Difference between Passenger Ship Lists

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Here is an article written by Ursula B. Adamson

To all who are confused about GTA and other Passenger Lists. Please allow me to take a stab at explaining to you the difference between Passenger Ships Lists.

1) First of all, there are different Passenger Lists namely the DEPARTURE Lists for the Port from which the emigrant (with an 'e') left; these DEPARTURE lists were issed at the Port of HAMBURG or at the Port of BREMEN (Liverpool, or what-have-you).

The DEPARTURE lists are the most complete and accurate of all passenger ship lists because they were recorded by German-speaking clerks in the language of the emigrant. These lists contain the name, age, profession, hometown, and destination of each passenger.

The DEPARTURE Lists for the Port of BREMEN are no longer available (were destroyed because of space constraints at the shipping companies where they were housed).

The DEPARTURE Lists for the Port of HAMBURG are available on microfilm at your local FHC. If you're one of the lucky ones whose ancestor came through Hamburg then these are the lists you want to research.

Because the DEPARTURE Lists for Bremen are gone, GTA and others are using the ARRIVAL Lists, which were recorded upon an immigrants arrival in the US (most often these had been copied by hand using the Departure list as a reference) for submission to the NY customs authorities.

2) Then there are the ARRIVAL lists that were prepared upon the immigrants (with 'i') arrival at the US Port. These lists were prepared by English-speaking clerks in that they (as previously mentioned) copied the info from the German Departure list for submission to the New York Customs Authority for payment of the so-called 'head tax'. Because the ARRIVAL lists were issued by non-German speaking clerks they are often fraught with spelling errors and quite often do not contain the same information as was on the original manifest. You must realize that as the daily flood of immigrants increased - especially around 1880 - and the number of passengers on any given ship grew into the hundreds, the clerks didn't waste much time and only copied the data that was absolutely essential for submission to the authorities.

3) Re: Germans-to-America Series. The data extracted by this intrepid group of transcribers was taken exclusively from Passenger ARRIVAL lists (the ones recorded by Americans). In only the rarest of cases will it give the place (town) of origin. In some cases you will find reference to Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Homburg, Saxony, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Bavaria etc. While these published volumes cover almost 40+ years of immigration, they contain only a very small percentage of all immigrant ships arriving in America!!

Because the GTA series has gotten very bad reviews especially by German researchers for its lack of completeness and inaccuracies, one should use the series only as a reference! So when any of you assume you will find more accurate or complete info at GTA than on the 'orignal handwritten manifest', you seriously mistaken!

The same caution should be exercised when searching the passenger lists transcribed by the many other organizations -- they all have one thing in common - American-speaking transcribers, unfamiliarity with common German names, misspelled names, omissions because of the poor legibility of the original data and just plain human error.

If you have a choice, you should always look for the 'handwritten' manifest or at least compare the info against the 'printed one' available at Genealogy.com or Ancestry.com. And as if there weren't enough errors in anyone of them, I have come across cases where there are differences in these two on-line services as well - often misread names, indexing errors, etc.

Now that Ancestry.com has a large number of the 'original manifests' available on line, I can't see any reason why anybody would even bother with GTA since they are only transcriptions.

Re: Country of Origin: GERMANY vs PRUSSIA. The worst thing that can happen to you is to find the country of origin defined as "GERMANY" as it covers any and all of the German states. If the manifest says 'PRUSSIA' (and you have read up on its history and the countries that were part of Prussia when your ancestor immigrated), then, depending on the year of immigration, it excludes those states that were not part of Prussia, e.g. Mecklenburg-Schwerin & Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Hessen, and others.

I hope that this little ditty has cleared up some of the confusion over passenger lists.

Happy hunting, Ursula

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