2. What kinds of information do manifest records provide?
They provide various information in terms of the general name of the immigrant. Also, in terms of their age, their gender, their occupation in the West Indies, their race, complexion. Who paid for the voyagethe sending family? the receiving family? It allows an instructor to ask students to try to determine what direct information theyre able to gather from the document. Then, to go back through the document again and try to determine what indirect information the manifest records provide.
The race is noted, and thats of particular interest, because for many West Indians, they would say that they were West Indian. And yet, youll see immigration officials scribble over the top of West Indian, African, to show that theyre [not only] West Indian, but they are [also] a person of African descent. And its quite interesting. They may just have West Indian, but then if you go and look at the complexion, it then might say fair and blue eyes. Or sometimes it may say dark or it may say black. So it raises questions about how West Indians saw themselves, their identity in the West Indies within the context of West Indian history and within a cultural context. But at the same time, how that then plays out within the United States. So that offers an excellent opportunity for discussion with students about how racial identity is constructed in the United States and how its constructed in the West Indies.
Immigrant official[s] they would ask them the questions and there were essentially 29 questions. The individual provided the information, so theyd go down the list between the name, the sex, race, age, the nearest relative in the Caribbean, the household that they were leaving, the nearest relative in New York that they planned on residing with.
When youre looking at the various manifest records, the questions are all the samea standard form with the questions going across and then the information is filled out depending on the individual filling out the information. Im sure that also played a part in whether or not they chose to mark out African where the individual had simply maybe said West Indian. Some people are much more detailed, where they wont just list, for instance, the address of the place that they were going to reside in the United States. They might list next to the address: theyre going to meet their husband, theyre going to stay with an aunt, theyre going to stay with a grandmother, theyre going to stay with a sister. Thats particularly useful for a scholar, because then that gives you some idea of the role of family and community within the immigrants experience.