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. My ancestors were peasantry. They came from all over Europe, from the Eastern Bloc states to the British Isles and all the way from Sicily. In those days, their vastly different experiences, cuisines, languages, and religions would have been seen as testament to America’s nature as ‘the great melting pot’.

    Today they would be seen as white people.

  2. It,s remarkable I have 26 families who sailed to America from the Netherlands. Anyone of these 26 families was mentioned in the Castel Garden records till 1891. Was there another port to the USA between 1850 – 1891?

    1. I had ancestors who landed in Canada and entered the US from Canada. I believe there were many ports on the east coast. NY is just the most famous and the one we hear the most about. I know that doesn’t help you much. You might look at Boston, Maryland, or farther south. Perhaps your ancestors landed farther south and migrated north by river or land travel. Some immigrants landed in New Orleans and traveled up the Mississippi River. Just some “food for thought”. Good luck! Jackie

      1. I also have ancestors who came to America through Canada as told by older family members. What are some Canadian ports of entry? Thanks for your help – Mary

  3. There are serious errors in your transliteration of passenger lists. I searched for Caroline Trechter, arrived April 11, 1890, Castle Garden. Your interpretation indicates that all members of this family group were born in the United Kingdom. This is incorrect. Caroline was born in Germany, the 3 children were born in Kansas USA. The writing is not very good and the interpreter saw US as UK. Was UK even used as a term in 1890?

    1. Also, my ancestor shows up on the Castle Garden search but not on the FS search. Not everyone should be allowed to index!

    2. Any one that has internet access can volunteer to do indexing for LDS which is where this info is pulled from. Many scanned documents are very difficult to read, errors are made because the info isn’t written clearly. There is another advanced team of volunteers that reviews the indexing batches that volunteers have completed to ensure that it’s as accurate as possible. Every document, Draft Form, passenger manifest was manually scanned in and a volunteer typed it into a program so it’s searchable for you!
      It’s hard work and people do it because they care that people like you have access to this info for Free! So go to the Latter Day Saints genealogy site and start indexing yourself! I think you will have more respect for this info if you see for yourself how much work is involved with no pay. Peace

      1. I do understand and appreciate the efforts of the volunteers, but I want to know who to contact when I find an obvious error?

  4. I am looking for the last name Reyhowsky. I don’t find it in any records. My gg grandparents adopted a girl by the name of Carrie Reyhowsky, born 1870 in Michigan. Her parent are believed to be born in Germany. Can any one help with information? How else might this name be spelled? She is listed in the 1880 censes but never mentioned again in any records I can find. Can anyone help?

  5. I’m looking for a record of when my gggrandfather Matthew Beacom came from Ireland. It had to be around 1793 when he was 7 years old (I found this is a history of Delaware Co., OH). He was born in 1786 in Ireland, but mention of where in Ireland. Also do not know his father or mother’s name. Are there lists for around 1793 that I can access to see if I can find him?

  6. I found that the name of one of my ancestors was wrongly transcribed from a passenger list as Solervedo. When I looked at the original record it became obvious that the name was actually Schroeder. Is there anyway that I can get your transcribed list corrected?

  7. When I search I find the following :Last name First name Age Sex Arrival Date Place of last residence
    ROSTOWSKY FR. 25 M 24 Jun 1885 U

    This is my grandfather. But when I search your new site I can not find him listed. He is also listed in “Germans To America”.

  8. I have a relative who travelled to the USA around 1620 but these records do not appear to go far enough back for that. Burnell (Bunnell), William travelled on the Winthrop Fleet. He was born in England in 1617 and died in the USA in 1669.

  9. i have a digitized copy of GG Father’s Declaration of Intent from 1897 which shows that he immigrated to the US via New York City. Per the document, he arrived on January 6, 1897. He does not seem to be on any available passenger list, nor is he on the list at Ellis Island or Castle Garden. Is there anywhere else to look for more details?

  10. My Great Grandfather, Patrick Duffy and Great Grandmother Ellen Vaughn arrived in New York between 1847 and 1851 most likely at different times. The first record I have of them is a child born in Haverstraw, NY, 1852. In 1854 they moved to LaSalle, Il. Patrick was from Cavan County, Ireland and Ellen possibly from Dublin. Any info you might have on them would be greatly appreciated.