our everyday life

How to Find Ship Passenger Lists for Immigrants

by Sandra Webster

While tracing your family tree you are bound to discover ancestors who came to America from other countries. Obviously, unless you are of Native American descent, some where along the line you will need to learn how to find ship passenger lists for immigrants to keep tracing your genealogy. Most immigrants came to the country in the 1800s and early 1900s. Those coming before that time frame and before the country was established were referred to as colonials and while require different search methods.

Trace your family tree to any ancestors who immigrated to America in the 1800's. Before 1820 there were no federal laws requiring the documentation of immigrants arriving in America. Each ship transporting passengers or slaves from Europe, Africa and Asia carried a passenger list or cargo manifest, but few records have survives the ravages of time.

Determine the full given name of your ancestor, the approximate date range of their arrival into the country, and about how old they would have been at the time. Keep in mind that errors were made and misspellings occurred so look for variations of that spelling as well. Remember that women in some European countries may appear on record under their maiden names even if they were married and accompanying their husband and children.

Search indexes to published arrival records by port of arrival if you know this information. Search for your ancestor's name in any available index to published arrival records if the only information you have is their name, approximate date of arrival and estimated age. Search indexes to published arrival records grouped by nationality if you know your ancestor's nationality. Search indexes to published arrival records grouped by religious affiliation, geographic place of settlement or other identifiable information if you have that information available. Search indexes to published arrival records by port of arrival if you know this information.

Access the aforementioned indexes at repositories such as the National Archive in Washington D.C., one of the Regional archives, through one of the many LDS Family History Centers, and at many of the larger public libraries across the country. Some of the information may also be available online.

Look for immigration records for ancestors who arrived in America before 1820 in local and state histories, records housed at historical societies and even in genealogical books and articles you may find. Museums, courthouses and libraries may also contain some record or passenger list. Naturalization records may be found in the National Archive if made in federal court, at one of the Regional archives if made in state courts, and in city archives if made in county court.

Tip

  • Keep organized records on standard genealogy forms that you have copied or downloaded and printed.

References

  • They Came in Ships by John P. Colletta, Ph.D.; 2002 Ancestry Publishing, Orem, Utah