Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG): Reuniting Families Through Volunteer Efforts

ISTG Partners With To Bring Increased Access To Online Passenger Ship Lists


Provo, UT -- (ReleaseWire) -- 02/21/2008 -- Back in 1998, Patty MacFarlane McCormack, founder of Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, wasn’t doing genealogy. She had always been the historian’s helper (her grandmother’s), but never the primary historian.

“As a child, I would sit with my grandmother at the huge oak dining room table on gloomy Saturday afternoons. As the rain trickled down the window panes behind the lace curtains and spilled off the eaves onto the Lily of the Valley planted along the house, we would label the backs of old sepia photographs and file yellowed newspaper clippings into a shoebox. Over the years, one shoebox became many,” said Patty MacFarlane McCormack, Founder and Owner of Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.

Then, when McCormack’s mother passed away, she returned to her Colorado home with boxes of her treasured past and a burning desire to discover even more.

“I thought as I was going through all of these treasures that it would be wonderful to see the actual passenger lists and know the ship on which my ancestors came to the United States. Naively I thought this list would be on the Internet, but there were very, very, few passenger lists online at the time,” McCormack said. “I soon knew the frustration of so many others on the same quest.”

In 1998, McCormack was affiliated with RootsWeb’s Ships List. There were many online discussions regarding how scarce passengers lists were on the Internet. Because of this, McCormack wrote to a few individuals on the listserv and told them she wanted to start a group to help bring an increased number of passenger lists online. The idea was not received very warmly. In fact, some individuals on the listserv sent discouraging remarks.

“I heard, ‘It has been tried many times before. It has always failed. You won’t be able to do it. It will cost too much money, and it is impossible.’ Really that is all I needed to hear, and I was determined to make it happen,” McCormack said.

McCormack sent out a new email and received about 20 responses from individuals who wanted to help. On September 16, 1998, the week of both her grandmother and her mother’s birthday, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild was born. Not long after, 14 lists were posted on the Web from the volunteers’ work and were part of the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild site.

“Transcribing manifests with their hard-to-read handwriting and bringing them to life online is a labor of love. My own contribution to the Guild is to upload the surnames from the manifests into alphabetic files for ease in researching,” said Pam O’Day, ISTG charter member and surname coordinator from Havre de Grace, MD. “Our work will not be done until the last available manifest has been transcribed.”

The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild has more than 8,000 passenger lists and millions of names. These records will now be available at World Vital Records through its recent partnership with ISTG.

“I am very excited about this partnership. I remember when ISTG was one-year old, as World Vital Records is now, and everyone was supporting us. In return, I’m happy to partner with World Vital Records because they provide a service that is affordable and easily accessed on the Internet. Knowing who came before you is a heart’s desire, and it is information that is important for all of us to know,” said Patty MacFarlane McCormack, Founder, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.

The ISTG records include information such as passenger name, captain's name, port of arrival/departure, and name of the ship. These records will be free to access at World Vital Records for 10 days.

“When our content acquisition team came across the ISTG records, we were looking for records from Portugal. Not only did we find records from Portugal, but passenger lists from more than 35 countries. These lists are invaluable to family historians to help locate their ancestors,” said Yvette Arts, Director, Content Acquisition, World Vital Records, Inc.

McCormack claims the success of the site should be attributed to the 500+ volunteers who have worked on these lists and the 250 current volunteers.

“I’m blessed to have volunteers who are so totally dedicated to this cause. I could not do this without them. I coordinate the overall effort, but my volunteers are some of the most dedicated people in the world,” McCormack said, “and we have become a family. Our mission statement: ‘Bringing Our Ancestors Home: Reuniting Our Families’ really sums up what we are all about. People find their ancestors on our site, and they write to us. We then include any other information they can provide directly to a link on the passenger list. They are so grateful for the work we do, and we hear it every day. It is what keeps us going.”

Before McCormack received her own scanning and copying equipment, she would go to NARA nearly every day and copy passenger manifests in hopes of helping individuals find their ancestors and even hoping to find some of her own family members as a bonus.

One day she found a passenger list which contained the name of her great, great grandmother, who was two years old at the time.

“I have every intention of framing that passenger list with a dried rose. That’s my maternal family history. Holding that piece of history in your hand really gives you a gift. It is a gift to yourself because you can just picture, in my case, my great grandmother when she was 2 years old on the ship with all of her brothers, sisters and her mom. It is an awesome experience. We seek to help you know the brave souls who dared to cross the sea, how and why they came, what they may have endured to get here and how they are a part of the tapestry of our lives.” McCormack said.

About Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) was founded by a small group of people in late September of 1998. Today, ISTG has more than 250 volunteers who work diligently to decipher and transcribe passenger lists which are then uploaded to its Web site.

Founded in 2006, by Paul Allen and several key members of the original team,, Inc. provides affordable genealogy databases and family history tools used by more than 600,000 monthly visitors, 9.4 million monthly pages views, and more than 25,000 subscribers. With thousands of databases including birth, death, military, census, and parish records, makes it easy to extend your family tree. Some of its partners include Everton Publishers, Quintin Publications, Archive CD Books Australia, Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, Archive CD Books Canada, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., SmallTownPapers®, Accessible Archives, Genealogical Publishing Company, Find My Past, Godfrey Memorial Library, Find A Grave, and FamilySearch™. Investors include vSpring Capital and several angel investors.