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Monday, June 13, 2005

Essential Sites: Ellis Island in One Step

In web design, it's always a mistake to choose form over function. Google's design is bare-boned, but perfectly suited to the task of searching the web. The Ellis Island passenger record site is attractive, but its original interface made its 25-million-name database useless for many researchers.

The alternative for genealogists whose immigrant ancestors were not named "Smith" or "Brown" but "Wiszniewski" is Dr. Stephen Morse's Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step.

The key to a good search engine is the combination of parameters by which one can limit a search. The One-Step interface expands the possibilities by taking full advantage of the Ellis Island website. By sometimes requiring less (say, only the first three letters of the surname) and sometimes more (the town of origin, or the passenger's ethnicity), search results may be expanded or reduced. "There is no required field, not even the last name," the site boasts, though in practice one may have to fill in most of the fields for a useful outcome, especially if the name searched for is common.

In December of 2004, the Ellis Island website acknowledged One-Step's contribution, and upgraded its own site to include Morse's interface as a new Advanced Passenger Search. Why visit the One-Step site? If a manifest you need to view comes up missing, One-Step provides a back door to finding it. Have an Ancestry.com membership? One-Step allows you to search for records from other ports of entry. There are pages for searching vital records, naturalization records, census records, and more. See a full list of available search interfaces here.

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