While the U.S. federal government had passed laws dealing with immigration
in 1819, 1847, 1848, and 1855, these laws had little affect on the keeping
of passenger lists (other than to mandate that they be kept). When the
Supreme Court decided, in 1876, that states could not tax or regulate
immigration (since issues of foreign commerce are reserved to the federal
government), interest in federal legislation grew. Immigration and Passenger
Acts in 1882 provided the foundation for the later, more detailed lists.
Indeed, even the 1882 passenger act called for lists to include, in
addition to the name, ages, sex, and occupation of passengers, also
their native country and intended destination. Previous lists had only
recorded the country of allegiance, which is not always the same as
As pressures grew to restrict or, at least, to regulate immigration,
a major new piece of legislation emerged -- the Immigration Act of 1891.
This act established the Superintendent of Immigration (at first under
the Department of Treasury) and that required lists be kept to also
report the last residence of each alien. Two years later, another act,
designed to improve enforcement of the existing law, required more than
twice as much information from the passenger. Hence, the number of columns
on the ship's manifest had increased from the five or six on the older
Customs Lists, to twenty-one in 1893.
Some of the important additions included:
- last residence
- if joining a relative, that person's name, address,
- immigrant's ability to read and write
- who paid for passage
- state of immigrant's health
These acts had established "Immigrant Receiving Stations"
with inspectors who were to have "in his hands a written record of the
immigrant he was inspecting and, asking the same questions over again,
could compare the oral statements with it." Thus the lists were generally
filled out by the steamship lines, on forms provided by the Bureau of
Immigration, and provided to the inspectors at the receiving stations.