Immigration and Ships Passenger Lists Research Guide

Section 4.0 - Last updated Aug 2011

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Research in Years 1820 to Circa 1891
4.1 What Information May be Found on the Customs Passenger Lists - Includes scanned page of passenger list.
4.2 What Customs Passenger Lists and Index Records are Available - Online, CD-Rom, Microfilm and Books.
4.3 Searching These Records
    Table 1 - Passenger Lists Indexes on CD-Rom, Online, and on Microfilm
    Table 2 - Other Indexes to Passenger Lists Online, on CD-Rom, and in Books
    Table 3 - European Ports & Archives having Emigration Databases  to the US)
4.3.1 Searching on the Internet
4.3.2 Using CD-Roms
4.3.3 Using Microfilms  Searching Microfilms - a step-by-step example with illustrations
   Table 4 - U. S. Ports Having Records of the Customs Service, 1820 - circa 1891 ( NARA Record Group 36)
4.3.4 Using books and other published records
4.4 Castle Garden   - Information about Castle Garden, the immigration center for New York - 1855 to 1890

Ellis Island Data Base 1892-1924 Click here for information and hints on searching this database
4.1 What Information May be Found on the Customs Passenger Lists

After 1820, passenger traffic to the U.S. started to increase tremendously, and ships were now being built just for this passenger traffic. Regular scheduled sailing dates replaced the earlier practice where the captain would wait until his cargo hold was full before he sailed. Then.after the 1840's, trans-oceanic steam powered ships started to replace the sailing vessels which reduced the travel time from one-or-two months or more to about two weeks.

Due to the increased number of passengers and the increase in sickness and deaths in transit, the Federal Government passed legislation in 1819 to limit the number of passengers on each ship.  The Custom Service was designated to then monitor immigration.   Starting in 1820, Customs Passenger Lists were prepared by the ship's captain and were filed with the collector of customs at the port of arrival. These lists were initially meant to serve for statistical purposes. Except for a few ports, most of these passenger lists have survived and have been microfilmed by the National Archives.

Information that may be found on the Customs Passenger Lists
Sample page from Customs Passenger ListClick on image for a larger view   

4.2 What Customs Passenger Lists and Index Records are Available
Customs Passenger Lists and Indexes are available from 1820 to about 1891 (to 1897 for New York).

Customs Passenger Lists  Microfilm copies of the passenger lists for these years are available at the National Archives (NARA), the LDS FHC and libraries. Note that the Customs Passenger Lists were continued until about 1891 when they were superseded by the Immigration Passenger Lists.  For some ports, the Customs Passenger Lists were continued beyond 1891.  For example,  for the Port of New York, copies of the Customs Passenger Lists were used as a substitute for the Ellis Island records which were destroyed in the fire of 1897.   The surviving customs passenger lists were microfilmed by the National Archives in the 1940's:
Microfilm copies are available at the National Archives, the LDS FHC and some libraries. 
Online images of these passenger lists are becoming available on the Internet at web sites such as the Ellis Islands Database and 
Online transcripts of some passenger lists are on some websites, such as the Ship Transcriber's Guild, and others.

Indexes to the Passenger Lists The WPA prepared indexes for most of the passenger lists in the 1930's. These indexes were microfilmed by NARA.  This indexing project was never completed, resulting in some notable exceptions. For instance, there are no microfilm indexes for the Port of New York for the period from 1847 to1897, and for the Port of Boston for the periods from 1820 to 1847 and 1892 to 1901.  Recently, indexes have become available on the Internet, on CD-Rom, and in books to fill in these "unindexed" years.  Now:   
Microfilm copies of the available indexes are at the National Archives, the LDS FHC and some libraries.
Online indexes are being added to the Internet every day. See Section 4.3.1
CD-Rom's having searchable indexes are also now available.
Books generally specific to ethnic groups of immigrants and to fill in the unindexed years .

4.3 Searching These Records

Step 1 - Find as much information as possible about your ancestor and his immigration before you start any search. 
Step 1 -  Find as much information as possible about your ancestor
 As a minimum, you should know:
Full name, alternative names or spellings
Approximate year of birth*
Approximate year of arrival*
Port of arrival (use emigration patterns)
Other desirable information to “weed out” your ancestor from other similar names:
Country, province, state or town of origin*
Names of traveling companions (including ages)
Were they naturalized*
Hint: * Use 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 census and/or naturalization records to find this information ( 1920 census also shows year of Naturalization)
Step 2 - Select which index to use         
Go to Table 1, and/or 2 and decide which index  to use to start your search based on the port of arrival, year of arrival, the type of resource (Free or Paid), origin of passenger, or other criteria
On any table, click on the type of resource (i.e., On-line, CD-Rom, Microfilm or Book),  for instructions on using these resources.
 Hint:  Start your search with only the surname.  Use every variation of names and spellings if needed. 
Step 3 - If you do not initially succeed in finding your ancestor, search as many different indexes as possible.  Each type of resource may use different search techniques, may have different search criteria, may be based on different databases, and/or may contain different compilation errors. 
Note: If still unsuccessful, go to Table3 and search the emigration databases if applicable.  Click here for more information about these databases.

Step 4 -  After you find the ship name and date of arrival for your ancestor, get the image of the passenger list, using either the Internet or microfilm.  The actual image of the manifest can possibly show more information about your ancestor, traveling companions, etc. 

Notes:1)  The following tables summarize those indexes which are available for each of the major US ports in the 1820 to Ca1891 time period.

2)   Until a few years ago, generally only microfilm copies of the passenger lists and their indexes were available for research.  Then, Indexes, such as Germans to America, Italians to America, etc., were published in books to "fill in the gaps" where microfilm indexes did not exist.  Subsequently, these indexes were published as CD-Rom's.  Now (Since 2001), different indexes to passenger lists  and some passenger lists images are being placed online almost daily.
3)   If  you know the exact date and/or ship of arrival, there is no need to use the indexes; go directly to the passenger lists.  Hint:  However, you may not find a passenger list for that date.  If a ship arrived on a Sunday or Holiday, the Customs Office may have been closed and then the passenger list may be filed  one or more days later.  In that case, search the lists for the following daysAlso,  be aware that the date of arrival as given in contemporary sources, including naturalization records, is often incorrect.  You may want to broaden your search to include  years on either side of the date given.
TABLE 1 - Passenger Lists Indexes Online, on CD-Rom, and on Microfilm
Click for more
Information ---->

CD-Rom Microfilm
Ellis Island
Castle Garden

National Archives (NARA)

Misc. Atlantic
Gulf Coasts, &
Great Lakes Ports

Majority online

N/A M334 (Rolls 1-188)  1820-1874

1820 to 1948
   CD 259
1820 to 1852
CD 260
1851 to 1872
M327 (Rolls 1-171) Fed Lists 1820-1897  Soundex
M326 (Rolls 1-22)
City Lists 1833-1866 Soundex


1820 to 1943
   CD 256
 1821 to 1850
 M265 (Rolls1-282)  1848-1891 0205656
New Orleans

1820 to 1945    CD 358
 1820 to 1850
 T527 (Rolls 1-32)   Before 1900 0543443
New York 1892 to 1924
(with images)
1855 to 1890
(with images)
1820 to 1957 (with images)
   CD 273
 1820 to 1850
1851 to 1891
M261 (Rolls 1-103)  1820-1846 0350204 Bentley
1820 to 1832


1800 to 1945
   CD 359
 1800 to 1850
M360 (Rolls 1-151)  1820-1906 0419424

TABLE 2 - Other Indexes to Passenger Lists Online, on CD-Rom, and in Books
Click for more
Information ---->
Passenger Lists Index
1500's to1900's
CD-354 1500's to1900's
Filby's Volumes 1-3 1981
plus yearly volumes
Immigrants to America (Incl. arrivals in US 1819-20,  1821-23,
to Baltimore1820-34, to Rhode Is. 1820-71 plus 16 other works)
1600's to 1800's
CD-352  1600's to 1800's
Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild  (ISTG)
Searchable Transcriptions of mostly 1820 to 1897 arrivals
ISTG (free)   About
  11,000 ships 

Germans to America
1850 to 1888
CD-355  1850 to 1874
CD-356  1875 to 1888
Glazier  67 Volumes 1850 to 1897
Series II  1840 to 1849
German & Swiss Immigrants in America
1700's to 1800's
CD-267   1700's to 1800's

Various -  Includes
Zimmerman German Immigrants  1847-1871
Wuerttemberg Emigration Index
1808 to 1890
Item #2134 (Ancestry)
Schenk   8 Volumes
1808 to 1890
Irish to America
1846 to 1886
CD-357  1846 to 1865
CD-264  1846 to 1886
CD-257   1803 to 1871

Irish - Famine Immigrants
1846 to 1851

Glazier  7 Volumes
1846 -1851
Irish & British to America
CD-362 1860's to 1870's
CD-365 1870 to 1872
CD-366 1873 to 1879

Italians to America
Free Online source
1880 to 1893
CD-353 1880 to 1893
Glazier 16 Volumes
1880 - 1902
Russians to America
1850 to 1896
CD-360   1850 to 1896
Glazier  4 Volumes
1850 to 1896
Dutch Immigrants to America
1820 to 1880
CD-269   1820 to 1880
Swierenga 2 Volumes
1820 to 1880
Dutch Immigrants to NY
1881 to 1894

Scottish Immigrants to North America
1600's to 1800's
CD-268 1600's to 1800's
Scotch-Irish Settlers in America
1500's to 1800's
CD-276  1500's to 1800's
NY City Immigrants (Austria. Galicia, Poland)
1890 to 1891

  Table 3 - European Ports & Archives having Databases for Emigration to the US - Click Here for Information & Instructions

Hamburg Passenger Lists
    1850 to 1934
Denmark 1869 to 1940 Danish Emigration Archives

Norway Digital Archives 1867 to 1930 Arkivverket Digitalarkivet

Norway Heritage Passenger lists
   1825 to 1925 
Norway Heritage
Finland 1890 to 1950
Finnish Institute of Migration

Sweden Emigration Records 1783 to 1951

Data Banks on Italian emigrants to the United States, Argentina and Brazil
Cerca le tue radici

England  1890 to 1960
Ancestors on Board
French Lines 1864 to 1936 
French Lines

4.3.1  Searching on the Internet
Tables 1 and 2 refer to Indexes to Passenger List databases that can be accessed from your home computer.  This section provides more information about these databases.   These online databases include both freely searchable websites and "paid subscription" services.
Hint:  Both are accessible from your home computer, however, you may want to check nearby genealogical societies, public libraries, and LDS Family History Centers to determine if they have free access to the subscription services.

Note:  Some of the indexes on the Internet also have corresponding images of the actual ships passenger list available online.  However, some of these images may not be of the best quality, and therefore you may want to look at (and print)  the actual images of the passenger lists using microfilm records.  See Section 4.3.3 - for guidance in searching the microfilm

Search Tools by Stephen Morse 
It is recommended that you start with this outstanding web site to search the various Island online immigration databases.   Its  advanced capabilities can greatly enhance your search and expedite locating an Ellis Island or other immigarion records.  It permits you to broaden your search by entering only minimal data (e.g. only part of a name), or narrow your search by entering different parameters (e.g. a date of arrival or an immigrants ethnic city).  Many times this can directly lead to locating your ancestor's record. Thus achieving a "one-step" search.  One step tools are added  frequently so check back for updates.  The tools are free to use, but if the tool is accessing a fee-based service a subscription to the service is required.  Click here for links to Steve Morse "one-step" and for hints to search these records.

Ellis Island Passenger Arrivals - 1892 to 1924 (Free)-
  Provides searchable access to more than 17 million Ellis Island passenger records covering individuals who entered through New York Harbor between 1892-1924.   Actual images of the passenger manifests and other information are provided.  Passenger and Immigration Lists - (Paid Subscription****)    This subscription also provides access to many other searchable databases including census records, etc.  The most significant Passenger and Immigration database for this period is the searchable index of the New York passenger manifests for 1820 to 1957.   The images of the New York passenger manifests  for 1820 to 1957. are also available.
    Look at  list of all records included in the Passenger and Immigration database  -
Click here
**** Hint:  Contact your local LDS Family History Center and check whether is available online on their computer.  (It is now available FREE at many Family History Centers).  You may also check with local libraries to find if they have Ancestry Library Edition available.

Genealogy .com International and Passenger Records - (Paid Subscription) In addition to the databases noted in the tables, this subscription includes a collection of European, British, and Canadian records.

Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) (Free)  The ISTG is a group of volunteers who transcribe ships passenger lists which are then placed on the ISTG web site.  As of this time,  more than 7,500 transcriptions of passenger lists from the colonial days up to the 1900's have been uploaded to that site.  The passenger lists are searchable by: (1) Date, (2) Ship's Name, (3) Port of Arrival, and (4) Surname.

National Archives & Records Administration  (NARA) ADD (Free) Records for Passengers Who Arrived at the Port of New York during the Irish Famine - 1846 to 1851
The Irish Famine Immigrants is fully searchable. This is one of  about 400 on-line databases available on NARA's Access to Archival Digital Databases (ADD) web site.

Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records 1820-1940s - arrivals at US ports from Europe by Joe Beine  This is a very well organized web site with various guides, and links to help find passenger lists in this time period.  Be sure to check out his on-line catalogs of  NARA and LDS FHL microfilms of passenger manifests.

The Olive Tree Genealogy by Lorine McGinnis Schulze  
A very large genealogy website emphasizing Passenger Lists and Immigration Records . There are more than 1,700 pages of free information and links to other free and subscription sites.   Free searchable databases include ships' passenger lists, military records, Native American Genealogy, Palatines, Huguenots, Mennonites, USA Genealogy, Canadian Genealogy and more.  There are so many choices that it can be overwhelming and confusing - allow yourself lots of time to look around. 
Some pages on this site to start with:
List of film numbers for NY ships passenger lists after 1820
Images & transcriptions for the unindexed NY years (1847-1896)
Ships to New York can be searched at   Be sure to scroll DOWN the page after you wait for it to load completely.  Then use "Search FREE Ships Passenger Lists ....."

TheShipsList by Sue Swiggum   Another large web site including details of ships; passenger records; contemporary immigration reports; newspaper records; ship wreck information; ship pictures etc. It includes over 3500 free web-pages covering US and world-wide records, with emphasis on Canadian records.   There are numerous searchable databases including Passenger Lists, Company Fleet Lists, Marriages at Sea, Ship Descriptions and Voyage Histories, etc.   Also, has numerous links to other immigration web sites. 

Mailing Lists Online       
You may also join one of the mailing lists on the Internet and submit a query. 
TheShipsList Mailing List  A very active list.  Submit queries to find  passenger lists, fleet lists, shipping schedules, ship descriptions, wreck data, and other information which is not readily available online.  To SUBSCRIBE to TheShipsList Digest, send e-mail to  
with the single word subscribe in the message subject and body.  Do NOT include your name, address or any other text in the message.
Browse the ShipsList archives to see if your Ship has ever been discussed in The ShipsList mailing list.
Search the ShipList Archives     (First browse to the page of interest and then select “Search the ShipsList” for an every word search of that page)

4.3.2  Using CD-Rom's

The CD-ROM's listed in Tables 1 and 2 are becoming available at many genealogical libraries and genealogical societies.  CD-ROM's  generally have a fully searchable index offering a variety of different search criteria.  The CD-Rom may use different search criteria and may include somewhat different database material than that which is in the "equivalent" on-line database and therefore it may be productive to search the CD's if ou faild to locate your ancestor on the other sites.

Hint:   Generally start your search using only the surname.  A list of  passengers having that common surname and similar spellings is displayed. Then browse through the names  to find one with the desired first name, age, and or place of origin.  If you find an ancestor, you can find all others coming on that same ship by clicking on the Search button and then entering the date and ship name in the search criteria. You can also search by parts of names (using wildcards) origin, date of arrival, ship name and other criteria.

Most CD-Rom's are available for purchase from   Look at their web page for a full description for each CD-Rom, including the lists of books, and other references that are included on that CD. also has a catalog of hundreds of other genealogical CD-Rom's that may be ordered.
Note:  To use these CD-Rom's, either the Family Tree Maker program or the free Family Archive Viewer program must be installed on your computer.

4.3.3 Using Microfilm

Microfilm copies of the passenger lists are available at the National Archives (NARA), the LDS FHC, and at some libraries.  The original customs passenger lists and the indexes generated by the WPA (in the 1930's) were microfilmed by NARA (in the 1940's) and are now archived as NARA Record Group 36.

Note:  Some of the original records had been lost or destroyed before they were indexed and microfilmed.  There have been efforts to reconstruct the lost records by using other resources.  Some of these substituted and alternate sources are defined below.  Also, refer to tables 1 and 2 and use the links to other online sites, especially that of  Joe Beine, to  locate other lesser known alternative sources.  
Note:  You may ask, "Do any of the original paper records survive?"  Most were destroyed after they were microfilmed.  However, one important collection of original customs passenger paper manifests for the port of NY does survive.  It is presently being inventoried and "archived" at the NY branch of NARA.  Contact the NY branch of NARA to see if they are available for research if you are interested in checking these original records .

Table 4 summarizes the Customs Passenger Lists that are available on microfilm.  As shown, the records for each port are included in one-or-more microfilm publication, and each publication includes many rolls of microfilm.  For example,  Microfilm Publication M261,  "Index to Passenger Lists for the port of NY" consists of 103 rolls of microfilm.   The NARA catalog may be used  to determine the microfilm roll number of  the desired index and/or passenger lists.  This catalog and others that are now online include:
National Archives web site for Record Group 36  Includes information and roll numbers listed by port of arrival and then by date of arrival.
Microfilm Roll Numbers for USA Passenger Arrival Records  by Joe Beine.  This on-line catalog is similar to the National Archives catalog, but also includes the  LDS Family History Library microfilm numbers and other useful information
Family History Library   The catalog for the LDS Family History Library.   Use the "LDS FHL" number in table 4 and do a fiche/film number search of this catalog to easily locate the appropriate list for the desired port.

Searching Microfilms in Indexed Years.- Contains a step-by-step example with illustrations

As illustrated in Table 4, many of the passenger lists have been indexed.  There are four steps in searching the indexed records:
1) Starting with the port of arrival, use a catalog for the index to find the microfilm roll that has the immigrants name
2) Search that microfilm to find the index card with the immigrant's name, and take note of the ship name, arrival date, and other information
3) Locate the microfilm containing that date of arrival using the catalog
4) Search that microfilm to find the date and that ship's manifest and then locate the immigrants listing 

Click here to link to a step-by-step example illustrating this procedure.   This example contains samples of catalog pages and scans of actual index cards that you may find in your research.  (Reminder - You may want to review Section 2.0 of this Guide for general research guidelines and for further information on using the National Archives, the LDS FHC, or a  library for research.)

Table 4 - U. S. Ports Having Records of the Customs Service, 1820 - circa 1891 ( NARA Record Group 36)
Index (Soundex) to Passenger Lists   1820 to 1897
Index (Soundex) to Passenger Lists  1833-1866
Passenger Lists 1820-1891
Passenger Lists (Quarterly Abstracts)
SEE NOTE 1 BELOW for discussion on researching Baltimore records

M327 (Rolls 1-171)      Federal Lists
M326 (Rolls 1-22)       City Lists
M596 (Rolls 1-6)
M255 (Rolls 1-50)


Index to Passenger Lists  1848-1891
Passenger Lists 1820-1891
SEE NOTE 2 BELOW for discussion on researching Boston records

M265 (Rolls 1-282)
M277 (Rolls 1-115)


Index to Passenger Lists   Before 1900
Passenger Lists 1820-1902   
Passenger Lists (Quarterly Abstracts)1820-1875    

M527 (Rolls 1-32)
M259 (Rolls 1-93)
M272 (Rolls 1-17)

Index to Passenger Lists  1820-1846
Passenger Lists 1820-1897

M261 (Rolls 1-103)
M237 (Rolls 1-675)

Index to Passenger Lists  1820-1906
Passenger Lists 1800-1882    

M360 (Rolls 1-151)
M425 (Rolls 1-108)

Index to Passenger Lists 1820-1874
Passenger Lists 1820-1873

M334 (Rolls 1-188) 
 M575 (Rolls 1-16) 


Customs passenger lists of Baltimore were kept beginning in January 1820, but most of the early lists are missing and were reportedly destroyed by a fire. The following records are included on the passenger list microfilms.
1. Surviving U.S. Customs passenger lists from 1 January 1840 to 28 December 1891.
2. Baltimore City lists for 4 September 1833 to 13 June 1866 (with some gaps). During these years, ship masters were required to submit copies of their passenger lists to the Mayor of Baltimore. The federal records are supplemented by the "city lists" which partially replace the missing original lists.
3. Cargo manifests from 2 September 1820 to 30 March 1821 and August 1832.

The Quarterly abstracts of Baltimore passenger lists were first compiled in 1820. Beginning in 1820, U.S. Customs collectors were required to send quarterly copies of the customs lists to the U.S. Secretary of State who published transcripts for Congress. These quarterly abstracts or copies give the time of an individual's arrival and sometimes the port of embarkation. The passenger's given names were usually shortened to the initial letter, but otherwise the information is the same as that found in the original lists. The abstracts should only be used when the original list is missing.  Note that the abstracts also have many gaps and some years are missing.  Abstracts exist for 1820 - 45, 1848 - 50, 1857 - 69.

NOTE 2 - BOSTON -  The only index to passenger lists of vessels arriving at Boston prior to 1848 is included as part of the Supplemental Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports (Excluding New York), 1820-1874, National Archives Microfilm Publication M334 (188 rolls) (This index is listed under Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes Ports in the table above).  Note that the Boston indexes include errors since no original U. S. Customs passenger lists survive for Boston prior to 1883, and these indexes were extracted from copies of the lists, many of which no longer survive.

In addition to the U. S. Customs passenger lists for Boston (M277) included in table 4, there exist Massachusetts State Lists for 1848 to 1891.  These were compiled in accordance with a Massachusetts state law requiring a bond of indemnity or the prepayment of $2.00 for each passenger who landed from abroad.  They are often easier to read and more accurate than the U.S. Customs lists.  They are not Federal records, they have not been microfilmed, and are consequently not available at NARA nor at the LDS Family History Centers.  If you find any of your ancestors in the Boston index (M265), you can obtain a photocopy of the "State List" Passenger Manifest pages by writing to:  (Give the name of the vessel, and the date of the manifest that you want).

Archives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125

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4.3.4  Using Books and other Publications
There are a number of private indexes that have been compiled by nationality and published in books (Some are now also online and on CD-Rom).  They are available at larger libraries and libraries having a larger genealogical collection.   If you find your ancestor's name in the indexes, the date and the ship name and other information is generally listed.  Then, go to the NARA (or LDS) passenger list catalog and find the microfilm roll number that refers to the Passenger List for the date found in the index.  Then get that microfilm and search for the applicable passenger list.

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4.4 Castle Garden - Port of New York

Castle Garden located at the Battery in lower Manhattan was the immigration center for the Port of New York prior to Ellis Island opening in 1892.

By all accounts, the most exciting part of the journey was its end, the day of arrival, when ships made port and at long last the weary travelers could land. New York City was the principal port of entry for immigrants, their path to America determined by well-established shipping lanes across the Atlantic Ocean. The nation's largest seaport since the 1820's, New York was also a major railroad hub that offered access to nearly every part of the country.

Because of the waves of newcomers entering the city, New York was the first port to open an immigration depot - Castle Garden, a massive stone structure built in 1808 as a fort. It later served as an opera house until 1855, when New York State authorities transformed it into a landing station. Castle Garden's primary purpose was not to inspect, but to protect hapless newcomers from the crooks, prostitutes, and swindlers, that prowled the piers looking for easy marks. Within Castle Garden's walls, immigrants could exchange money, purchase food and rail tickets, attend to baggage, and obtain information about boarding houses and employment.

By the time it closed in 1890, the old depot, run-down and shabby from hard use, had registered over eight million immigrants.  It then was used as the New York Aquarium for a period of time.  Castle Clinton is now a National Monument.


Castle Clinton National Monument    The National Park site describing the present National Monument and including pictures of this facility

Castle Clinton:  The Fort, Show Business, a Landing Place for Immigrants  Includes a further history of Castle Clinton

Louis Alfano's web page - The Immigration Experience , provides pictures and a detailed history and other information about Castle Clinton, Ellis Island, and Angel Island (Processing Station at San Francisco)

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Copyright © Arnold H. Lang 2002