Searching for Ships in the various Microfilms in One Step
(Ellis Island, All New York, Baltimore, Boston, Galveston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco)
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse , San Francisco

NOTE: Most of questions here apply to all the SHIP LISTS forms cited above.  However some are specific to the Ship List form.

1. What can I do on this ship search page?

You can search through databases and obtain information about ship arrivals at various ports of entry.  Your search can be tailored to suit your needs.  For example, you can search for all arrivals of a particular ship, for all arrivals between specific dates, for all ships coming from a particular port, etc.

2. How do I use the information obtained with this ship search page?

The most common use is to find the manifest for a particular ship arrival into Ellis Island.  From my gold or white search form you can determine the ship and date that your ancestor arrived.  But when you click to see the image of their manifest, you might get the wrong one or none at all.  That's because there are linking errors on the Ellis Island website.

But since you have the ship and date, you can go to my Manifest Viewer for the particular arrival port and view the manifest.  Use of that page is greatly simplified if you know the roll and frame number for your ship.  My various Ship Lists pages (see buttons above) help you get that information.

3. Where did you obtain this information from?

For the Ellis Island arrivals I got the data from several different sources, namely Marian Smith of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the National Archives and Records Administration Northeast Region in Pittsfield MA, and a team of volunteers initially headed by Bea Giusti under my supervision.

Marian Smith's INS list was generated by transcribing information that she found in National Archives documents.  She transcribed the ship arrivals from 1898 to 1911.  The NARA list is similar to Marian Smith's except that it includes years 1897 to February 1917 but it did not include 1908.  My volunteers generated their lists by manually reading every microfilm and recording the ships that are on them.  They transcribed much more information than was present on either the INS or the NARA lists.

For the other ports of arrival, much of the information was obtained from the free portion of the website.

4. How do I obtain the manifests for a particular ship arrival?

Using these Ship Lists pages, enter the ship name and and a range of dates.  This gives you a list of arrivals.  You click on the one you want.  That will take you to my Manifest Viewer starting with the roll and frame for the first manifest page of the ship arrival you want.

I thought these instructions were very clear, but apparently some people were having trouble with them.  If that's you, read on -- here's the same thing but in more detail:.

1. Go to my homepage at

2. Click on the Ship Lists link for the port of arrival that you are interested in.  Keep in mind that for Port of New York, there are separate Ship Lists links for, for, and for

3. Enter the name of the ship and the month and year of arrival.  Do not enter the day since you might be off by a couple of days.  You might even try leaving off the month for the same reason.  Hint: enter only the first few letters of the ship name to avoid misspellings.

4. Click the SEARCH button.

5. You will get a results page showing ship arrivals that satisfy the conditions you specified.

6. Determine the line for the arrival you want and click on the name of the ship on that line.

7. You are now on the Manifest Viewer page that gives you direct access to the manifests. And specifically it is displaying the first page of the manifests for that arrival.

8. Keep clicking on the +1 button under the word FRAME to advance to other frames.  Check each frame to see if it contains the passenger you want.  Continue until you are get to the first frame of the next ship.

5. The arrival date for the ship that I clicked on was May 21.  Why does your Manifest Viewer then say May 19?

A roll might contain several days worth of ship landings. The date that you are seeing on my "Direct Access to Manifests" form is the date of the first ship arrival on that roll.  It is not the date of the arrival of the particular ship corresponding to the frame you are looking at.

6. What does it mean if my Ellis Island ship comes up as "inaccessible"?

It means that the staff at the Ellis Island Foundation accidentally failed to upload the manifest images for that ship (or for that entire roll) to their website.  The manifest does exist on the original microfilm roll, and you can view it at using my Ship List form plus Manifest Viewer for either or instead of

7. What does it mean if my Ellis Island ship comes up as "missing"?

It means that the ship arrived at Ellis Island but there were no manifest pages for that ship.  There could be various reasons for that, one of which is that the ship carried no passengers.  So don't bother looking for that ship arrival using any of my other Ship List forms -- it won't be there.

8. For an Ellis Island arrival, the images of the ship's manifest appear to be in backwards order.  Why is that?

Approximately half of the rolls on were scanned in backwards when the images were put on their website.  The link that you click on to get to the ship manifests will always take you to the lowest-numbered frame for that ship, regardless of how the roll was scanned.  For backwards-scanned rolls, that will be the last frame rather than the first for that ship arrival.

That was done so that users can  get to the remaining frames for that arrival by advancing the frame numbers, regardless of which direction the roll was scanned.  Otherwise users who did not know that some rolls are backwards would advance once and then think that there are no more frames for that arrival.

-- Steve Morse