Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Another problem with CastleGarden.org

I previously wrote that I felt the lack of search flexibility was CastleGarden.org's biggest drawback. I still think that's the case, but I neglected to mention another criticism I emailed to the site developer: data accuracy. I read a few mailing lists posts from earlier today on this subject and felt I should write about what I found. I didn't try finding every ancestor I know who immigrated at New York, so I won't even guess at a percentage when it comes to how well the entries matched the original manifests. I did try a handful of surnames and found various problems with each.

The number one issue I found was that names, and in one case an age, simply did not match what was written on the manifests found on National Archives microfilm. I know that sometimes people will transcribe or interpret old records differently and not being familiar with certain names can be a problem. But in these cases, if they were using the same records I have, I do not know how some of these discrepancies can be explained. If a name is written "Theod." it's obvious the man's name was Theodor. But the index, in my opinion, should reflect what was on the original record, not what you think it should be. I also found an "Eva M." listed as "Eva Maria" at CastleGarden.org — how did they know that was her name? In the case of the age discrepancy, a child was listed as 11 months old on the manifest but the index shows her as 5 years old.

Seeing such problems with the data makes me think there has to be another source of information. I immediately thought of the Hamburg emigration lists, but I've researched those, too, and I don't believe that's where these errors are coming from. So what's the explanation?

In another case, I was unable to locate a family of six that arrived at New York in 1881.

I don't know that the site developer had or has anything to do with the data, but I felt it was worth mentioning just in case he could forward my comments to whomever oversees that. Does this detract from the site? Yes. But I still think CastleGarden.org is a very useful tool, especially if you do not have a subscription to Ancestry's immigration collection or live too far from a full set of "Germans to America."

Remember, you should always track down a document after finding a reference to it in a book, online or receiving a tip from someone. That way you can examine the record and see what someone may have missed or misunderstood. If I was just beginning immigrant research, I'd take the information from CastleGarden.org and look at the NARA microfilm myself to verify the details, not to mention print out a copy for record keeping.

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