This index card found on FamilySearch, shows the arrival of Jno B Guth, Male, aged 34, arriving in the United States in 1834.

How can I find out more about this collection, and where/how to find the actual record that was indexed?

Transcription attempts are also welcome since the handwriting is difficult to read.

1 Answer 1


How to find out more about a collection on Family Search from the image viewer

When you are in the image viewer at FamilySearch, there are two tabs underneath the document image, one for the Image Index, and one that gives you Information about the image. Click on the Information tab. On the left hand side, the Catalog Record shows the collection: Supplemental index to passenger lists of vessels arriving at Atlantic & Gulf Coast ports (excluding New York) 1820-1874 . On the right, we see information from the Film Notes about the specific microfilm roll: Film/Digital Note: Gru-Hab (NARA Series M334, Roll 69).

Clicking on the link for the catalog record will take you to the FamilySearch Catalog page for the collection, which shows you the microfilm in context. This index created by the Treasury Department is part of National Archives microfilm publication M0334.

If you are on the search page for a specific collecion, look for a link to Learn More or a button which says How to Use This Collection, which will take you to the FamilySearch Research Wiki for that collection: United States, Index to Passenger Arrivals, Atlantic and Gulf Ports - FamilySearch Historical Records

Finding the Descriptive Pamphlet for a NARA microfilm

To find out more about a NARA microcopy publication, in addition to examining FamilySearch's Film Notes carefully and reading the corresponding article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki, look for NARA's own document describing the microfilm, called a descriptive pamphlet (DP). There are several ways to do so. The DP is usually on the microfilm itself, at the beginning of the roll. Some DPs are listed in the Family History Library catalog, and patrons at the FHL can access a separate paper copy. But for online researchers, the easiest way to get a DP is to download it as a PDF file from NARA's Microfilm catalog. It is much easier to read the DP this way than reading it page by page off the microfilm itself. Here's how:

  1. Go to the National Archives Website and from the home page, and select Research Our Records. From there, look for the box on the right labeled Other Online Research Tools and click on the Microfilm Catalog link.
  2. Take out the extra leading 0 from the NARA microfilm number seen in the FamilySearch catalog record, and enter M334 into the search box on the left. This gives us one result, Supplemental Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports (Excluding New York), 1820-1874. Clicking on the link in the title will take you to the detail page. If the collection has multiple rolls, click on any link.
  3. You don't need to worry about ordering the microfilm, since we already have access via FamilySearch. Look on the right for the PDF icon, and the link View Important Publication Details. Click that link and download the DP.
  4. Alternate method, which may or may not be quicker: If for some reason you can't get to the microfilm catalog, you can try a Google search site:archives.gov M334.pdf to find the download link.

Searching for the DP via Google sometimes gives us other information because we find other pages and documents at NARA which reference the DP for M334, such as the DP for M575. More on that in a moment.

What's in a Descriptive Pamphlet?

For some DPs, we get a roll list (basically the same information as in FamilySearch's Film Notes). For M334, the archivist who prepared the records for filming wrote two pages of introductory material about the index, the associated records, and related records at NARA, followed by information about the ports and districts, and the roll list. Among other things, we learn that:

  1. This is a supplemental index. (Research opportunity: Are there other entries in other indexes for Baltimore records?)
  2. The index was created by the WPA. We know from the DP for M575 (linked to above) that the index is not complete. (You already have an index card, but in general researchers using these indexes need to know that WPA indexing jobs didn't get finished before the WPA was shut down.)
  3. Coverage data: The indexes cover both the passenger lists, and abstracts or transcripts of the lists, and the abstracts indexed were not complete because one of the volumes is missing.
  4. There is a description of how the cards are arranged, and the information contained on each card. Use this when trying to read or transcribe the index card. (Information about the fields on the cards may also be in the FamilySearch Research Wiki article.)
  5. The records indexed here are US Customs records from Record Group (RG) 36. Baltimore lists from 1820-91 are on Microcopy 255. There may be additional immigration records in RG 85; Baltimore immigration lists are on Microcopy T844

You can learn more about NARA Record Groups by using the new Record Group Explorer,

The DP for the immigration lists on T844 is not as extensive as the M334 list, but it gives us important information about how the records are arranged and how they were filmed, which will be crucial to researchers who might need to browse the microfilm.

Finding the passenger lists and any other indexes

Joe Beine's site German Roots is an essential site for anyone doing US immigration research, whether your passenger is of German heritage or not. His guide Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records 1820-1940s: Arrivals at U.S. ports from Europe gives an overview of what's online, broken down by port of arrival. This guide pre-dates NARA's own portal page (listed below).

Stephen P. Morse's website One-Step Webpages offers search tools that allow you to search other sites with more flexibility than the search tools on the original sites. Read the FAQ associated with each tool to get the most out of the site.

Scroll past all the tools for the Port of New York to find the tools of interest for Baltimore (some free, some paid):

NARA's page Browse by Port of Entry shows which records are online and digitized. Open up the Maryland section to find Baltimore arrivals. Remember that for every NARA microfilm publication, you can learn more by searching for the corresponding Descriptive Pamphlet for that microfilm.

Look for 1834 arrivals using these guides and search or browse to find the original passenger lists or abstracts. As you find each list, examine the breadcrumbs in the Ancestry viewer or the information in the Ancestry Browse Box, and the Information from the FamilySearch viewer, to understand your record in context. It can be difficult sometimes to understand exactly what Ancestry or FamilySearch is showing us. Use the information from NARA's DPs and NARA's catalog to get the context for each record. Don't just look at the single image that shows your person of interest. Scroll backwards or forwards as needed to find headers for the ship manifests or the header for a list of abstracts.

Understanding and Transcribing the original records

Use the DPs to find all the index cards and all the passenger lists available. Studying them as a group may yield more information than looking at each record in isolation. Words that are hard to read on one index card or record might be easier to read on another.

As a side note: for Civil War pension research, it is crucial to collect all the index cards associated with a certain pension, because some indexes contain more information than others. We can't know if the same holds true for passenger list index cards until we gather them all.

Indexes, abstracts and transcriptions made from the original passenger lists may not seem valuable at first, but if you can find the original list, you can see how the transcriber read the record. Keep in mind when the abstracts and indexes were created: did the indexer work off the original record, or was the derivative work done later, off a microfilm copy?

A note on computer indexes: For original records like passenger and customs lists, ledger books, and the like, FamilySearch and Ancestry indexers may not have had access to the entire item when indexing; they may have been presented with one entry at a time to look at. When we are reading an entire page, we aren't limited in that way. Use the entire document as a guide to reading the entry of interest. Make tables of letter shapes if needed, and compare letters in your entry to similar letters elsewhere on the page.

Results of a preliminary search

From Quarterly abstracts, 1 Jan. 1834 - 31 Dec. 1837 [NARA M596 roll 3] , Film # 007066752, image 594 of 691. FamilySearch's index says this is passenger Joh Guth, Male, arriving 1837 on the ship "***Mary".

From Ancestry's database Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Baltimore, 1820-1834, a printed book, Jno B. Guth is listed on page 34 (Surnames G-H). The original publication is Michael H. Tepper, ed.. Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Baltimore, 1820-1834. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982.

From Ancestry's Database Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964:

 Name:    Jno B Guth
 Gender:  Male
 Race:    German
 Birthdate:   1800
 Age: 34
 Arrival Date:    Jun 1834
 Port of Departure:   Foreign Ports
 Ship Name:   Various Vessels
 Port of Arrival: Baltimore, Maryland

image 51 of 688 The breadcrumbs in the top of the viewer identifies this image as part of Roll 4 of M596 - Baltimore, 1838-1845. This seems to be in error because the date ranges don't match up, and needs more investigation.

Even when the image viewer information isn't showing us a glitch, Ancestry's About the Database information can be scanty or be hard to parse. NARA's full description: Quarterly Abstracts of Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Baltimore, MD, 1820--1869. M596. See NARA's page Passenger Lists: Microfilmed Records of the U.S. Customs Service, 1820--ca. 1891 (Record Group 36) for more information and to get the Descriptive Pamphlet for 596.pdf.

Search tips:

  • Search in specific collections, when possible. You are likely to have better search options than using a global search. Use the One-Step tools for more informed searching as well.
  • Start with a wide search, then narrow. On Ancestry, I searched only for the surname Guth and the arrival date of 1834. Make sure the "exact" search box is NOT checked.
  • Download a copy of all the DPs and finding aids, research guides, and every record of interest and any associated pages like the headers of the ship manifests, the title pages and front matter and index pages in books, so you will have them on your own computer. NARA microfilms are likely to be widely available and won't vanish due to licensing issues, but Who wants to lose access to the records if a DDOS attack ties us AWS?
  • Keep a running log or open document and record information as you go. This is especially valuable when you are searching records like these, where there are multiple types of records in the same microfilm publication, possible results from different record groups, and multiple indexes, any or all of which may be incomplete. Do your best to understand what you are looking at and to record the information about where it can be found. Learn as much as you can about the context of the record.
  • Keep a record of the search terms and wildcards used.
  • Keep a record of negative search results. These last two tips, often neglected, allow you to re-do searches later when you have learned more search techniques.
  • 1
    Thanks for the guidance. In this case the breadcrumbs at ancestry were obviously wrong, since the 1834 record is very unlikely to be found at "Roll 4 of M596 - Baltimore, 1838-1845", but rather at "1 Jan. 1834 - 31 Dec. 1837 [NARA M596 roll 3]". And there it was: familysearch.org/ark:/61903/… Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 20:58

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