Your Guide to Finding and Using
Passenger Records & Ship Information
*Pre-1820 (pre Federal) lists * 1820-1890's (Customs Lists) *1890's-1954
* Ports * Locating lists * The Ships* Further Links* Books *
What is a passenger list? Why would I want to see it?
pre 1820 (pre-federal ) lists :
- captains lists (pre-1820): name of ship, date and port of arrival, name, age, country of origin
- A large set of pre 1820 passenger lists are those taken at the Port of Philadelphia 1727-1808; published in Strassburger. Pennsylvania German Pioneers. If you have Germanic ancestors who arrived in Pennsylvania prior to 1808, you will want to check this.
- 1800-- Baggage Lists (1800-1819 most through Port of Philadelphia): name and inventory of possessions; some lists contain added information. Names those who had baggage in excess of the duty free limit.
- example of an 1809 baggage list
Bad news: these lists are not in the National Archives, but must be located in scattered repositories.
Good news: most extant lists have been published and indexed.
- FamilySearch Wiki: US Immigration Passenger Arrival Record>Pre 1820 lists
- Immigration and Ships Passenger List Research Guide Section 3: Research in the years before 1820
- Beine. Finding Passenger Lists before 1820: a list of books, CD Roms and online databases.
- Almost all, if not all, of these lists have been transcribed and published and are searchable in the index put out by Filby & Meyers (see below)
Customs passenger lists (1820-1893)
- all Captains of vessels required to submit a listing of passengers to the Collector of Customs.
- This did not cover all ports until 1905 and there was not universal compliance for the covered ports.
- see: Immigration and Ships Passenger List Research Guide Section 4: Research in the Years 1820-1892
Information on the lists:name of ship, name of master, port of embarkation, age, sex, occupation and nationality.
example: 1847 passenger list
example: 1851 passenger list (scroll down)
l847 Canadian list
1891-1954 immigration passenger lists:
- Resposibility shifted from Customs to the other Departments,1891 forwaqrd; finally in 1906 to the INS
- see: Immigration and Ships Passenger List Research Guide Section 5: Research in the Years after ca. 18911893-1902 above + marital status, last residence, final destination in U.S., prior visits to U.S., if going to join a relative, name and addrss of that relative, literacy, if has train ticke to final destination, who paid passage, if ever institutionalized or a polygamist, and state of health.
- 1903-1905 above + race or people
- example: 1903 passenger list
- 1906 above + personal description and place of birth
- 1907 above + name and address of closest living relative in native country
- example of 1917 passenger list
- Annotations on the lists also gave further information.
Problems in researching are nothing new, but perhaps highlighted by two languages. They include difficult to read handwriting, indexing errors, inaccurate information, deliberate avoidance or mis-information lack of uniformity in collection of data.
How to locate the list that contains your ancestor:
Before you begin your research, you should know at least the approximate
- name; challenges include
- helps identify the right person
- date and port of arrival; name of ship
- 1900-1930 census list date of immigration
- example of 1920 census
- Post 1906 Naturalization Petitions will give information
- Some passport applications of naturalized citizens will give naturalization and immigration information
- interview family members
- Obituaries might give date of arrival (example-- scroll down)
- you may have to guess at port of arrival
- notice place or birth of children born shortly after arrival
- Remember: Passenger lists are lists of passengers on the ships... not necessarily immigrants
- See Getting Started for more advice
For almost all pre 1820 and many post 1820 lists, you can consult Filby and Meyers. Passenger and Immigrations List Index: a Guide to Published Arrival Records.. came to America in Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth century. (find in a library )
- a multivolume set that indexes passengers and cites to the source of the information; an index to locate information from another source
- 3 main volumes plus annual and cumulative supplements-- supplements must be checked as well as the 3 volume starter set.
- You can also search this index through Ancestry.com (but not Library edition). It is now also available at World Vital Records.com ( you will need the "world" subscription)
More and more indexes and transcriptions are available online
The five major ports of entry include
- Boston (customs passenger lists through 1899)
- New York (Castle Island, Ellis Island) (customs passenger lists thorugh 1897)
- Castle Garden or Ellis Island?
- Beine. New York Passenger Lists: Quick Guide
- Beine. Resources for Finding New York Passenger Arrival Records 1847-1897
- Beine. Ellis Island Online Database 1892-1924 Research Tps
- Note: June 15th 1897 - March or April 1903, there are no extant list for first or 2nd class passengers arriving through Ellis Island.
- Beine. Immigrant Processing Centers for New York City
- The New York ports have online websites
- Castle Garden served as the port for New York City 1830-1892
- Ellis Island records begin in 1892 ended 1924
- Use Stephen Morse's One Step Search for the New York ports
- Philadelphia (customs passenger lists through 1899)
- Begins in 1800 (baggage lists)
- Beine. Philadelphia Passenger Lists Quick Guide 1800-1948
- Beine doesn't mention these published works, which will be very helpful
- Tepper. Immigrants to Pennsylvania, 1614-1919 (also available on CD, with other lists)
- Bentley. Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Philadelphia 1800-1819: The Philadelphia "Baggage Lists"
- Baltimore (customs passenger lists through 1891)
- Supplemented by city lists 1833-1866 (indexed separately; search both)
- Beine. Baltimore Passenger Lists Quick Guide 1820-1952
- Beine. Baltimore Passenger Lists: Filling in the Gaps
- New Orleans. (customs passenger lists through 1902)
- There are gaps and these lists can be difficult to read
- Beine. Resources for Finding Passenger Arrival Records at the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana
- There are several minor ports,e.g.
- Mobile, Al.,
- Bath, Me.,
- Galvaston, Tx.
- No lists 1872-1895
- Beine. Finding Passenger Arrival Lists at the Port of Galveston, Texas
- Beine. U.S. Ports of Arrival and Their Available Passenger Lists 1820-1957
- Beine. Passenger Lists for Atlantic and Gulf Coast and Great Lakes Ports (film numbers)
- For a list of all ports, with overview of records held by the National Archives, see the NARA page Immigration Records: Ship Passenger Arrival Records and Land Border Entries (scroll down for links to the cities).
- Use Steve Morse One Step Search for the various other ports (searches subscription databases)
But don't forget that the ports of emigration might also create lists.
- The Hamburg Departure Passenger Lists 1850-1934 is an example of an important set of emigration records
- The FamilySearch Wiki explains the Hamburg Passenger Lists.
- And you can use a Steve Morse One Step search to search Ancestry's Hamburg Passenger List database (Records are viewable from any Family History Center)
- Registers of Lists: Here, you will find the registration details of a vessel such as the rigging, the tonnage, dimensions etc. from 1764 forward. You will need to know the name of the ship.
- The Ships List
- Use Stephen Morse's One Step Search for pictures of passenger lists
Books (on Ships, not passenger lists)
Ships of Our Ancestors. You can see part (not all) of an older edition of this at the Google Books project.
Further Information and More Links
- PowerPoint presentation: Negotiating Online Passenger and Immigration Lists presented by G. Peck, Library of Michigan, 2008
- Gormley. What you'll learn from passenger lists.
- Smith. Manifest Markings: A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations
- Library of Congress. Immigrant Arrivals: A Guide to Sources (a bibliography)
- Cyndi's List: Ships and Passenger Lists
- Cyndi's List: Ports of Entry
- Cyndi's List: Ports of Departure
- Cyndi's List: Ellis Island
BOOKS (& C.D.) THAT COVER THIS TOPIC:
Colletta. They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record. (find in a library)
Stolarik. Forgotten Doors: The Other Ports of Entry to the United States. (table of contents and index available online.) (find in a library)
Tepper. American Passenger Arrival Records (find in a library)
Ellis Island: Tracing Your Family History Through America's Gateway. (find in a library)
Family Tree Guide to Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors. ( find in a library)
This page last updated April 17, 2017
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