Let me give you an example. I searched for an immigration record for Winifred Farrell who should have sailed from Liverpool, England, and with her three year old son, Michael, and arrived at Boston in 1857:
- Ancestry.com has posted online digital images of the “Boston Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1943,” which are microfilmed copies from the National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm serial T938, microfilm M277, roll 51.
- The Massachusetts State Archives has on microfilm the “Boston Ship Passengers, 1857,” ship entry 22, FHL microfilm 2,412,294, item 4.
When I searched by Ancestry.com for Winifred Farrell and her three year old son, Michael, entering Boston in 1857, I couldn’t find them. I found a “Wm” Farrell, male, and a three year old boy, Michael Farrell.
Then, I went to the microfilm of the Massachusetts State Archives and found listed Winefred Farrell, age 29, female, and Michael Farrell, male, age 3.
Why did the other list name “Wm”? Which one was right?
I decided to compare the two lists to see if there were other differences.
The ship arrival dates were even different. Ancestry’s record has the ship arriving Nov. 30, 1857. The Massachusetts State Archives has the ship list dated Dec. 19, 1857. Was it possible the December date was the date the second list was made? I don’t know.
Could there have been a second ship from Liverpool with the same name, “S. Curling” arriving within three weeks of the first? Not likely.
I went to GenealogyBank.com and searched Boston newspapers for an announcement of the ship’s arrival. I found an article. The ship arrived on November 30 as the National Archives record noted.
Then, I compared the passengers and find out if the same people were on both lists. The names are not arranged in the same order but the same people were on both lists with some variation in the spelling. Here’s how the two lists compared (a sampling) with the first name from the NARA list, the second name from the Massachusetts State Archives:
- Corn[s is superscript] E. Leary – Cornelius O. Leary
- Dan [l is superscript] Fitzsimons – Daniel Fitzsimons
- Jerry OBrien – Jeremiah OBrien
- Br. Logan [also] Jno and Wm – Bridget Dogan [also John and William]
- Mary Barry and Ja[s is superscript] – Mary Barrett [and] James
- W. Burke – Ulick Burke
- W[m is superscript] Farrell and Mich[l is superscript] – Winefred Farrell and Michael Farrell
When I compared the two, it looked to me as if the first list was recorded as the recorder heard the names. The second list looks more detailed and each name is clearly spelled out.
Is this unusual? No. You have to understand there were several passenger lists made for immigrant ships created at various times such as:
- at the port the ship left from
- at ports where the ship stopped along the way
- at the port of arrival
- as they boarded the ship
- published in some newspapers, from the port of debarking and some at the port of arrival.
- upon arrival the customs officials made a copy of the ship’s list and turned the lists in quarterly to the state archives.
Whenever you have found a source, whether it’s for immigration, a vital record, etc., search for multiple versions of that source because one may provide the information you seek.
For me, it took a combination of the two lists plus the newspaper record to determine who was on the ship and the date it arrived at Boston.