The National Archives uses a system called Soundex to index census records (1880-1930) and some of their passenger arrival records (also called immigration records). The Soundex system is based on the sound of a name rather than the exact spelling. Each Soundex code contains the first letter of the surname followed by three numbers. Example: the Soundex code for Hoffmann is H155. To use this system you simply convert the surname you are searching for into a Soundex code. Then look for the appropriate microfilm roll that contains that code. The easiest way to do this is to use a Soundex converter.|
Soundex Converter [this link will open in a new window]
Once you have obtained the microfilm with Soundex cards on it you will find that the listings are grouped first by each Soundex code, then alphabetically by the first names of each person. For example all the surnames with code H155 will be listed together in alphabetical order by each person's first name.
If you want to learn more about the Soundex Coding system or if you want to learn how to code a surname yourself use this webpage...
NARA's Soundex Indexing System Webpage [this link will open in a new window]
Note: the Soundex cards (on microfilm) for New York passenger lists after 1910 use a system that is explained on this webpage...
Instructions for Reading New York Passenger List Soundex Cards after 1910