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From the Ancestry Daily News  
  Michael John Neill – 8/17/2000

My Ancestor Went Home Again, Part 1

Editor's Note: This article is the first in a two-part series.

Family tradition held that my ancestor, Foche Goldenstein, made three return trips to Germany to visit his parents and relatives. While his return trips were of interest to me, researching them was not extremely high on my list of priorities. I already knew his date and place of birth (1857, Wrisse, Germany) and had located information on several generations of his ancestors. There were ancestors for whom I had less information, and most of my time was focused on those individuals. But even obtaining "extra" information on an ancestor can provide you with unexpected information.

I recently spent some time at the Allen County Public Library during the Millenium Conference. Despite the number of staff available, due to the number of researchers, it took an hour to obtain books from the stacks. Instead of sitting and waiting, I decided to see if I could locate information on Foche's return trip using the library's microfilm copies of passenger lists from the National Archives.

Family tradition was not helpful in estimating a date of Foche's trip home. The only clue was that Foche took barbed wire back to Germany on his return trip. This was interesting, but not very helpful in locating information on his arrival. I was going to have to work on hunches and assumptions, keeping in mind that they were hunches and assumptions and that if they did not pan out after reasonable effort, I should explore other possibilities.

I decided to begin searching for Foche in the New York City arrivals. Reading the National Archives Web page "Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals" would have been an excellent idea—before I did the research. Unfortunately, I did it afterward.

I followed my hunch and started my search with the Index (Soundex) to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, NY, July 1, 1902-December 31, 1943 ( Get more details on this index.). Based on what I knew about Foche and his family, I decided that he most likely made his return trips between 1900 and his death in 1913. To search for Foche in this index (which is a actually a Soundex), I needed the Soundex code for his surname. The library had a book that contained Soundex codes for many surnames. The Soundex code for Goldenstein is G435.

Many indexes (notably those to many 1880-1920 federal census records) are Soundexes. More information on Soundex is available at the National Archives Web site.

There were entries for at least two different individuals, which I was not expecting with such an unusual name. Based upon the ages and years of arrival listed on the index card for each one, I chose to focus on one from 1910. While I knew I did not have time to research all the Foches listed, I copied ALL the cards (there were only a handful) so that I could complete the research at a later date.

Being unfamiliar with arrivals during this time period, I asked one of the reference staff how I should interpret the numbers. She directed me to a guide to reading the numbers from the cards that explained how to then look up the entries in the passenger lists. I would look up the other entries later when I had more time. This would be done when I returned home, via loan from my local family history centerTM. I also copied the "cheat sheet" that explained the Soundex card numbers. This would make it easier to order the film later, when I might not have easy access to someone who was familiar with the cards.

If your immigrant ancestor made a return trip to his (or her) homeland, the passenger lists created upon second (or third) arrival may provide more detailed information than the initial passenger list entry does. Early passenger lists don't always provide specific village of origin information. A passenger list from a later return trip home may provide clues as to the village of origin.

I located my Foche's arrival in 1910. There were a few surprises on the entry. In Part 2 of this article, I’ll explain what they were, as well as a few more things about lists of this type.

On-site Research Lessons Learned from This Experience

1) Bring more than enough to do—but have clear and definite priorities.

2) Have basic information on several ancestral lines. Bringing a laptop is good for this, or you can upload your files to one of the sites and access your files via the Internet at your research location. (Warning: this is possible at many libraries, but there could always be an exception)

3) Spread your research out, if possible (by geographic area, surname, and media). Microfilm readers may be busy, copiers may be down, it make take a while for materials to be brought from the stacks, someone else may be using the materials you need, etc. Have other quick "lookups" you can perform for yourself on your list. These tasks should be short and should not require intense concentration—they can be done while waiting for your "real" research items to arrive, become available, etc.

4) Have a sheet with all the Soundex codes for your surnames. This is preferable to performing the conversion on the fly. Facilities that have books containing thousands of surnames and their Soundex codes might not have the code you need. The Soundex conversion book I used did not contain Soundex codes for several variations of the Desmarais surname, and I spent (err . . . wasted) time at the library converting spelling variants to their equivalent Soundex codes.

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 Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his Web site.

© Copyright 2000,, used with permission



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