Passenger Lists: The Way It Was!

microfilmThis week I am highlighting some random facts about passenger lists.  Today’s post won’t offer any helpful searching hints or useful sites.  Instead, let’s journey down memory lane to the good old days before we did our research on the internet.  Wait, why exactly do we call them the good old days?

If you are a “new” genealogist, you may be surprised to learn that in those dark old days before passenger arrival records were available online, copies could be obtained from NARA. They still can be ordered from NARA, but most people choose to save a digital copy from the various search sites, or simply print their own copy instead.  But back then, getting a copy through NARA was the only way to “own” the image.  The best thing about it? The photocopy measured 17” x 22” – big enough to read every detail!  I have wondered if this was close to the size of the original documents (I’ve asked NARA but did not receive an answer).  Being able to print a manifest sheet on your own computer is wonderful, but shrinking it to 8 ½ x 11” just isn’t the same.

Also back before the lists were available online, the index/soundex to the lists consisted of microfilmed index cards that would reference a group and a line number.  The group number was the page, and the line was the line on that page. That does not sound very difficult, but the problem was that the pages were not clearly numbered.  In fact, there were usually multiple numbers, either handwritten or stamped, at the top of every page. Case in point – here are two images…one is the left-hand side of the top of the page, the other is the right-hand side.  Note the multiple numbers!

pl 1Will the real page number please reveal yourself?

pl 2

Once you figured out which one of these was the actual group number, then it was easy.  But, jumping directly to the page in question is a big time saver in research!  I consider this one to be like the difference between using a tv remote and getting up to change the channel on the television (if you’re old enough to remember what that was like).  Sure, you can change it by hand, but it’s so much easier to change it from the couch!


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