Beware Ancestry's "Passenger and Immigration Lists Index"

+6 votes
I have been working on William Eldredge's profile, which originally had the following text from a GEDCOM import: === Event=== Event: Type: Arrival Date: 1645.

A source was even given:  Ancestry's "Passenger and Immigration Lists Index".  A friendly Wikitree-er went behind the paywall for me and told me the entry from that index, which had just one source:  Founders of Early American Families by Meredith B. Colket, Jr.  Unfortunately, that is also not free online.  I have now tracked down the page in that book, and it references nothing other than well-known sources already on the profile.

William Eldredge's immigration date and circumstances are unknown.  He was in Yarmouth in 1645.  Colket gives this information as "1645" with no supporting context about what it means.  This was then transferred into the Ancestry database as an exact "arrival" year.  Ugh.  

It doesn't help any that it was categorized as "Arrival" in the GEDCOM dump.  Is that a result of someone's categorization in their Ancestry tree, or was this categorization automated in some way based off the source being the Passenger and Immigration lists?  If it's the latter, is there something Wikitree developers could do that would help prevent this type of misconception?
WikiTree profile: William Eldredge
in The Tree House by Barry Smith G2G6 Mach 7 (79.6k points)
edited by Barry Smith

5 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

Whenever using anything, on any genealogy site, that says it is an index, you have to go find the real source. An index is NOT a source. It is a tool to find the source. As was pointed out, Ancestry records do say where the original source was obtained.

As to the utility of Ancestry, they have some source records that aren't online in other places. They also have a better search engine side than FamilySearch. The Ancestry trees can't be used for anything more than a possible hint at a genealogy but then they aren't something a real genealogist would use as a source. The records, on the other hand, are very useful. As with all records, you have to understand what that record is and what it is not. Blanket statements about all of Ancestry being not useful is not truly understanding what it is. It may be the ONLY place to find a record without either traveling to where the originals are stored or paying something like US$20 for a copy of a record that you won't know is the wrong one until you get it in the mail.

Anyway, the trees on Ancestry are for the masses who are name collectors. The records are for genealogists. You don't ever have to see the trees if you don't want to.

by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (340k points)
selected by Leigh Anne Dear
I can't see either their records or their trees, so it makes no difference to me. Fortunately, I have not come across a bunch of records I need that I can only find through Ancestry.

Completely agree Doug, I have a perfect example of how using Ancestry links to original documents can prove free citations wrong, including familysearch. Barry, there are advantages to cross-referencing sources as you did, in my experience Ancestry Sources are no more unreliable than others!

I also agree, trees on Ancestry and Ancestral Files on familysearch are not sources, as per wikitree standard. I would slightly disagree about the index thing, for example in more recent times... as an English Born Citizen I am registered on the GRO index. So are all my ancestors born after 1837, the index reference in this case is the wikitree standard.

+6 votes
If he was documented as being in Yarmouth in 1645, it would be reasonable to state he came before that date. It would be better to state that he is mentioned, listed, or whatever, in some record at the stated date in Yarmouth.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (264k points)
+8 votes

This is one of the main problems with using Ancestry as a souce.  The primary one is that so many of their trees contain so much incorrect information and use other incorrect Ancestry trees as sources.  As has been mentioned several times in these forums, Ancestry is usually best used as hints or suggestions; as a guide for doing further research for more credible sources such as some of their data collections.

From what I've seen, these are of mainly two groups, digitized records of actual documents, and compilations of information from various sources.  Those passenger. and immigration lists you mention are of the second sort.  Before using the information, one has to research it's source to try to find the original source for the bit of data, which hopefully would prove to be a good primary source.  Unfortunately, it has been my experience that some of the collections include "user submitted data", and when the data cannot be associated with its specific source, it makes all the information somewhat suspicious, in my opinion.

A good example is an Ancestry collection, Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850.  An ancestor of mine was listed with marriage data, but not specifically mention from where the info came.  In checking out the origins of the Ancestry collection, I came across this website which explained how the collection came into being.  Look at "UsageTips".

Source:Virginia, United States. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850

The part about user submitted information was the main clue for me.  Unfortunately, I could find no other source for the information, so I had to put an alert in the profile to point out the above and to take the info with a grain of salt.

Consequently, I try to never use Ancestry as a source, unless it is of the digitized original document type and only then when I can't find the document elsewhere, such as Family Search.

by Art Black G2G6 Mach 3 (30.7k points)
Good comments Art, I just typed my reply and then read yours - I agree with you completely.
Thanks for the comment, SJ, from everyone's replys it sounds like we're not the only ones to keep Ancestry at arm's length or further.
+7 votes
Ancestry sells content and they don't like to remove anything.  Unfortunately, this means that bad genealogy sticks.  I tend to look at Ancestry like I do Google - it is a search engine for sources, not a source in and of itself.
by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (748k points)
edited by SJ Baty
Agree with you SJ.  I look at the source on the Passenger index and then try to find the source somewhere else.  If it turns out to be valid then I use the source I found.  It really is more of a search engine, like you said.
Hah, I don't want to be welcomed to the soup!  This is yet another confirmation that I want nothing to do with Ancestry..
+6 votes

I’m no doubt going to cause controversy here but....

If you read the full ancestry citation you can see the following;

Source Citation

Place: Massachusetts; Year: 1645; Page Number: 99

Source Information U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010.

Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2012.

The top level was taken from a bibliography, yes, but the original source was William Philby. Please see next link on some views about Philbys work. I would probably say that if you don’t use this as a source you will not find a source, secondary, yes but a source nonetheless?


by Lizzie Griffiths G2G6 Pilot (103k points)
I guess I don't understand "if you don't use this as a source you will not find a source, secondary, yes but a source nonetheless"?  Regardless, are you saying if I look in a hardcopy version of Philby's book, I will find something other than to consult page 99 of Colket?  I'll check it out.  But I'm still not holding out hope that it provides a new source.
I’m English so not overly familiar with immigration records, however I believe Philby is the original source that Colket drew from, hence why the Ancestry source cites the bibliography for Colket which assumingly cites Philby? I’m not sure of Philbys original sources... I can just see that his work is generally well recognised,

What I meant was you may not ever be able to substantiate an actual document, so if Philbys research is generally regarded as sound it may be the only source you ever have. It’s not the original, so it’s a secondary source.

I hope it helps anyway,
Colket doesn't mention Philby on that page of her book.  But if she did get her sources from Philby, they are still the same sources that everybody who investigates William Eldredge already knows about.  Somehow, the 1645 date of "first record" got translated into 1645 year of arrival in the New World, and I don't doubt that putting it in an index called "Passenger and Arrival lists" is a big factor behind that misconception.
Agreed, it could be one giantic myth, but worth a look? I think the page listed on Ancestry takes you to the widely quoted statement of emigration thats been repeated over and over, and looks unsourced. however if its in the bibliography of the works that Philby is the source it suggests an older source... or like you suggest, a perpetual circle of falsities :-(

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