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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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Lesson 10: Immigration Passenger Lists

The origin for most immigrants in the modern period (1890s to the present) is usually documented in a wide variety of easily accessible sources. This is what makes recent immigrants so much easier to trace. One of the most universal records for this time period is the passenger arrival list.

The U.S. federal government first mandated the keeping of arrival lists in 1819, and lists for most ports generally date from 1820. However, those early lists typically gave little information about the immigrant's home town, and will be further discussed in a later lesson. For the purposes of this lesson, we want to focus on the lists created by the immigration act of 1891, and administered by the evolving and growing Bureau of Immigration (since 1933 known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS). These lists, which began at various dates in different ports, are called Immigration Passenger Lists to distinguish them from the earlier, and less detailed, Customs Passenger Lists.

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