immigrants on ship, passenger list

How to find your ancestor without a passenger list

No Passenger List?

No official U.S. government passenger lists exist prior to 1820. What miscellaneous lists that have survived and been transcribed or published cover only a fraction of the immigrants who arrived in the Americas before 1820. If you do not possess a passenger list for your immigrant ancestor, are you at the end of your hunt? Not necessarily.

Let’s say that you have traced your Scottish immigrant ancestor to the city of Baltimore in 1816. You are hoping to continue your research abroad, but you don’t have a passenger list stating the name of your forebear, his/her ports and dates of embarkation and disembarkation, and so forth. What can you turn to in place of the missing list? The identity of the ship that disembarked in Baltimore close to the time your ancestor was living there. Continue reading…

Cover_Oceanic_Steamship_Company_SS_Australia_Passenger_List_1899

More Passenger Lists Rescued by Clifford Neal Smith

We recently featured a number of scarce German passenger list books compiled by the late genealogist Clifford Neal Smith from rich but obscure sources. Mr. Smith derived many of his passenger records from “buried” secondary works–including historical monographs written in German–books that even the conscientious genealogist was unlikely to discover.

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castle garden, before Ellis Island

Before Ellis Island: Passenger Arrivals at Castle Garden, New York

Editor’s note: The late Carolyn L. Barkley discusses the changing conditions for immigrants arriving in the United States before Ellis Island was the main point of entry. Information includes the challenges one may face trying to locate an ancestor who arrived before 1892, how you may find them, and valuable resources to make your search easier. The history of Castle Garden is extremely relevant, and information related to searching those records is included for convenience.  

Finding the original U.S. port of entry arrival record for ancestors can be a difficult process. For many years, I have searched for the passenger arrival record of my elusive great-great-grandmother Kate Duncan who arrived in the U.S. from Liverpool (assumed to be her departure site, not place of residence) with her father George, her brother George H., and step-mother, Mary in the early 1850s. Although I know they were living in New Haven by 1854, I have as yet been unable to determine a year and port of entry for the family, despite checking microfilm for likely ports such as Boston, Providence, and New Haven. My search has prompted me to learn more about passenger arrival records, ship manifests, and the legislation that governed them. One of the best resources about these records can be found in Mike Tepper’s American Passenger Arrival Records.

Immigration to the U.S. began to increase dramatically in the early 1820s. With the increase in passengers, came an increase in the diseases they carried to America as well as the number of deaths from natural causes, as well as shipboard conditions. In order to control these problems, Congress passed the Steerage Act of March 2, 1819 to help limit the number of passengers carried on each ship. This act required that passenger ships sailing to the U. S. from foreign ports provide lists of arriving passengers and that the Custom Service process these lists on arrival. Beginning in 1820, a ship’s captain prepared the list and filed it with the collector of customs at the port of arrival. These records have been microfilmed and are available in the Records of the U.S. Customs Services, 1820-ca. 1891. Ports included in this record group are Atlantic, Gulf and Great Lakes Ports (M334, M575); Baltimore (M326, M255, M596); Boston (M265, M277); New Orleans (T527, M259, M272); New York (M261, M237, M1066); and Philadelphia (M360, M425).  As the records are usually arranged chronologically by date of arrival (probably the very fact you don’t know), using the soundex indices for the actual lists is essential. The best source for microfilm information can be found in the National Archives publication Immigrant & Passenger Arrivals: a Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (1991) and can be ordered on the National Archives website. A big caveat is that the card file index images are some of the ugliest microfilm images known to man, with many totally unreadable. It takes a great deal of research stamina to use these records on microfilm. Continue reading…