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Using the Ellis Island Database (EIDB) Effectively

Chasing Other Villagers, Friends and Family

Spelling Errors | Identify Possible Village Names | 1-Step

"Stickiness"| Missing Manifests

The Ellis Island Database (EIDB) can be a very powerful tool for locating an immigrant's place of origin or to trace initial points of entry of other family or friends.  However, you will quickly recognize the shortcomings both of the database itself and of the transcribers who entered the data.  So you must be prepared to think out of the box. 

If you have invented other methods to attack the EIDB, please drop me a note and share the wealth.  I'd be pleased to include your contribution.  These strategies are general enough to be useful in researching immigrants from most any county.

Suggested Strategies

For the most part, these strategies assume you have already done the initial "Cherry Picking."  That is, you've searched on known or reported names, dates and places.   If not, I direct you to make a list of potential name spellings and identify possible village names before embarking on this next step. 

Here is where your creativity steps in.  Listed below are various ways to find people in the manifests, working around the inherent warts and blemishes previously.

The "Sticky Theory"  Immigrants tended to stick together.  Often they traveled together or settle close to their friends, family or villagers.   Using the "sticky theory" you can often find your subject.

III. Identify other travelers who may have been from similarly-spelled village names. 

A clever idea here is to check for other surnames who may have been from that village.  Having used Step (II) to identify names from your villages, now query EIDB for those surnames.  See if you can come up with others with the same surname.  This will help you catch the names of other villagers who are on manifests but have village name in error.  Now you're beginning to assemble a list of immigrants from the village.

Now, here's the important step.  Go back to each manifest for these travelers and check the entire manifest.  Again, Check all name variations and possible mistakes.

Does this sound like a lot of work?  Well, it's a helluva lot easier than it was pre-EIDB, when you had to order film for each manifest and visually scan every manifest.  We only had SOUNDEX as an indexing system.  Not only was the progress slow, most people never had the time to conduct their research this comprehensively.  Consider yourself lucky and stop complaining! ;)

IV. Determine if village names as written in the manifests (including all variations) exist or existed. 

Well, I asked you to collect all the possible village names before.  If you haven't, do it now, and repeat Steps (II) and (III).

V. Determine if any family with the surname still remains in Slovakia and if so where.

Often  we really don't know how our surname should have been spelled in the old country.  This may lead to to difficulty when faced with names like "Dzuba" and "Dzura".  If you know the village name, you may be able to query your names in the phone book and see what surnames exist in the village.  Now, this is only a "quick check" and is not conclusive, especially since people move around.  You will still need corroborative evidence of your village name in order gain certainty.  Also keep in mind that the older the document, the closer the spelling will be to what was used in the old country.

If you don't know the ancestral village and you're not sure which immigrant is yours on EIDB, consider using the online Slovak Republic Phone Book as a quick check on the name.  Again, You will still need corroborative evidence of your village name in order gain certainty.

What both of these steps do is provide you with some reason to focus in on particular entries.

As with all strategies, you'll need to modify it to the data at hand and customize it to your intended goal.


a) We cannot necessarily assume that the place name shown is accurate.  We must seek a means to corroborate the data.

b) Manifests before about 1898 often did not articulate the village name.  For these manifests, this strategy is inappropriate.

c) Always consider misspellings (Have I said this enough?)

d) Consider travelers from all years, not just the year of the target immigrant.  Look at everyone with this surname (unless your name is Smith or Jones!)  Just because Gramps immigrated in 1909 is not a good enough reason to discount looking at the same name from 1918.  How do you know he didn't do another "world tour?"  Many immigrants went back and forth early on and never told their descendants about the trip.  Remember, one immigrant may lead to another.


Example A: Place name articulated on the manifest, but it can't be located on current with standard methods.  We've already considered Magyar/Slovak name variations and misspellings.

Q:  I've found my great grandmothers name on a ship manifest from Ellis Island.  Her name is Maria Mikulics and she came over with her father and sister Ansal (spelling?) and Katarina. The manifest said their birth place was Zavod Hungary.  I can't seem to find a place called Zavod. Can anyone give me an idea of where I might look next?

A: Here's the approach:

I. Identify other travelers on the same ship who may have been from the same village or nearby.

Proximity on the Manifest - By First, take a look at that manifest page that Maria Mikulics is found on (March 14, 1907). Look down below Maria's name, lines 5-13. There are many people from ZAVOD. Since they are located close on the manifest and have the same village name, I'm going to assume for a moment they may all be from the same village.  These people are highly likely to come from the same village.  You do not have enough evidence to prove this yet.  Don't forget to check other pages of the same manifest.  There may be some villagers that ended up on different pages.

Now write down all the surnames you see from that manifest page. You'll need them later.

II. Identify other travelers on different journeys who may have been from the same village

Go to Steve Morse's 1-step tool, which allows you to query EIDB by village name.  Search for the village of ZAVOD, selecting the "names beginning with..." option. Notice the other misspellings of MIKULICS. Notice the other people from the manifest.

III. Identify other travelers who may have been from similarly-spelled village names. 

1-Step is great for doing partial village name searches.  I like to search for the first few letters.  Handwriting usually gets sloppier the longer the word is.  Notice similar surnames from ZAVOD in step (I) are also noted from ZAVODJE.

IV. Determine if village names as written in the manifests (including all variations) exist or existed.  Use old an new maps and other references as necessary.

There are three different ZAVODJE and one ZAVOD located in present-day Slovakia. Use this map (for present-day names) to find them. I'm still not ready to draw any conclusions. Just collecting information.

V. Determine if any family with the surname still remains in Slovakia and if so where.

The name MIKULICS was an old Magyar spelling, as evidenced by the "CS" construct. I'll bet (based on experience) it's present-day Slovak spelling would be something like "MIKULIC" with a diacritical accent mark above the "C" ( Mikulič ). Now, I like to use the online Slovakia telephone directory for getting some ideas for name spelling and if there is anyone possibly with this surname. Peter Nagy has some great instructions on how to use it.   Remember, not everyone has a telephone or a listing!  [Note: The village "wildcard" character has changed to an underscore "_" placed in this field.  This will yield results for all villages., 5/7/7]

I'll approach the telephone directory this way: Search for the surname beginning with MIK (least amount of characters you need), at the same time searching for a village named "ZAV". Now here is where it really gets interesting. Of all the results, I find these suspects:

Peter Mikulič from the village of Závod

Štefan Mikulič from the village of Závod

Let's get a clue. Look up the area code for these people. (You could go right to a contemporary map, but I've got other ideas - be patient!)  The area code is 034 for both people. Using this area code map published by Mr. Nagy we find it's just north of Bratislava, in Senica telephone district. Hmm. Well, here we are, back in the east again. Wait a minute. Check the map again. There is only one ZAVOD on this map - it's also north of Bratislava.

VI. Corroborate the other travelers on the manifest with present-day data.

Now, the other surnames you noted from the manifest.

Jozef Puškáč Sokolská , Závod

Peter Milac Závod

Rather coincidental, don't you think.  Three surnames all who came from the village of Zavod in 1907 have phone numbers in Zavod today?  It is now my position that you have enough coincidental circumstantial evidence to focus your search on the village of Zavod.


Passenger Manifest Essay References

This list includes articles which I have found particularly well-written and enlightening.

Improved access to customs passenger lists - Heritagequest Magazine, Feb. 2003

European Passenger Departure Lists - Heritagequest Magazine, April, 2004

Useful U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)/INS References - BCIS/INS Articles

Morse's Code - A good introduction to the Morse 1-Step tools - Heritagequest Magazine, June, 2004

Manifest Notations

Markings on the Manifest's Occupation Column, from JewishGen

What are these numbers written on a ship passenger manifest?, from INS/BCIS

Other Useful INS/BCIS references, Q&A's



Passenger Departure List Resources


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Last Update: 15 November 2020                                                    Copyright © 2003-2021, Bill Tarkulich