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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 historians.

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 Picture of Young Manthe 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 period.

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