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Passenger Lists

Overview

Passenger lists are among the most frequently requested genealogical materials, and the Library has a strong collection. As immigrants arrived at North American ports, these lists were compiled at the port of entry. The lists document the names of passengers, their age, their sex, and additional information that varies from the first lists of 1565 to the most recently released lists of 1954. Most of the pre-1820 passenger lists have been published in some format.

  • Passenger lists usually contain the name of each passenger, the port from which they came, the name of the ship, and the captain of the ship.
  • Many of the 17th-18th century passenger lists and indexes have been printed in books, pamphlets, or journals. Consult Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1538-1900 by P. William Filby.

Pre-1820 Lists

There were no laws to require the creation of passenger lists. States, colonies and cities dictated the necessity for lists and therefore, the surviving lists are widely scattered. Virtually all of the existing lists are published and are described in the Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography by P. William Filby (2nd edition, Detroit, Gale Research, 1988). The Library holds most of these published lists. Philadelphia was the most popular port of entry in the 18th century.

1820-1891, Customs Passenger Lists

In 1820, U.S. law required captains of vessels to submit a list of passengers to the Collector of Customs at the port of entry. The lists normally include the name of the ship and master, the port of embarkation, the date and port of arrival, each passenger's name, age, sex, occupation and nationality. An additional column was often used to note the berth number of the passenger or the number of pieces of baggage. It may also note deaths at sea.

The lists are available on microfilm and are arranged by port of entry and date of arrival.  You must know the port of entry and at least the month and year of entry to do a reasonable search of the lists. Indexes are compiled by port of entry and are not complete. The port of New York is not indexed from 1847 through 1896. This was an era when many people entered the United States and the port of New York was the most heavily used port at that time. Therefore, a search of one year may cover 10 reels of microfilm. If you know the month, it will decrease your search to 1 or 2 reels of microfilm.

The major ports of arrival included Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. There were minor ports along the Atlantic, Gulf Coast and Great Lakes. There are no surviving lists for most of the western Great Lakes region (IL, MI, WI, etc.). Most immigrants entered through the port of Philadelphia until about 1840, when New York became the busiest North American port of entry.

1891-1954, Immigration Passenger Lists

Standard forms were created and delivered to all shipping lines to be used in place of the variety of forms that had previously been used. New information found on the passenger lists at that time included such details as whether the passenger had previously been in the U.S., a relative's name and address if the passenger was going to live with that person, and the last residence of the passenger, not just the country of origin as seen on previous lists.

Search Strategies

  1. Do you know the date of arrival (day, month & year)?
    1. If you do not know at least a month and year, use other sources before using passenger lists.
    2. If you know the date, find the port of entry.
  2. Do you know the port of entry? There are many ports and only some of them are indexed.
    1. If the port is indexed, go to the index and find the name.
    2. If the port is not indexed, do more family research first. You must know at least a month and year to begin searching a port that is not indexed. 
    3. If you know the port of embarkation, it may help to narrow down the possible ports of entry.
  3. Use other sources. Have you checked the following resources for your direct ancestor and anyone who may have traveled with that person?
    1. Naturalization Records
    2. Censuses (federal, especially 1900, 1910, 1920 which include immigration information) 
    3. Obituaries
    4. Vital Records
    5. Church
    6. Cemetery
    7. Family papers (diaries, letters, etc.)

Indexes

  1. 1565-1819, each index was compiled by different authors who had different formats. Read the introduction to the index to find the explanation of abbreviations and criteria. 
  2. 1820-1954, some alphabetical and soundex indexes were done by the WPA.
  3. Use guides compiled by nationality. Always read the introduction to these books to find out the criteria used in their compilation. They are usually far from comprehensive. See the bibliography of our collection of these books.

Keep in mind . . .

  • Some lists were lost and are not available anywhere. 
  • Many lists are not indexed and will need to be read page by page. This is especially true for New York 1847-1896. 
  • Some indexes missed people that will be on the actual list. 
  • The heaviest immigration occurred in the spring (March, April, May) and the fall (September, October, November). 
  • Look at the complete passenger list for the ship in which your ancestor traveled. Other relatives may have come on the same vessel but will be found on a different page of the list. 
  • Some lists will include information about the length of the trip, stowaways, births and deaths at sea. This explains a little about the trip and people who traveled with your ancestor. 
  • Note the place of origin, when given, of neighboring travelers. If they come from the same town or province, they may be related. 
  • Look at newspapers from the port of arrival for any stories about ship arrivals. This may include information about the trip.

What the Society Owns

The Society maintains a collection of pre-20th century passenger lists for ports in North America (United States and Canada). The collection includes pre-1950 indexes. We do not own records of ports of departure.

Check the Microforms Room Card Catalog under "Passenger Lists". The lists are arranged by port of entry and date of arrival. These are also noted in Library Catalog (formerly MadCat).

Microfilm of Original Passenger Lists

Port  Dates  Indexes  Notes 
Atlantic & Gulf 1820-1873 1820-1874 Scattered ports/dates
AL, FL, GA, SC

----

 Pre-Dec. 1, 1954  
Baltimore 1820-1891 1820-1952  
Boston 1820-1891 1848-1891, 1902-1920  
Galveston, TX

----

1896-1951  
Gulfport, MS

----

1904-1954  
Halifax (Canada) 1881-1899 None  
New Bedford, MA ---- 1902-1954  
New Orleans 1800-1902 Pre 1900-1952 Quarterly Abstracts
New York 1820-1897 1820-1846, 1897-1943  **see below
Pascagoula, MS

----

1903-1935  
Philadelphia 1800-1882 1800-1948  
Portland, ME

----

1893-1954  
Providence, RI

----

1911-1954  
Quebec (Canada) 1865-1900 None  
San Francisco, CA

----

1893-1934  

** The lists for New York 1847-1896 are not indexed

How to Access These Records at the Society

The passenger list collection does not circulate. You must view this collection in the Library or place a research request with the Reference Staff. You need to know the exact date of arrival (day/month/year) and the port of entry for a photocopy request.

If we own an index for the port and year, you may place a research request. In both cases, check our Library Services page for details on fees and procedures.

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