Government Requires Lists of Arrivals
Alarmed at this situation, the recently formed U.S.
government took over jurisdiction of immigration to the still new United
States. In 1819, Congress passed a law regulating the maximum number
of passengers allowed per ship, based on its total tonnage. Although
the allocations were not very restrictive and did little to improve
the conditions of the passengers, the law also mandated the keeping
of a list of arrivals. These lists are truly a Godsend for today's family
The Bureau of Customs was charged with the keeping
of these lists, hence the lists from 1820 through about 1891 (the ending
dates vary by port) are called the "Customs Passenger Lists."
The bureau provided blank forms to the
shipping companies, which the captains (usually their mates) prepared
on board. These forms were then submitted to the collector of customs
at the port of arrival. Eventually, these lists, or the ones that survived
the ravages of time, ended up in the custody of the National Archives,
where they have been microfilmed for preservation and improved access.
The law also required that copies and abstracts of
the list be made for the State Department. With the loss of some of
the original lists, these copies and/or abstracts are an invaluable
source for filling those gaps. Therefore, when the original lists were
microfilmed, the National Archives included available copies and abstracts
in the microfilms. Thus we have a fairly complete collection of documents
identifying more then 20 million persons who arrived during this time