Castle Garden: Immigration Before Ellis Island

July 14, 2018  - by 
Many immigrants passed through the Castle Garden Emigration Landing Depot

Did your immigrant ancestors land at Castle Garden or Ellis Island? Or did they arrive in New York before those facilities existed? The answer matters because it determines where you should look for them in records.

Don’t worry—New York passenger lists for all those eras are available for free on FamilySearch. This history of Castle Garden can help you understand which collections you should search and what your ancestors’ experience may have been like.

Immigration before 1855

Between 1790 and 1820, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people freely immigrated to the United States each year. They traveled on sailing ships that were often dangerously overcrowded and without adequate provision for passengers’ health and comfort. Starting in 1820, to ensure safer traveling conditions, ship captains had to provide passenger lists to U.S. customs officials.

This new rule didn’t protect immigrants at the docks in New York City, where many landed. After weeks on board, the exhausted, seasick travelers were often met by thieves and others who preyed on the arrivals’ ignorance about their new home. Many travelers were swindled, robbed, or herded toward undesirable jobs and accommodations.

History of Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot

The Castle Garden Emigrant Landing Depot was the first USA immigration station.
In the 1850s, New York City and state officials pooled their efforts to create a more protective landing experience. Their solution was the country’s first immigration station: the Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden. At the time, Castle Garden was already a local landmark. Originally a military fort on an artificial island, the city had filled in land to connect it to Manhattan and turned the old fort into a theater and restaurant complex. (World-famous opera singer Jenny Lind performed there in 1850.)

Castle Garden opened to immigrants in 1855 on the eve of a dramatic wave of European immigration. During the next 35 years, more than 8 million people passed through Castle Garden, especially from Germany and Ireland, and later from Italy and Eastern Europe. The place was a cultural cacophony. According to the New York Historical Society, Yiddish immigrants coined the term “Kesselgarden” from their experience here, meaning “any space that was noisy, chaotic, and confusing.”

Ellis Island Replaces Castle Garden

Some of this chaos can be chalked up to so many new arrivals crowding together from so many different countries. Additionally, the Immigration Act of 1882 imposed new immigrant screening requirements for which the facility was ill-equipped. Dishonest employees made things worse for immigrants, too. Castle Garden wasn’t always the safe haven it was meant to be.

In 1890, the federal government took over immigrant processing, citing corruption at Castle Garden as one reason. Castle Garden’s Emigrant Landing Depot closed. A temporary facility opened at the nearby Barge Office while the new Ellis Island Immigration Station was being built. When that facility opened in 1892, it ushered in an even more massive wave of migration.

Castle Garden and Ellis Island Immigration Records

Whether your ancestors arrived in New York before, during, or after the Castle Garden era, you can now search for them in free FamilySearch record collections:

New York Passenger Lists (Castle Garden) 1820–1891

This collection combines surviving passenger lists for those who arrived during the Castle Garden era with previous New York arrivals (back to 1820) and federal records kept before Ellis Island opened. You can search the name index for your ancestors or browse the record images.

New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) 1892–1924

Search for your immigrant ancestors in this index of names and record images for immigrants who passed through Ellis Island from its beginning until 1924.

New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists 1925–1957

These post-Ellis Island passenger lists include nearly 29 million indexed names of international arrivals in New York Harbor and at New York airports, and are linked to 5 million respective images of the original records.

Passenger arrival lists from Castle Garden can help in your search for your ancestors.

Research Tips

When searching these collections, use whatever clues you already know about your immigrant ancestors to identify them on passenger lists. These tips may help:

  • Their year of arrival may appear on U.S. censuses. Overseas birthplaces may appear in obituaries, church records, or other records.
  • Information about their friends and family who came from the same place may provide additional clues.
  • Name spellings were generally inconsistent in the 1800s, and mistakes could have occurred with language or literacy barriers. Search with various name spellings, and consider results that seem possible, even if the spelling isn’t familiar to you.
  • Though most immigrants during this time period arrived in New York, not all did. Port of arrivals may be listed on your ancestors’ naturalization records. (This article on U.S. passenger lists may help direct you to records of other ports.)

Ready to get started? Begin searching for your ancestors:

Search Castle Garden and Ellis Island Records



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Find and share your Ellis Island immigrant ancestors' stories through FamilySearch.


Learn more about Ellis Island and Castle Garden immigration. Where can you find records and archives from Ellis Island to help you in your genealogy research?

How to use Ellis Island archives in genealogy research to find your ancestors



Sunny Morton

Sunny Morton teaches personal and family history to worldwide audiences. She's a Contributing Editor at Family Tree Magazine, past Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems, and the author of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records (co-authored with Harold Henderson, CG); Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy; "Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites," and hundreds of articles. She has degrees in history and humanities from Brigham Young University. Read her work at

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  1. Hi, I just found out my maternal GG grandfather was born in New York in 1852 , his name was William Cantwell , his parents moved from Ireland , his father was John Cantwell who died in NY in 1859 aged approx 34 ,Williams mother was Mary Reardon , who do I get in touch with to find Johns final resting place in NY and how do I purchase johns death certificate . William and his mum emigrated to Victoria Australia . I hope you can help .thankyou

  2. My Great-Grandfather, Santa Torchia, came over from Italy about 1887. His name was changed from Torchia to Sam Tork sometime between 1887 and when he got married in 1892. I cannot find an immigration record on him and think he came in through Castle Garden. I understand there was a fire and some records were destroyed. Can you help me find out something about where in Italy he came from and when he changed his name. Thank you, Melinda

  3. I am looking for immigration records for Thomas Kluchesky (many variants) who immigrated from Prussia in 1850. He was born September or October 1817+-.

  4. Looking for the name of the ship that my ancestor arrived on, July 6, 1854 at Castle Garden, Manhattan, New York from Pilsen Austria. George and Anna Schneidervind, they arrived with three children, Laurence, George and Elizabeth. Any help would be most appreciated.


  6. I have been trying to find naturalization and immigration papers on my great grandfather Jeremiah Pelcher or pelcha. He was on a shipped called the north star heading to New york city. He came though Castle Garden Ellis Island on Julyb12, 1860 New York. He also enter in the civil war unable to find anything on his. Can someone please help me. Thanks,

  7. John Hanley/Hanly born in Ireland 1832-1836 came to U.S. on Cornelia Lawrence ship in 1855 to New York, then
    lived entire life in Baltimore City, Maryland, USA until his death on 12/2/1895, He married Margaret Gately/Hanly
    on 2/6/1861 in Maryland and they had nine children…entire family is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland. I do NOT know either grandparents EXACT birth date, middle names, or City in Ireland they were born.
    Please help me…. Darlene Koller

    1. John Hanley/Hanly born in Ireland 1832-1836 came to U.S. on Cornelia Lawrence ship in 1855 to New York, then
      lived entire life in Baltimore City, Maryland, USA until his death on 12/2/1895, He married Margaret Gately/Hanly
      on 2/6/1861 in Maryland and they had nine children…entire family is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland. I do NOT know either grandparents EXACT birth date, middle names, or City in Ireland they were born.
      Please help me…. Darlene Koller

  8. My Ancestor Thomas McQuade is listed on the 1880 US Federal census in NYC (supervisors district 1, enumeration district 1) with an address that states Castle Garden, house # 16. The previous page lists addresses as East River pier 3. My question is , did people actually live on Castle Gardens or was this a way to designate folks that did not have a residence yet?

  9. Good morning, my name is Paolo and I’m italian. Joined with my US cousin I’m trying to know about his ancestor. We know he was named David Latapie Vignaux and he left France probably on 1871. We’re trying to prove he’s the same David born in Crouseilles (southwest France) on june 20th 1954 and who died september 14th 1914 in Kansas City Missouri. We need a US document in which is confirmed his birth (day and place).
    His wife was Emma Parks, and they had four sons: Burnett, George, Joseph, Thomas. May you help us with some link or tip? Thank you from Italy

  10. I never heard of Castle Garden until I read my mother’s immigration papers which stated she arrived there in 1948. I knew she didn’t come into Ellis as she told me, but didn’t think of where else she would arrive!!! Thank you!!

  11. Please please help me to correct my father’s family history before I die, as I’m the last living Dolquest who actually saw the passenger list for when my grandfather (as a 10 year old child) arrived in New York with his family.

  12. I am searching for my spouse’s gr grandfather’s immigration records, Archibald McBride. His spouse, Bridget Costello , immigrated in March of 1870 thru the port of New York…I have not yet found those records. However, I did find her entered in the ships logs of the steamship Victoria having sailed from Glasgow. I suspect Archibald may have stowed away on the Victoria…….since he was known to be a “huckster”. The reason I feel this way is because Bridget and Archibald welcomed a son in December of 1870. I have yet to find that child’s birth records…..His name ..John Steven. Any ideas you can put forth will be greatly welcomed.