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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 10/1/2003

From Jans to August: Passenger Lists from the Nineteenth Century

This week we continue our ongoing look at nineteenth century passenger lists by comparing the actual record with the index from which it was located and with other records on the immigrant after his settlement in the United States. We will first look at a pair of German siblings and then a young Belgian family.

Jans Janssen
Jans was discussed in an earlier column, Before and After 'Germans to America.' I thought I had found an entry for him and his sister in this reference, but needed to check additional records in the United States and obtain the actual copy of the manifest before concluding I had the "right" guy.

Jans' entry in the 1920 Census (Federal Census for Illinois, Hancock County, Bear Creek Township, Sheet 5B, entry for John J. Johnson) indicates an immigration date of 1883. Jans' obituary and the Janssen Family History, privately published in 1983, also provide this same year of immigration. It is likely the compiler of the family history obtained the immigration year from the obituary, but it is not likely the obituary information originated with the census. So I don't really have three sources that give this date--only two. Despite the consistencies, I'm always a little hesitant to accept years of immigration given forty years after the fact as beyond reproach (however, I have noted that the year of the event is more likely to be remembered correctly than the exact date). These years also tend to be more accurate if the individual immigrated as an adult and if the information is being given relatively close to the time when the immigration actually took place. Concerns aside, at least the years of immigration agree.

A closer read of John's obituary indicates that he and sister Feke arrived together. Additional research on Feke may locate a record where she provides a date of immigration as well.

According to the 1920 Census (Federal Census for Illinois, Hancock County, Harmony Twp., Sheet IB, entry for family of John Herberts [sic]), Jans' sister Feke Janssen Harberts immigrated in 1883. While additional census work needs to be done, this year was consistent with Jans' own census entries and the story that Jans and Feke immigrated together. The conclusion from records located in the area of final settlement is that Jans and Feke came to the United States together in 1883.

What Is Missing?
A copy of the manifest, that's what. Simply locating the reference in Germans to America is not sufficient. If I am really convinced I have the right entry, I need to see the manifest. The reference in Germans to America that I am hoping is the right one was to a Jans Janssen and a Teke (not Feke) Janssen.

The Real Deal
The actual manifest entry for "Teke" certainly looks like "Teke." Their ages are clearly 26 for Jans and 20 for Teke. Unfortunately other than Jans' occupation of farmer, no other significant details are provided on the manifest. However, based upon information in the United States and Jans and Feke's known ages from church records in Germany, it seems very likely that this is the correct couple on the manifest. The minor variant in Feke's name could easily be explained by sloppy handwriting. The names on the entire manifest page were read in an attempt to get a better fix on the handwriting style of the clerk.

Easier to Understand Transcription Problems
When one reads the manifest for the Janssens, a greater appreciation is had of the difficulties involved in creating secondary sources from such records. Readers who wish to view the actual manifest entries may do so here:

The Mortiers
I was fortunate enough to locate a reference to another family member on the Immigrant Ship Transcriber's site ( ). The entry indicated that August, Sophie, and Mary Mortier arrived on 13 May 1880 on board the SS State of Georgia.

The data on the Immigrant Ship Transcriber's site is uploaded by volunteers and is not exhaustive. While this site is an excellent reference, researchers should not conclude their ancestor is not on a manifest simply because she is not listed on this site. This site, like many others, is a finding aid in progress. It is not presently complete. And this site, just like Germans to America, is not the original source. However, I'm really glad it exists because it saved me hours in locating this couple.

Are They the Right Mortiers?
I think so, but I need to do more Mortier work to be certain. The surname Mortier is decidedly less common than Janssen, but just because the surname is unusual does not mean I have a guaranteed match. A further analysis of the records is in order.

My reading of the actual manifest of the SS State of Georgia agrees with the transcription on the Immigrant Ship Transcriber's site. (Source: list number 542, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York 1820-1897, National Archives microfilm publication number M237, roll 426). That rendering is:

August Mortier, aged 24
Mary Mortier, aged 28
Sophie, aged 7 months

Based upon their date of immigration, they should be listed in the 1880 census. And, sure enough, they are.

August appears in the 1880 census for the city of Moline, Illinois, taken on June 25 of 1880. The family is enumerated as:

August, aged 24
Louise, aged 25
Sophie, aged 3

Slightly different information from the passenger list, but not significantly so. The census ages for the Mortier family agree with other records except that August and Sophie have not actually turned 24 and 3 as of the census date (both were less than one month from their birth date, however).

Family Sources?
Based upon family sources and the dates and places of birth of their children, the Mortiers were known to have immigrated between the 1877 birth of Sophie in Belgium and the date of their enumeration in the 1880 census. The only variation on the manifest is the first name of mother. Her age discrepancy is not a concern either--the three-year variation is minor and could easily be explained by a misread "5" or "8" when a clerk was making a clean copy of a record. I think I've got the right family on the 1880 manifest for the SS State of Georgia.

Readers who wish to learn more about locating actual manifests once references have been obtained can read the previous article Before and After 'Germans to America', or they can visit the National Archives and Records Administration Website.

Before searching passenger lists, I like to do as much of the following as possible:

--- Find the individual in all extant census records.
--- Search for naturalization records and declarations of intent.
--- Obtain an obituary if possible.
--- Search county histories and other historical materials for any published biographies of the individual, his children, children-in-law, or grandchildren.
--- Obtain a death certificate.
--- Obtain the individual's marriage record.
--- Determine church records are available.

There are other possible sources, but these will get one off to a good start.

Copyright 2003, Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can email him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

This article used by the author on his website with permission.

Other articles by Michael John Neill