Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


The following article appeared in "The Lithuanian Museum Review," published by the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 6500 S. Pulaski Rd., Chicago, IL 60629. (773) 582-6500. E-mail: editor@lithuanian-museum.org.

As we enter a new century, we look back to a century ago when thousands of Lithuanians left their homeland for a new life in America. Several generations have passed since that time, and often the facts, details, and circumstances surrounding this major upheaval for a family were not personally recorded. As third and fourth generation persons search for information about their ancestral heritage, there are several sources they can turn to for help.

This issue we are featuring the Ship Passenger Arrival Records available from the U.S. National Archives. Many people have discovered fascinating information about their ancestors from these registers. To begin with, I suggest writing the National Archives, Textual Reference Branch, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20408 to request five (5) copies of form NATF-81, "National Archives Order for Copies of Ship Passenger Arrival Records." These are free, but order five because you may need to fill more than one out for your ancestors in order to cover various ports of entry and/or spelling variances.

In the meantime, check with your family clan members to see if anyone has any documents relating to your ancestorís arrival here in America. If your ancestor became a U.S. citizen, try and locate their "Declaration of Intention" to become U.S. citizen form. You are specifically looking for the port city, the ship name, and the date of entry. In order to help receive a positive answer from the Archives, you must at least list the port city. If you do not know, just guess and put "New York" for starters, which is where the majority of persons entered at Ellis Island. You must send in a separate form in for each port, so if you do not know I suggest this following order: New York, then Philadelphia, then Boston.

When you receive your NATF-81 forms from the National Archives, fill them out, supplying as much information as you know. Be sure and use the spelling your ancestor probably used when they came to America. The Archives will then search their master "Soundex" index and try and find your ancestorís actual name on a ship passenger list. For example, my maternal grandfatherís name was Nikodemas Kulikauskas, which on the Soundex code would be cataloged as K-422. You may even have to fill out two separate forms, each with different Soundex codes because of possible spelling variances that would change the code.

You can actually look up a Soundex index yourself on microfilm at major libraries across the country, including the Great Lakes branch of the National Archives located just a mile south of the Balzekas Museum on S. Pulaski Road. Request a pamphlet which will explain the Soundex code that you can use to find the code for your own family surname.

Send the NATF-81 form back to Washington, D.C., and you keep the bottom copy. You will then have to wait about two months. If they find your ancestorís name, they will ask you to send $10 to their Atlanta, Georgia address. That takes about two weeks. You will then receive your Xerox copy of the actual record.

The passenger list records contain much information, such as the persons name, country of origin, place of birth, nationality, race, their destination, the address of the nearest relative from whence they came, how much money they were bringing to America with them, occupation, names of persons traveling with them, their destination, and other information depending upon the particular form used. Be aware that alternative spellings in Polish, Russian, or Jewish names can be used for place names instead of Lithuanian.

If you receive a letter back stating that the archives could not find your ancestors name, donít despair. You can look up the Soundex indexes yourself at major libraries. You may have to go through a variety of spellings and ports, but be persistent in your search. Donít get frustrated; be patient, and treat this like a friendly hobby.

When you are successful and get the pages of the ship record with your ancestors name on it, study it carefully. Notice the names of other persons on the same page. See if they were from the same town. Notice what their destination was. This information may be helpful. If you cannot make something out because of bad handwritten (be prepared for that), look elsewhere on the same page to find a similar entry as an example which may be more clear. Relatedly, do not be surprised if the penmanship looks like a doctorís prescription on these records. Many of these names were written hastily, or under stressful conditions of trying to understand a foreigner who didnít know the German or English languages.

When interpreting the data there are several things I could mention here. Do not let the name of the country confuse you. Prior to World War I, there were only three countries in central and Eastern Europe: Germany, Austria, and Russia. Their large sweeping boundaries covered many nationalities and so a person from Lithuania for example could be listed under Russia, Germany, or even Poland which was recognized as a distinct region.

I wish you the best in the search for your ancestorís ship record. At present I have been unable to locate the ship passenger arrival record of my grandfather who came to America in 1911 (probably at New York) but I keep trying. I have come across other Lithuanians however, on various passenger lists, and one sample list is illustrated here. If you are successful in your own particular search, please be sure and make a copy for the archives here at the Balzekas Museum which we will cherish and keep in our permanent collection for future research.

The Konstantine Kondratas family from Luoke, Lithuania (Telsiai County) is found on this ship passenger manifest from the ship Smolensk, which arrived in New York on November 23, 1906.

More articles about genealogy by Frank Passic.

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