One of the numerous
ways we can search for a ship manifest entry that is listed in the
Ellis Island database is by
using the immigrant's "last permanent residence," i.e. the country
and city or town the person emigrating last resided in. This
"residence" is simply the town that the ship
passenger last resided in no matter how long the time, and is not necessarily the town they were born in or
lived in most of their lives. It is simply where they last
resided, however "permanent" it may have been, even if it was for
a small number of months or less. Perhaps they had to leave
their hometown for one reason or another and stayed with a family
member, e.g. living in Warszawa, Suwalki or Vilnius, before
traveling to their port of emigration. Perhaps the town listed was
just a transit point from home to port. So one should generally
not discount the possibility that such occurrences do occur, that
the person you are looking for could not have possibly resided in
such a town before their emigration.
On the Ellis Island database, if you move your computer's mouse
cursor (arrow) over "Passenger Search, " more options will appear.
Move your cursor down to where the words "Advanced Search" appear
and left-click on that. The town of last residence you are looking
for can be entered into the field labeled
"Name of Town/Village
of Origin". There is an "is," "starts with" and "contains" option
here when using the town name.
As is the case with many other records that are handwritten (and
typewritten), errors may occur. These errors generally come
from three sources:
1. the person giving the information, i.e. he (or she) may say the
name incorrectly or at least not clearly enough to be properly understood
by the ship's officer to whom he is giving the information. There
are also such cases where the emigrant does not understand the
question proffered. The ship's officer may ask "Who are you?" and
the person may answer back that he is a Cohain, and hence the name
Cohen may be entered for a surname, or a given name may be
mistaken for a last name. This happened when my aunt was born many
years ago, delivered like so many babies during that time by a
midwife at home. Whomever the person was who was supposed to ask
for the child's name did so, the answer was "I am a Cohain," and
thus "Cohen" was listed as her surname on her birth certificate
(until it was changed at a later date.)
There is also a possibility that a simple Yiddish word may be
mistaken for a name. The old joke goes like this: The ship's
officer asks, "What is your name?" The Yiddish speaker doesn't
know what is being asked of him or for a moment cannot
remember his name, and he answers "Ich fahrgessen." This is why,
it is suggested, that there are a lot of Jews who immigrated with
the surname "Ferguson."
2. the person receiving this information, who may not be
familiar with the person's accent, may not understand what is said
well enough to spell it properly on the ship manifest. He may spell it the way he
hears it, without being given the proper spelling. Whether the
ship's officer taking the information was a native of the port
country or whether they were a U.S. or English representative or
ship's officer, it doesn't matter. How the ship's officer may
spell a name, whether it be a person's name or the name of the
town he came from, probably depended on the information taker's
native language. For example, a passenger with the name Shmul Fisher
who is leaving from the port at Bremen or Hamburg in Germany may have his surname recorded as
"Schmul Fischer." The
ship's officer may also write the name illegibly to one degree or
another, or they may make an error if the entry is being typed
(many of the manifests in the early 1920s were typed.) Most of the
entries made onto these manifests were written in cursive script,
so when this information is entered onto a database, the untrained
eye may read such entries incorrectly.
3. As previously mentioned, the person entering the information
into a database that is being searched may have read the name
incorrectly. No matter how
diligent this data entry worker may be, without the proper
training in reading such cursive script, without a working
knowledge of the many foreign names that exist, or whatever the
type of information it may be, much is
misspelled and thus, depending on the variables searched, a search
may turn out to be unsuccessful. There are also the instances when
a ship manifest page is in poor condition, i.e. the ink is faded
or washed out, and the proper discernment of what is written is
next to impossible..
For purposes of demonstration here, we will look at various
entries made for the city of Warszawa. Though it is now located in
today's Poland, it was considered to be part of Russia until after
the first World War. Thus, it is a good idea to have a bit of knowledge as to the
country that a town was considered to part of at the time
the person emigrated. Here, we shall consider the various ways in
which the city of Warsaw (now officially spelled 'Warszawa') has
been spelled and subsequently entered onto the Ellis Island
database. As grateful as we must be for the hard work done by
those at the Ellis Island Foundation, we must also be made aware
of the errors and potential pitfalls, so that we may have the
greatest chances of success in our searches.
There are many different, correct spellings for today's Warszawa.
If you decide to search by town name and have problems finding
what you are looking for, you should learn all the possible correct spellings
of the town. As is the case with given and surnames, these spellings may depend on what country the emigrant
is emigrating from. Below are some of the spellings used:
--Warszawa: This is the current spelling in today's Poland.
--Warsaw: Probably this is the English spelling.
--Warschau: The German spelling.
--Varsovie: The French spelling.
--Varshava and Varsavia are two other spellings.
Of course, there are many different ways that this city's name can be spelled
or interpreted, when written or read incorrectly:
--The letter "W" can be written as a "V," as the
letter W is pronounced as a V in other languages, e.g. German, Yiddish and Polish. It
can also be read as a V (the letter W is written as a double V.)
Depending on how the W is written in script, it could easily be
mistaken for the letter V, especially when the "loops" in the
letter are closed. So when looking up any name with the letter V,
whether it be a town name or person's name, always
consider that a name beginning with the letter W can also begin with the letter V. Also, if a
letter can be mistaken for a V, it can also be mistaken for the
letter "U," especially if the letter W is rounded at the
bottom. It may also be mistaken for the letter "N" if the
W" is "squeezed" a bit in a certain fashion.
--If this is so, that the letter "U' can be mistaken for an "N,"
then "Warschau" can be easily be written/interpreted/databased as "Warschan"
(or "Warschav" for that matter), as it has often been.
--For both reasons of phonetics and appearance, the vowel "O"
can be mistaken for an "A."
As there is at least one "A" in most all the possible, legit
spellings for Warsaw, this should certainly be considered when
your search is at an impasse.
--One must always consider the variations in spelling due to
language differences, e.g. in Polish, the consonant combination of
"sz" is pronounced "sh," as in the English
word "shoe." In German, the "sh" may be written as "sch."
In some languages, the letter "s" may be pronounced "sh."
So there you have it.
Also, although it doesn't apply in the current example of
Warszawa, don't forget "nasalization," e.g. in Polish, the town of
Wegrow may be spelled "Wengrow," and the town of Piatnica may be
spelled "Piontnica." Though most of us aren't serious students of
foreign language pronunciation, it would be a good idea for those
who are focused on research within a particular foreign country to
familiarize themselves with their rules of pronunciation. This of
course will no doubt help you somewhere down the line. Also, the
Polish letter "c" is pronounced like a "ts" in English, e.g. tsar;
"dz" in Polish may be pronounced like the letter "j" in English,
e.g. jersey; the Polish letter "j" is pronounced in English as a
"y" as in the word "yesterday"; the Polish letter "l" with a
horizontal line running through it is pronounced as an English
"w." There must be other differences in the Polish language not
mentioned here, not to mention in many other languages spoken
around the world.
--The letter "R," when written as a "small" letter, can be
mistaken for a small "n" or "l" or "i" depending on how clearly
and fully the letter r is written.
--The letter "A" is sometimes written as an "E." If a small "a" is
not properly written, it may look like a "c."
--Other oddities: The letter "h" can be mistaken as an "n" or "cl."
The latter example reminds me that sometimes a single letter is
interpreted as two letters if one or more of the letter's lines
are disconnected. The reverse must all be true then, that two
separate letters, when not separated completely on a ship
manifest, may be visually mistaken as being one letter, e.g. the
town of Wroclaw may be read as "Wrodaw."
--The ending "ie," as in "Varshavie," can also be interchanged
with "y," i.e. "Varshavy."
--Letters can be left off a name, perhaps when spelled in the way
that one hears it, e.g. "Warsa," or extra letters can be
added by mistake, e.g. "Warszraw."
Here are a number of the variations in spelling as they appear on
Ellis Island and other databases: