In 1819, Congress passed the “Act Regulating Passenger Ships and Vessels,” a
statute which required the customs officer at each port to create and save a
list of passengers for every ship that came to the United States. These lists
would contain information such as name, age, sex, occupation, country of origin,
destination, and (if applicable) cause of death during the voyage. For the
first time since the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, this type of
information was to be collected and preserved. The passage of this law is the
turning point for research on passenger ship lists and immigration sources.
Naturally, not all the lists for all the ships to all the ports since 1820
have survived, but certainly the majority have. According to Printed
Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records by Kory L. Meyerink
(Ancestry, Salt Lake City, 1997), approximately 30 per cent of pre-1900
immigrants to North America appear in published sources. Even if that percentage
has grown somewhat in the intervening seven years, information on the majority
of immigrants to this country can still only be obtained through original
While many immigrants can be located only in unpublished sources, the
researcher should certainly indulge in the vast amount of published material
available. Most works are centered round an ethnicity or a port of entry. The
principal works are:
• Germans to America: Series I, Volume 1 starts in 1850; the most
recent volume is 67 (2002) which covers November 1895-June 1897. Series II
starts in 1840 and the seven volumes published thus far go to December 1849
(Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, DE, http://www.scholarly.com/) (Series 1:
E184/G3/G38/1988 also LOAN; Series 2: E184/G3/G39/2002 also LOAN).
• Italians to America: Volume 1 starts in 1880; the most recent
volume, 16 (2002), covers November 1900-April 1901 (Scholarly Resources Inc.)
(E184/I8/I83/1992 also LOAN).
• Ira A. Glazier and Michael Tepper, eds., Famine Immigrants: Lists of
Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York, 1846-1851, 7 vols.
(Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1983, http://www.genealogical.com/, currently
out of print but available at NEHGS and through the Circulating Library). (REF
E184/I6/F25/1983 also LOAN)
• Ira A. Glazier, Migration from the Russian Empire: Lists of Passengers
Arriving at U.S. Ports (1995-). Volume 1 starts at January 1875; the most
recent, Volume 6, treats August 1890-June 1891 (Genealogical Publishing Co.,
Baltimore, http://www.genealogical.com/) (REF
E184/R9/M54/1995 also LOAN).
• Robert P. Swierenga, Dutch Immigrants in U.S. Ship Passenger Manifests
1820-1880: An Alphabetical Listing by Household Heads and Independent
Persons, 2 vols. (1983) (Scholarly Resources Inc.) (E184/D9/S95/1983).
• Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, vol. 1. Galveston,
1848-1861, 1866-1871; New Orleans, 1852-1879. -- vol. 2. Galveston, 1896-1906;
New Orleans, 1879-1899. -- vol. 3. Galveston, 1907-1914. -- vol. 4. New York,
1847-1869. -- vol. 5. New York, 1870-1880. -- vol. 6. New York, 1881-1886;
Galveston, 1880-1886. -- vol. 7. New York, 1887-1896. -- vol. 8. Baltimore,
1834-1879 -- vol. 9. Baltimore, 1880-1899 (The Old Homestead Company, Historic
Publishing, Hallettsville, Texas, 1983-1991). (E184/B67/1983)
• Nils William Olsson, Swedish Passenger Arrivals in U.S. Ports
1820-1850 (1995) (Acta Bibliothecae Regiae Stockholmiensis, vol.
55) (Stockholm, Kungl. Biblioteket; NEHGS has a 1979 edition: [Acta
Bibliothecae Regiae Stockholmiensis, vol. 32] [Stockholm, Norstedts
Tryckeri] [E184/S23/O45/1979]) and the companion book Swedish Passenger
Arrivals in New York 1820-1850 by the same author (Swedish Pioneer
Historical Society, Chicago, 1967) (E184/S23/O43/1967 also LOAN).
• Linda L. Avakian, Armenian Immigrants: Boston 1891-1901, New York
1880-1897 (1996) (Picton Press, Camden, ME, http://www.pictonpress.com/)
(E184/A7/A85/1996 also LOAN).
To this list I would also include the CD-ROM: The Search for Missing
Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements placed in The Boston Pilot
1831-1920 (NEHGS, Boston, 2002), originally published by NEHGS as a set of
seven volumes in book form. Although not passenger lists per se, these
advertisements often mention the date of immigration and other facts important
in immigration research (CD-ROM, Microtext F73.9/I6/S43/2002; book, REF
Additionally the website: http://www.ellisisland.org/ is invaluable
for those researching ancestors who came through that historic place. Special
care should be taken when searching this website. My great-grandfather’s name as
listed is Pavel Holics. I know that because I searched the old-fashioned way—on
microfilm, before the advent of the Internet. However, a search on “Paul
Hollick” (his name after he went through Ellis Island) will not come up with
“Pavel Holics.” Although alternate spellings are provided, “Holics” is not one
of those given for “Hollick.” But the database is free and you get to search
Most of the published works on immigrants in the nineteenth century do
revolve around New York City, which certainly was the main eastern port of entry
to the United States. There are some works that specifically center on Baltimore
and Charleston as ports, but none that specialize in New England ports. One
exception is this website, which has immigrant lists for Boston 1847-1852. See
Lists of Alien Passengers to the Port of Boston, 1847-1852 databse on
It is important to gain as much information about when and where your
ancestors arrived as possible before researching. Starting with the 1900 U.S.
federal census, foreign-born persons were asked for their year of immigration,
number of years in the U.S., and year of naturalization. These questions
continue on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses. Using that information can be
invaluable. In my example above, I knew that my great-grandparents had arrived
in New York in 1900. This certainly limited the amount of records I needed to
search [however, I started in January of 1900 and they arrived on 22 December
1900—go figure.] Having your ancestors’ citizenship papers is also a great help,
and all the essential data may be there for you. My great-great-grandfather’s
citizenship papers clearly state that he arrived at Boston on 2 June 1887,
having left Glasgow, Scotland, on 18 May 1887. With that information, it was
easy to find the correct ship, the SS Manitoban.
Both citizenship papers and passenger ship lists can be found at your local
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Regional Office, which for
New England is at 380 Trapelo Road, Waltham, Mass. See their website at http://www.archives.gov/northeast/waltham/waltham.html.
Passenger lists for the Waltham office include the following:
Record Group 36 Records of the U.S. Customs Service
• Bath, Maine, 1843-1935;• Boston, Massachusetts,
1839-1966;• Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1789-1967;• Bristol-Warren, Rhode
Island, 1801-1874;• Eastport, Maine, 1943-1969;• Fall River,
Massachusetts, 1830-1943;• Gloucester, Massachusetts,
1789-1940;• Machias, Maine, 1820-1913;• Marblehead, Massachusetts,
1789-1927;• Middletown-Hartford, Connecticut, 1795-1953;• New Bedford,
Massachusetts, 1808-1945;• New Haven, Connecticut, 1763-1949;• New
London-Stonington, Connecticut, 1789-1938;• Newport, Rhode Island,
1790-1954;• Passamaquoddy, Maine, 1857-1946;• Plymouth, Massachusetts,
1793-1923;• Portland, Maine, 1870-1942;• Portsmouth, New Hampshire,
1877-1958;• Providence, Rhode Island, 1790-1963;• Salem, Massachusetts,
1789-1948;• St. Albans, Vermont, 1853-1917;• Waldoboro, Maine,
In addition to the National Archives, state archives may also hold passenger
ship lists. Compare the above listing to that at the Maine State Archives at
• Passamaquoddy 1820-1859• Kennebunk 1820-1842• Frenchman’s Bay
1821-1827• Bangor 1848• Bath 1825-1867• Belfast
1820-1851• Penobscot 1851• Waldoboro 1820-1833• Yarmouth
1820• Portland and Falmouth 1820-March 1868
These records predate the National Archives in most cases. You need to search
both separately and neither is online yet.
This is but a sampling of what can be had and what is available to
researchers. One could literally write a book on the subject and several people
have. Do not forget the indexes to passenger lists mentioned in the first two of
these columns, namely:
Harold Lancour, Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists 1538-1825. Use
the third edition, expanded and revised by Richard J. Wolfe (New York, New York
Public Library, 1963) (Z7164/I3/L2/1963 also LOAN). A companion to this work is
Carl Boyer 3rd, ed., Ship Passenger Lists National and New England
1600-1825, 4 vols. (1977) (the publisher, Newhall, Calif.) (R. Rm. REF
CS68/S53/1977 also LOAN). This work provides the actual lists for Lancour’s
first to seventy-first entries. It is indexed by name.
P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer, eds., Passenger and Immigration Lists
Index (Gale Research, Detroit, 1981) lists emigrants alphabetically by
name. The three-volume set includes 480,000 names culled from 300 sources. Each
entry includes the name of the immigrant, age, place of arrival, year of
arrival, and the code number to the source whence the information came. This
compendium merely indexes secondary sources, which vary widely in their accuracy
and scholarship. The 1982-85 cumulative supplements (published 1985) add 650,000
more records in 4 volumes, and a 1986 supplement (published 1986) adds another
125,000 records in a single volume (REF CS68/P363/1981 also LOAN +
David Dobson, Scots in New England 1623-1873 (Genealogical
Publishing Co., Baltimore, 2002). Arranged alphabetically by name
(F15/S3/D63/2002 also LOAN).
Other useful works include:
Michael Tepper, ed., New World Immigrants: A Consolidation of Ship
Passenger Lists and Associated Data from Periodical Literature, 2 vols.
(Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1980), vol. 1 esp. (REF CS68/N48/1979
Michael Tepper, ed., Passengers to America: A Consolidation of Ship
Passenger Lists from The New England Historical and Genealogical Register
(Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1978). Although the Register
is searchable by name on the NEHGS website it is not yet searchable by subject
(although a print subject index is available) (REF CS68/P37/1977 also LOAN).
Michael Tepper, American Passenger Arrival Records (Genealogical
Publishing Co, Baltimore, 1988) (CS68/T49/1988, CS68/T49/1993 also LOAN).
John P. Colletta, ed., They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your
Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record, 3rd ed. (Ancestry, Orem, Utah, 2002)
Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, The Source: A
Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Ancestry, Salt Lake City, Utah,
1997), Chapter 13: “Immigration: Finding Immigrant Origins,” pp. 441-520.
Kory L. Meyerink, Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical
Records (Ancestry, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998) (R. Rm. REF CS49/S65/1997)
(R. Rm. REF CS9/P75/1998 also LOAN), Chapter 14: “Immigration Sources,” pp.
Internet Site:See the Temple Balch Center for Immigration Research
(Philadelphia, PA) at: http://www.cis.org/
As well as:http://www.CyndisList.com/ships.htm
(still the best place on the Internet to start any sort of genealogical
(not in any specific order, so use the FIND command or just scroll down the