dates stand out in the history of United States passenger arrival lists.
In 1819 Congress passed legislation requiring ships' masters to file a
list of arriving passengers with U.S. customs officers at U.S. ports of
entry. These early lists normally included the passenger's name, age,
occupation, country of origin, and destination country. The names of persons
who were born, married, or who died during the voyage were also reported.
Federal legislation in 1882 required separate passenger lists for
immigrants, but it was not until 1893 that standardized forms called
for ships' masters to add each immigrant's marital status, last place
of residence, destination city, and names and addresses of relatives
they planned to meet in the U.S.
In 1903 each immigrant's race was added, and in 1906 their physical
description. The names and addresses of immigrants' nearest kin in the
home country became part of immigration passenger arrival lists in 1907.
Customs passenger arrival lists dating from 1820 to 1891 are available
on National Archives microfilms for most Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports.
Microfilm copies of immigration passenger arrival lists from 1891 to
1957 are available for major Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and Pacific ports.
Most ports have indexes covering these time periods. New York arrivals,
containing probably 60% of America's immigrants, are indexed from 1820
through 1846 and 1897 to 1943.
Where do family historians find these National Archives microfilms?
They are available through local LDS Family History Centers, many public
libraries and state and local historical societies. Each of the regional
offices of the National Archives has a complete set of passenger arrival
Overcoming the lack of arrival lists indexes for the port of New York
is not difficult. If a researcher knows an immigrant's arrival date
in the United States, he or she need only search the microfilms containing
the arrival lists for the year in question. If the arrival year is unknown,
a survey of the decennial U.S. censuses in search of the immigrant ancestor
may provide an arrival year. If a census entry can be found in 1900,
1910, or 1920, it will normally contain the year of arrival in the United
Ancestors not found in these censuses may turn up in earlier censuses.
Each census prior to the immigrant's death should be searched. Eventually
the historian will discover the earliest census in which the immigrant
The next step is to determine if city or county directories exist
for the locality listed as the home of the immigrant in their earliest
census entry. These annual directories should be searched from the date
of the first census entry for the ancestor back in time until the name
is no longer found in the directory. The first year in which no entry
for the ancestor appears in the local directory can be recorded as the
approximate year of immigration. Now the genealogist can search in New
York arrival lists, beginning with the first year in which the immigrant
is missing in his or her local city or county directory.
Noting ages and places of birth recorded in the census for the children
of immigrants may also point to an immigration year. If one child was
born in 1863 in England and the next in 1865 in the United States, the
years 1863-1865 become the target dates for searching New York arrival