I am sorry to be the persnickety 'expert' scaring off newbiews by downvoting too hastily, but I am bothered by the question Ship Passenger Manifest showing Theresa Briget Connellan as it is currently written. To preserve the original form of the question I will quote it here:

I am trying to find a ship passenger manifest listing Thersa Briget Connellan born in Clare Ireland Apr. 27, 1908. She would have sailed approx. 1923 and arrived at Ennis Island NY. The family would like to have her name added to a monument which lists the passengers who sailed from Ireland. We have found her on the Ennis website but we need the departure manifest as proof of her leaving Ireland.

So far @bgwiehle and I have made a couple of lookups and posted some comments. I would like to see a little more research effort from the person who wrote the question before going on with it. My concerns (from smaller to larger) are:

  1. As written the question runs afoul of the sensible suggestion to avoid writing question titles which have the names of individuals in them. (Keeping the question title about the problem rather than the person is a useful technique to avoid low-content cousin-bait.)
  2. Technically speaking, at what point are we in violation of the Ancestry Terms of Service when we provide lookups for other people who do not have their own accounts there? Besides, I thought it wasn't the point of G&FH.SE to be a lookup service, but instead to guide/teach others in how to do research better for themselves. How can we phrase comments to avoid the impression that we are a lookup service? (I see this has already been discussed in How to handle “look up” requests?)
  3. If the result of our work will be part of a physical memorial, that in and of itself becomes part of the historical record. This to me calls for a higher standard of accuracy than simply playing the "can I find things on Google faster or better than the next person" game with which I've amused myself on G&FH.SE so far. Note the big red flag word PROOF. There's a huge difference between me finding manifests about my husband's own family, where I can say to them "these are the manifests which most closely match what you have in your own family's papers, and here's how I can explain the discrepancies", or digging out a record for another experienced family historian here, versus this question, where I might be handing over a raw search result to someone who might have little to no understanding of how to properly do research, never mind the Genealogical Proof Standard or whatever equivalent standard of work you'd like to invoke.

As I said in my comment on the question, I would like to see some more input from the person who wrote the question, instead of just handing over a list of possible arrivals. As written, I don't feel it is possible to make any kind of definitive answer that a particular manifest is the person that Mark is looking for.

Editing the question to add some material from comments I wrote on ColeValleyGirl's answer and then deleted.

I appreciate her efforts to re-write the question for clarity. My difficulty with the question in both its original form and its edited one is that the question doesn't make any sense. If you have found someone on the Ellis Island website, then why not just read the manifest while you are there? What's the impediment?

If, on the other hand, the questioner has some other record that asserts that the person came through Ellis Island, I want to know what that record is and what it says. How can I judge the reliability of a piece of evidence when I don't know its provenance? How can I advise them on the best ways to cope with unreliability?

In the example in my answer, we had a handwritten family record with the arrival date and ship name on it. We don't know the date that this record was made, except that it had to be after 1930 when the Naturalization certificate was issued, because the Certificate number is also on this summary of information. We can guess at who the informant might be by the handwriting on the document. The manifest I think is ours has the same ship name, and the same arrival month, but the arrival date doesn't match. The family document must have been created three decades after the first arrival mentioned in it, and two decades after the second one. If you insist on precision, like expecting someone's birthdate to be exactly right, you aren't going to find things. This is why I wanted to know where the questioners information came from.


I'm not worried by the use of a specific name in a title as long as it's part of a more generic title (and question) -- i.e. where a specific example is being used to illustrate an generic (but bounded) problem and/or solution (and not a lazy 'Looking for any information on Fred Bloggs'!)

In fact, I'd positively encourage it: for many people, including a specific example is most likely to (1) inspire them to write a question; and (2) feel some ownership for that question and keep coming back to improve it if necessary. Also, many people learn best by following a worked example, not by reading generic material -- they can understand better how it applies to their problem even if the people named aren't their ancestors.

However, just because a question has a specific example in it, that doesn't mean the answers should be simple look-ups -- in fact they absolutely must not be -- that doesn't help anyone except the OP (and it doesn't help them much either).

A good answer to the question in question here would have included:

  • A link to other questions that have already discussed sources of information about immigration to the US in the period in question
  • Advice narrowing down or expanding which sources should be consulted and why, and where they're available (this piece could have addressed immigration records, ships manifests, emigration records, passports, ... ) and also talked about what information wasn't recorded and why (and so is a waste of time to search for) and where arrivals were processed into the US when.
  • What information is needed to search those sources effectively, and how to work around missing information
  • Some caveats about differing spelling/recording of names, and the unreliability of oral history about dates and places and people.

All of which could have been done without the OP providing any more info. (I agree that clarifying that the supposed port of arrival was Ellis Island would have been useful, but it wasn't essential). The OP could then have pursued their own research to whatever 'quality' standards they want to apply, and others with similar problems would have been able to benefit as well.

Perhaps a rewrite of the question could also have added a little value -- something along the lines of:

I'm trying to locate a passenger on a passenger manifest from Ireland to USA in the 1920s. Here's the specific example I'm interested in, and what I've discovered so far. How can I go about it?

That would put the focus squarely on the methodology, but still retain the benefits of a real-world example (and demonstrate tat the OP had actually done some work of their own).

  • 1
    I've reworded the question -- hope it gets re-opened. – user104 Aug 13 '14 at 16:21

I share some of your concerns and am very glad that you raised them so eloquently here. As a result I made the title on the cited question more generic and it was unsuccessfully placed on hold to try and elicit more input from its asker.

It is a fine line we walk between providing some unsolicited lookups to try and build our user base and helping to train genealogists and family historians in methods that they can use. It is how well we do the latter that will be our lasting memorial so I think any lookups performed should only be incidental to providing help on methodology.

I sometimes downvote even newbies on other SE sites with much higher traffic but to try and attract more questions and visits here am extra cautious about exercising that option here.


Two points

  • The original poster asked his question and has not visited the site since that date, and, presumably, has not seen the comments asking for more information. Is there some way to let new posters know, at the time the question is posted, that they should return to the site to see updates and answers, as they will not get an email alert unless they set their preferences to do so?

  • In my comment to the question, I referenced a possible 1925 match that I couldn't follow through. The point, however, was that that match was not on the Ellis Island site, since 1924 is the cut-off year for that database. Researchers need to be aware of date ranges of the databases they work with.

  • Good catch! I missed the date bound of 1924 for ellisisland.org . – Jan Murphy Aug 15 '14 at 18:49
  • W.r.t first dot point we could probably have note at beginning of Tour but I think first post triggering additional information might need an enhancement request on Meta SE – PolyGeo Aug 15 '14 at 19:45
  • Might make sense in the help to encourage users to set their preferences to be emailed their unread messages (which will include comment alerts). – user104 Aug 16 '14 at 13:29
  • Re preferences - I couldn't remember what the default settings had been when I registered for the site. And I was a user for a while before I posted my first question. – bgwiehle Aug 16 '14 at 14:47

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