Evaluation of evidence
Some sources can be considered as more reliable than others; these include records where there was a real personal incentive to get the information correct or a penalty for reporting wrong information.
These can include many government created documents such as birth certificates, military registration records, naturalisation records and so on. As we’ve heard in previous steps, these incentives do not mean that everything on the records can be considered 100% accurate.
In this step and the next, we present three sources and evaluate them for reliability and for the amount and type of information that can be gleaned. These were created either by or in relation to two individuals; George R. HUNT and Alma L. BLOUNT who married in the 1920s, lived in Shanghai, China and immigrated to Australia.
The questions to consider for each source are:
1) What information can be gained from this source?
2) How reliable is that information? Can we trust that the source is telling the truth?
3) After looking at the source what research could we undertake next?
The source presented here is a document created by officialdom and thus could be considered more reliable than a source created by an individual for their own purposes. However, as we’ll see, this does not mean mistakes are not made.
1) This is a digital image of a passenger list of alien passengers bound for the USA created in 1930. Information contained is extensive and includes names, nationality, ports bound from and to, last permanent residence, who the individual is joining (if a friend or relation), condition of health and so on.
2) This is an official source with the information taken by the purser of the ship and provided to the U.S. immigration officer upon arrival in the United States. From the 1st of July 1924, everyone arriving in the USA needed an entry document so a passenger could not just report whatever they liked to the purser; the information provided would have to match that of the entry document. These could be birth certificates for natural born US citizens, naturalisation papers for naturalised US citizens, or a visa which would have to be applied for from a U.S. embassy. All of this means that while mistakes could be made on the lists and people could have provided false information to the embassy staff, it is not highly likely.
From knowledge of the family, it can be seen that a small mistake has been made by the purser who has indicated in line 23 that George HUNT is to join ‘Sister. Miss Marie Blount, Tempe, Arizona’ when Marie Blount is his wife’s sister. In Alma HUNT’s line 23 it is noted that she is to join, ‘Sister-in-law’. It is clear that this information has been transposed but it is a good reminder not to take any information at face value.
3) Research to consider next would be tracing the nearest relative of George HUNT listed in line 17, finding the outgoing passenger information from the UK for this voyage, finding any trace of visas created in Shanghai and then any information on their voyage to Shanghai from the West coast of the United States.
In the next step, we’ll consider two documentary sources which were not created by government officials and can be thought of as less obvious genealogical sources.
Additional PDF versions of the documents featured in this article are available in the ‘Downloads’ section below.
Inline images: U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration Service. Passenger list for S.S. Majestic departing Southampton, England 22 October 1930; arriving New York City, USA 28 October 1930. HUNT, Alma and HUNT, George Richardson. Collection: New York City Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. http://www.findmypast.com : accessed 26 January 2016.
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