McGrevey and their infant son, Walter (Waldemar). This is a good strategy if seemingly a brickwall encompasses our target ancestor, we can try to work around it and look for another family member in the passenger lists. But no matches for Margaret and little Walter have been located either.
Use less characters
Less is more when it comes to using databases in genealogy. We need to remain flexible for all the errors that could potentially appear in database entries. Using the search forms of stevemorse.org, The first name search field only requires one character, while the surname requires at least two. When we remove characters from the names, the extent of our results are often more broad and allow for those phonetic interpretations to be retrieved. Looking at the actual data retrieved from your search, genealogists should look for details that match the profile of our ancestor, particular the arrival year, birth year, and the name. Of the possible matches I retrieved, none were close enough to warrant a closer look.
A Suggested Arrival Date
All aliens applying for U.S. Citizenship since 1790 have had to provide an arrival date for their petition for naturalization. These dates do not always prove out to be true, genealogists have to take into account our ancestors did not always recall these events accurately, but must be investigated to be proven or disproven. Steve Morse’s website provides the right tool for this. Using his search form called “Ship Lists”, you can view all available manifests for a particular date or particular vessel. From the results you receive on a particular arrival date, you can click the link to view images of the manifest. From 26 Nov to 28 Nov 1896, the Olswang family did not arrive at Ellis Island.
- Consider other ports of entry. One-Step passenger searches are available for the ports of Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and many more.
- Become more creative with phonetic interpretations in the first and last name.
- Use different search engines and databases for passenger lists (Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org.)
 Marriage Certificate of John Olswang and Margrette McGreevey, 2 Jun 1895, no. 247, Christ Church Waterloo, Sephton Parish, West Derby Registration District, Lancashire County. Certified Copy from GRO Office made 28 Jan 2015.
 World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” images, Ancestry (accessed 5 Feb 2009), card for Walter W. Olswang, serial no. 3114, Local Draft Board no. 265, Jamaica, Queens County, New York.
 Petition for Naturalization, Jacob Olswang, 27 Jun 1904, petition no. 2935, Vol. 134: page 214B-215B, Circuit Court, Southern District of New York.
 Certificate of Death, 10 Apr 1942, cert. no. 2870, Arthur Olswang, Queens County, New York, Bureau of Records, Department of Health, City of New York
 1900 US Census, New York County, New York, population schedule, page 7B, enumeration district (ED) 243,
 Marriage Certificate of John Olswang and Margrette McGreevey.
 John P. Colletta, Ph.D., They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record. Third Edition. (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing Co., 2002,) 35.
 The variations recorded are a result of searching the surname only without any characters.
John P. Colletta, Ph.D., They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record. Third Edition. (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing Co., 2002.)
Stephen P. Morse, “Overview of One-Step Ellis Island Search Forms,” http://stevemorse.org/ellis2/intro.html
Stephen P. Morse, “A One-Step Portal to Online Genealogy,” http://www.stevemorse.org/onestep/onestep3.htm
Stephen P. Morse, “Frequenty Asked Questions,” http://stevemorse.org/ellis2/faqg.htm
Copyright (c) 2016 by Jake Fletcher. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.
Jake Fletcher, “The Peculiar Absence of Jacob Olswang’s Passenger Manifest,” Travelogues of a Genealogist, posted 2 Feb 2016. https://fletcherfamilytree.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/the-peculiar-absence-of-jacob-olswangs-passenger-manifest/