The Museum of Family History
HONORING AND PRESERVING THE MEMORY OF OUR ANCESTORS
FOR THE PRESENT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS
 

HOME          SITE MAP          ABOUT THE MUSEUM          FEEDBACK          OPPORTUNITIES          LINKS

 

 Research  
 

**Script Samples from Ship Manifests**
Overcoming Obstacles
Increasing the Chance of Success

"THE TOWN OF LAST RESIDENCE"


 

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.


WARSZAWA

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.


ERRORS MADE

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:
 

 
VARSAN
VARSANIA
VARSANY
VARSAU
VARSAVA
VARSAVIA
VARSAVIE
VARSAW
VARSCHAN
VARSCHAU
VARSCHU
VARSEVIA
VARSEVIE
VARSEW
VARSHAN
VARSHAVA
VARSHAVIA
VARSHAW

VARSIVIE
VARSOUIE
VARSOVIC
VARSOVIE
VARSOVY
VARSOWA
VARSOWIE
VARSA
VARSO
VARSUVA
VARSZOW
WARSAHAN
WARSAM
WARSAN
WARSAR
WARSAS
WARSAV
WARSAW

WARSZAVA
WARSZAW
WARSZAWA
WARSZAWO
WARSCHAIN
WARSCHAN
WARSCHAND
WARSCHANY
WARSCHARD
WARSCHAU
WARSCHAUN
WARSCHAW
WARSHAI
WARSHAM
WARSHAN
WARSHAUV
WARSHAV
WARSHAW
 

WARSHAWA
WARSHER
WARSHOEN
WARSCLAND
WARSZ
WARSZAMA
WARSZAR
WARSZARA
WARSZAU
WARSZAVA
WARSZAVIA
WARSZAW
WARSZAWI
WARSZCAWA
WARSZHAN
WARSZHAU
WARSZO
WARSZOWA



You might want to look on your own for other examples in the Ellis Island database. This is  a good way of training your eye to recognize the various types of errors that may occur. By doing this, you will gain a better sense of how and why such errors have been made, and this bit of extra knowledge will give you a greater chance for successful searches in the future. This is a good exercise not just with ship manifests,  but is applicable too when searching through census reports and other handwritten documents.




 


 

Copyright 2006 Museum of  Family History

All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy