Using the Ellis Island Foundation for tracing Caribbean ancestors

The Ellis Island Foundation website is useful not only if your Caribbean ancestors migrated to the USA, but also for a general ancestor search. Given how near the two regions are (a mere five days by steamship!) many Caribbean travellers simply visited and returned. And as the Ship’s Manifest records detailed information about each passenger, it’s a great starting point.

Procedure: Enter your ancestor’s name, gender and approx. year of birth. A list of possible matches will (hopefully) appear from which you may select the following: Passenger Record, Ship’s Manifest1, Original Ship’s Manifest2 and Ship Info. You will need to log in, but registering is free. If nothing comes up, try omitting a first name, varying the possible dates and even the spelling of your surname – spellings were pretty random in the past, and mistakes common.

The Ship’s Manifest is particularly useful as it records details such as the passenger’s name, age, marital status, ethnic origin, country of residence and address in the States. Both the Ship’s Manifest and Passenger Record may be viewed for free, or hard copies purchased from the Foundation. As a registered member, any additional information you have about the passenger may be added on the Create an Annotation page, for other users to see.

My Search: I have been trying to find out about my great grandparents. The eldest of their 13 children, Herman Johnston (No. 003) emigrated to the USA in 1914. I typed only his name, and to my amazement his entry was there along with some surprising additional information:

1 Ship’s Manifest fragment
Ship’s Manifest fragment

extract courtesy of Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc

2 Original Ship’s Manifest fragment

Original Ship’s Manifest

extract courtesy of Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

He travelled with five other family members (Nos. 2–7) and stayed with a Mrs. Alalia Joyce of 308 West 119th St., NY. The record shows she is his aunt, and the mother of Adrian and Evelyn Joyce (Nos. 6 & 7). It would appear that Alalia Joyce is my great grandfather’s sister. I do not know who Frances Johnston is (No. 2), but the scribble that looks like ‘dght’ could be daughter, meaning that Alalia is her daughter, therefore she herself would be my great grandfather’s mother. If so, then I have managed to go back one more generation without expecting to!
I definitely recommend this site. It is easy to use and has yielded exciting clues into my ancestry.

by Aysha J.


More information:
Ellis Island