Introduction: U.S. Passenger Arrival Lists, 1820 – 1950s
The starting point for documenting the voyages of your immigrant ancestors –and many native-born ancestors- should be the official customs lists and the later immigration manifests required by the U.S. government as of 1820.
U.S. passenger arrival lists are primary sources of information for both immigrant and native-born ancestors. We will also learn to search for more than one voyage for each ancestor, especially as many of the documents have online indexes and images.
A. Customs lists contain very basic information.
- Bureau of Customs (Treasury Dept.)
= name of vessel, date of arrival, port of arrival
= name of passenger, age, sex, occupation, country of origin
B. Original customs lists are available for 5 major ports, 1820 1891/1902:
New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans
C. Copies of customs lists are extant for 70 "miscellaneous" ports, generally 1820 1875.
D. Transcripts (1819-1839) and abstracts (1820-1875) are available as supplements.
E. Customs lists have pros and cons as a research source.
F. Immigration manifests contain many historical and biographical details.
- Immigration and Naturalization Service (Justice Dept.)
= name of vessel, date of arrival, ports used
= name of passenger, age, sex, occupation, place of birth, marital status, last residence, previous visits, final destination, name and address of relatives in the U.S. and former country of residence
G. Immigration manifests are available for over 40 ports, 1883-1950s.
H. Immigration manifests must be used very carefully.
I. Canadian and Mexican border records also help document immigrants to the U.S.
J. The National Archives and Family History Library have copies of these records.
K. Peculiarities in using passenger lists are not uncommon.
L. Records of ship arrivals may help your search.
M. Numerous passenger lists have been published in books, discs, and databases.
The most complete online collection is at Ancestry’s fee-based website.
N. You need not give up the ship when there are no indexes or poor indexes.