Immigration and Ships Passenger Lists Research Guide
Section 5.0 - Last updated Sept 2011

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Section 5.0 - RESEARCH IN YEARS AFTER Circa 1891

 Click here to link to the on-line Ellis Island Data Base (1892 to 1924)

5.1 What Information May be Found in the Passenger Lists

5.2 What Records are Available
Now has scanned images of passenger lists
5.3 Searching These Records
   5.3.1  You Know Approximate Date and Port of Arrival - Now includes a detailed example
   5.3.2  You Know Exact Date and Port of Arrival with example
   5.3.3  You Know the Name of Ship and Approximate Date of Arrival with example
   5.3.4   You Know the Port of Embarkation  on-line searches of Bremen and Hamburg departure lists
5.4 Ellis Island On-Line Database (1892 to 1924)
5.5 About Ellis Island and the Wall of Honor

The Immigration Passenger Lists - ca1891 to 1957

With so many immigrants entering the United States in the 1800's, the congress passed the first federal law regulating immigration in 1882. Nine years later, in 1891, the Superintendent of Immigration was established. Then in 1906, this became the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. The records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) are called Immigration Passenger Lists.

5.1 What Information May be Found in the Immigration Passenger Lists  

The Immigration Passenger Lists contain more information than the earlier Customs Passenger Lists.  The initial lists, which were introduced in 1891, consisted of one page.  Further information was added in following years and the list became two pages in 1906.  Click on the following images to see a full page picture of a typical 1907 Passenger List.  The information that can be found on these lists is highlighted.    


          Passenger List - page 1 1907 Passenger List - page 2

                Page 1 of 1907 Passenger List                                                        Page 2 of 1907 Passenger List

Some "important information" on these lists include:

Notes Marked on the Passenger Lists

You may find various markings markings, codes, and annotations written on the passenger list.  Some of these markings can be important in defining further research.  For example, some annotations indicate that the passenger was naturalized (possibly leading you to finding the naturalization record), others indicate that he was detained (Note: The detained passengers with the reason for detention and including other information are generally listed on the last sheet of the ship's manifest.).  An outstanding explanation of these markings is included in the "Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations" by Marian L. Smith, Historian, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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5.2 What Records are Available

 National Archives for Passenger Arrivals - This will link you to the National Archives (NARA) catalog of  microfilms of  Immigration Passenger Lists and the available indexes to these lists.   These microfilm records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) include indexes, passenger lists, crew lists and other records for the U.S. ports listed below.    The microfilms of the Immigration Passenger List were transferred from the INS  to the National Archives and are identified as NARA Record Group 85.

Errors were made in the microfilms of these records which cannot be corrected. The original records were destroyed by the INS after microfilming them. As a result, there may be indexes for which no passenger lists exist, some date spans overlap in the records, and there are some passenger lists for which no indexes exist.  Indexes for these lists, which were made by the WPA in the 1930's,  are part of the NARA records.

Before you go to do your research, use this on-line catalog to determine the microfilm publication number and roll number(s)  for the index and/or passenger list that you need.

The Ellis Island on-line database now includes the New York records from 1892-1924. You should first search this data base if you are looking for a New York arrival in this period

NOTE:  Are you searching in New York prior to 1897.  The Immigration Passenger List records do not start until 1897  for the port of New York.  The reason for this is that these records burned in a fire on Ellis Island in that year.  The Customs Passenger Lists, which were also kept for those years do survive.  The Ellis Island database uses the Customs Passenger Lists for 1892 to 1897.  See Section 4.0 of this guide for  information about the Custom Passenger Lists.

Searching On-Line - Most passenger lists are indexed on-line at Ancestry.  More are added every day and you may want to check the links to appropriate web sites listed in the following paragraphs. Generally, at the present time, you still have to use library and archive facilities to find these passenger lists.   

Searching at the Library or Archives - The microfilms of the passenger lists are available at the National Archives (and their branches), at the LDS Family History Centers, at some major libraries, and by inter-library loan.  See Section 2.0  of this Guide for a description of how to use these facilities.

Using the LDS Family History Library?  Use the following site to see a list of LDS microfilm numbers.
Microfilm Roll Numbers for USA Passenger Arrival Records
A great site by Joe Beine.  This is an on-line catalog similar to the National Archives catalog, but also includes the LDS microfilm numbers.  (The LDS film numbers are sometimes difficult to locate in the LDS Family History Library catalog).  

   U. S. Ports With Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1891 - 1957

5.3 Searching These Records
Before you start your search, you may want to review Section 2.0 including "What You Need to Know to Get Started"

5.3.1  If You Know Approximate Date and Port of Arrival -

Is it for an arrival at New York between 1891 and 1924?   Search the Ellis Island Records on-line!

For other dates and other ports?   Search on Ancestry or check the latest on-line passenger lists if applicable, or
                                                                use the following procedure

Click to see a detailed example of the general procedure as described in the following four steps if you only know the immigrant's name, approximate date of arrival, and port of arrival:   The detailed example includes a step by step procedure and shows the images of  the records that you may find.

5.3.2  If You Know Exact Date and Port of Arrival
You may be able to go directly to the Passenger list.  To do this you:

Click here to go to a  detailed example of this procedure which includes illustrations of some of the records that you may find.

5.3.3 If You Know the Name of Ship and Approximate Date of Arrival, and if the arrival was at:
New York 1890 - 1930, Boston 1904 - 1926, or Philadelphia 1904-1926

You can find the exact date of arrival by searching the following on-line database or the book.  After you know the date, you may be able to go directly to the Passenger list as described in Section 5.3.2 above.   You have the choice of:

1)    Using the book   "Morton-Allen Directory of European Passenger Arrivals at the Port of New York, 1890-1930, and at the Ports of Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia, 1904-1926" available at many libraries, or,

2)    Log unto Tony Cimorelli's Passenger List/Manifest web site.    He has placed the information from the Morton-Allen Directory on-line and has search engines to search the  passenger manifests by ship name, shipping line, or by date of arrival.  (Note that these databases do not include the actual passenger lists).  

3)   Go to Steve Morse's web site: "Searching the Morton Allan Directory in One Step"   This site provides an expidited  means of quickly searching by ship names, shipping lines, port of departure, port of arrival, or date of arrival.

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5.3.4 If You Know the Port of Embarkation

Did your ancestor come through Bremen between 1920 through 1939 - Use on-line search!
(All other Bremen Passenger Lists were destroyed.  Lists from 1875 to 1908 were destroyed when they became older than three years to provide more filing space. With the exception of the lists for 1920 to 1939, all other lists were lost in World War II.)    These Bremen Passenger Lists lists are being digitized and indexes are being put on line by the Bremen Society for Genealogical Investigation, Die Maus.   Search for passengers on-line (Using Soundex)  at: Die Maus

Did they emigrate from Bremen at other times - Use DAD!
The Bremerhaven/Morgenstern-Museum has been digitizing (and indexing) many passenger lists and putting those databases on DAD (Deutsche-Auswanderer-Datenbank) terminals at the museum.   Visitors to the museum can use these terminals to search these lists for free.  An online search is available at German Emigrants Database  

At the present, it appears that most of the records on this database are digitized copies of the applicable "Customs Passenger Lists" and "Immigration Passenger Lists" available on microfilm at the US National Archives and the LDS Family History centers.   However, the Bremen lists presently have indexes from 1850 to 1891.  

About 30% of Europeans passed through Hamburg.  Departure Lists of passengers on vessels sailing from Hamburg between 1850 and 1934 survive in the Hamburg State Archive. These records are indexed online at Ancestry and have been microfilmed that are available at some US National Archives and at the LDS Family History Centers.  

5.5 About Ellis Island and The Wall of Honor

As the flow of immigration to America steadily swelled through the 1880s, it became apparent that the Castle Garden facility at the southern tip of Manhattan (See Section 4.4 of this Guide for information about Castle Garden) could no longer handle the numbers involved. So Ellis Island, which was named after a Manhattan merchandiser Samuel Ellis, who owned it in the 18th century, was transformed into a great immigrant processing center. The size of the island was increased nine fold with landfill, and a series of buildings, some of them almost Byzantine in appearance, were erected.

The Barge Office, on the lower end of Manhattan was used as an immigration center until the new Ellis Island facility opened in 1892, six years after the Statue of Liberty had been erected. .On June 13, 1897 the original wooden structures on Ellis Island burned to the ground. All the administrative records for Castle Garden for the period 1855-1890 and most of the records for the Barge Office and the Ellis facilities were lost. Ellis Island's entire collection of state and federal lists were stored there and burned. Fortunately, copies of the passenger lists were held by the Customs Collector and abstracts were held in Washington, DC. However, these remaining Customs lists did not have as much information about passengers as did the destroyed Immigration lists.  The fire is the reason that the New York Immigration passenger lists begin with arrivals on June 16, 1897, instead of with 1891 arrivals.  The Barge Office was again used as a processing center until the new stone buildings were opened on Ellis Island in 1900.

The actual experience at Ellis Island could be very unpleasant. Processing delays of several days were common. In 1907, when the immigration reached its peak of 1.3 million persons, it was a crowded, unhealthy, squalid place. European immigration slowly receded, though, and after restrictive laws were put in place in the 1920's, immigration slowed to a trickle. In 1954, the Ellis Island facility was shut down.

Where an immigrant actually got off the steamship might vary. Immigrant steerage passengers were offloaded directly from
some liners onto a barge or ferry and taken to Ellis Island. The first "land" they touched would have been Ellis Island. Other
steerage passengers disembarked from the liner at the steamship company docks then boarded a ferry to Ellis Island. Though
inspected at Ellis Island, the first place they landed was technically either Manhattan, Hoboken, or wherever the steamship
company dock was located.

Still other passengers were inspected on board the passenger ship.  First and second class passengers were all inspected on-board, and only went to Ellis Island if they were detained or held for Special Inquiry. After 1924, when the quota system reduced immigration to very low levels, all immigrants were inspected on-board ship (even all the steerage, or third class, passengers). From the 1920's until 1954 the only arriving immigrants taken to the Ellis Island station were those facing detention or Board of Special Inquiry hearings.  

In 1986, as part of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, the renovation of Ellis Island into an immigration museum was planned. A fund raising effort, headed by Chrysler Corporation chairman, Lee Iacocca, permitted the National Park Service to restore some of the facilities and establish the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

As part of this museum, the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, which has the names of over 500,000 immigrants currently inscribed, was erected. These names are not necessarily of those persons who were processed through Ellis Island. They are the names of ancestors and relatives of people who donated $100 or more for establishment of the museum. You also can have your family name inscribed for posterity at Ellis Island, regardless of when they came to America or through which port they entered. Along with the inscription you'll receive a certificate, personalized with the name and country of origin of the individual you choose to honor.  (See The American Immigrant Wall of Honor  for further information).  You can search the Wall and maybe you'll find your ancestor's name. To search the "Wall" on the web, click on the "Search the Wall" button.  Just remember, if you find you ancestor listed, it doesn't necessarily mean that your ancestor arrived through Ellis Island.

ELLIS ISLAND PASSENGER LIST DATABASE -  Click here for information


Ellis Island 

Louis Alfano's web page - The Immigration Experience  provides a detailed history and other information about Ellis Island and Castle Clinton

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Copyright © Arnold H. Lang 2002