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October 27, 2008

Caveat Part 1: re the new Inbound UK and Inbound Canada Ships Passenger Lists

The new Ships Passenger lists inbound to the UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 (and thus outbound from Canada, USA and other ports), and the recent Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, have meant a boon for researchers.

I spent several enjoyable (yet frustrating) hours over the weekend searching those lists for my maternal and paternal great-grandparents, and my grandmother and her brothers. I learned a lot about some pitfalls and obstacles to anyone searching those lists and want to share that with you.

First let me explain that my grandmother and my grandfather arrived in Canada from England in 1913 and were married shortly after arrival. My grandmother hated travel by ship and so never went back to visit her family left behind in England. But they came to see her. My grandfather's parents also came over to visit, in fact they intended at one point to remain permanently in Canada but missed England and returned to live out their lives there. Three of my grandmother's brothers also immigrated to Canada to live. So I had a lot of searching to do!

Because it became rather confusing as I switched back and forth from the TO England database and the FROM England database, I eventually made a chart. Thank goodness I did, for it allowed me to think about what trips I was missing and what time frame I might find them in.

The indexing for Ships Arriving in Canada must have been difficult. Those lists are very difficult to read - faded, almost illegible handwriting, and badly filmed copies made the transcribers task difficult. So many of the entries are simply first names (no surname) or a partial surname or a question mark. I talked about that in an earlier post on Olive Tree Genealogy Blog. The bottom line is that we cannot blame the transcribers and we have to be very creative in our search strategies to find an ancestor.

The ships inbound to UK however present another problem! For the most part they are quite legible. Later lists are typed. Some are a bit blurry from bad filming but still legible. But there is a huge problem with these lists which I discovered only because I was determined to find some of the "missing" return voyages of my ancestors and as I grew increasily desperate and frustrated at NOT finding them, I began to click on search result hits that I knew could NOT be my people...

Let me first explain about my search for passenger lists for my Great Grandparents Charles & Mary Ann Fuller. I knew when both were born and died. I knew approximately when they came over to visit from England.

Here is the chart I ended up making:

* 1920 May 24. Tunisian TO Canada - Charles & Mary Ann)
* 1929 Dec 14. Duchess of Athol TO UK (from Canada) - Charles & Mary Ann
* 1930 Mar 2. Minnedosa TO Canada - Charles, Mary Ann, + sons Walter & Harold
* MISSING return voyage to England

I could not find a return voyage from Canada to UK no matter how I searched! I narrowed my search by dates of birth (+/-2), arrival years (1915-1935). I used wildcards (Ful*) instead of full names. I used first names only combined with dates of birth or years of arrival. In short I tried every research trick I could think of to make sure I had all arrivals in Canada and departures from Canada (back to UK)

One thing I've found since looking for my own ancestors in these passenger lists is that people tended to use the same shipping line and often came in via the same port of arrival and departure. That can be helpful if you are stuck, as you can narrow your search or search under different fields. It didn't help me. I could not find Charles and Mary Ann leaving Canada after March 2, 1930 and returning to England, yet I knew they did. Both died in UK. Their sons Harold and Walter remained in Canada when the parents returned, so I was only looking for Charles and Mary Ann.

Finally in desperation I began clicking on search result hits that matched names, dates of birth and departure years, even if the port of departure was NOT within Canada. And there it was in the index - Charles & Mary Fuller leaving from New York on the ship Majestic on 11 Sept. 1934.

I was so excited to find this! But wait, there's more... clicking on the image brought up a ships passenger list with Charles & Mary Ann. They were definitely my great grandparents, for their address in Ramsgate Kent England was given. But looking up at the TOP of the passenger list I read that this was the list for the ship Empress of Australia sailing out of Quebec for England on 30 Sept 1934!

Finally it dawned on me that these passenger lists are bundled. And the indexers have either recorded ONLY the outside label of each bundle OR the first ship in each bundle! And that first ship/outside label has been attached to the name of each passenger within that bundle of lists, no matter what ship they actually sailed on or what port of departure they used.

CAVEAT: You cannot trust the ship name or port of departure that has been recorded on the index to the UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960

... to be continued tomorrow in Caveat Part 2: re the new Inbound UK and Inbound Canada Ships Passenger Lists

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