Here are some suggestions for finding your immigrant ancestors on a ship passenger list (or manifest) for their arrival in the United States from 1820 to the 1940s (1950s for some ports).
- Clues in the Census: the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 US federal censuses have a column for year of arrival for immigrants. This can help narrow down the search. Be careful as census records may contain errors.
- Naturalization Records: Naturalization records created September 27, 1906 and later will usually give the name of the ship, port and date of arrival. Naturalization records before that usually do not give this information (although some might). You may sometimes find errors in these records.
- Be sure to try alternate spellings of names when searching online databases or other indexes.
Ancestry has digitized and indexed microfilm of National Archives passenger records for the major ports (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans) as well as many smaller ports. These can be searched online if you have an Ancestry subscription (fee required). This can be a good place to start your search because they have so many records in one place. And you don't need to know the name of the port where your ancestor arrived, or the date of arrival.
- Ancestry's Immigration Records Collection (fee-based)
Port by Port Search
If you're having difficulty finding your ancestor's passenger list you might try a more specific search at each port. If you don't know the arrival port or don't know where to start, you can find some ideas at: Tips for Determining Your Ancestor's Probable Port of Arrival
- Finding Passenger Lists and Immigration Records 1820-1940s is a basic research guide for finding passenger records, listed by the major ports and some of the smaller ports
- Ship Passenger Lists and Records on the Internet lists some Internet sources for transcribed passenger records and indexes
- New York Indexes and the Ellis Island Database...
The largest port where immgrants arrived in the U.S. is New York. Most people with European immigrant ancestors will probably want to search New York arrivals first, unless they know their immigrant ancestor arrived elsewhere. Here are some tools and articles which may be helpful for finding New York passenger arrivals:
- New York Passenger Lists Research Guide
- Ellis Island Database: for New York arrivals 1892-1924
- Searching the Ellis Island Database in One Step can be a useful tool for searching the Ellis Island Database
- Castle Garden Database indexes some NY arrivals from about 1830-1892 (may have some omissions or errors)
- Ellis Island? Castle Garden? Which One? And When? is an article about New York's immigrant processing centers
- New Orleans...
If your immigrant ancestor settled in St. Louis, Missouri or along the Mississippi river (especially prior to the Civil War), he or she may have landed at New Orleans and taken a riverboat up the Mississippi.
- Smaller Ports, West Coast Ports and Border Crossing Records...
- US Ports of Arrival and their Available Passenger Lists 1820-1957 is a list of many United States ports with information about the available passenger records and indexes. Includes information about Canadian and Mexican border crossing records.
Some ship passenger indexes have been created for various ethnic groups and these may be helpful as alternate resources if you can't find your immigrant ancestor in other indexes.
- The Germans to America (1850-1897), Italians to America (1855-1900), Russian Immigrants (1834-1897) and Irish Famine Immigrants (1846-1851) databases can be searched online at the National Archives website: Passenger Lists - Access to Archival Databases (AAD)
- For more details on these indexes and others see:
- Microfilm Roll Numbers for USA Passenger Arrival Records includes National Archives and Family History Library microfilm roll numbers
- Also see the individual port links above.