Unlock Your Family Story with U.S. Passenger Arrival Records

July 10, 2020  - by 
US early immigration passenger lists from Ellis Island and Castle Garden

Do you have immigrant ancestors who came to the United States? If you do, then looking for their passenger arrival records could provide you with more of their story. Here’s what you need to know about finding your loved ones of the past in immigration ships’ passenger lists.

*Note: This collection includes passenger lists for other countries outside of the U.S., including Australia and Brazil.

The most important thing to know about a passenger list is when it was created. In some cases, the passenger list may have been created at the time of the immigration ships’ arrival in the United States. At other times, the passenger list could have been created at the port of departure.

Between 1820 and 1891, lists of passengers were referred to as a customs passenger list. After 1891, the lists were referred to as immigration passenger lists. Immigration passenger lists usually contain more information than earlier customs passenger lists.

Passenger Lists before 1820

Early New York passenger list

Few customs passenger lists of immigration ships survive from before 1820. To find passenger arrival lists from before 1820, you will need to rely on printed sources such as indexes, newspapers, naturalization oaths, and so on.

Some pre-1820 online resources can be found here (Note: Some of these resources may cost money to use):

Customs Passenger Lists from 1820 to 1891

The United States government began keeping better track of immigrant passengers in 1820. Passenger arrival lists, also known as customs passenger lists or customs manifests, were typically filled out by the immigration ship’s captain after arrival at the port in the United States.

Information found on these passenger lists may include the following:

  • Port of departure
  • Port of arrival
  • Date of arrival
  • Name of ship
  • Country, province, or town of origin
  • Name of immigrant (and family members’ names if they traveled on the same ship)
  • Age and sex of immigrant
  • Occupation
  • Destination of immigrant
Passenger list of immigration ship found on familysearch

You can find customs passenger lists on FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage.com, and many other places, such as in the National Archives. At FamilySearch.org, databases are free to search, although a free account is required. You can see a large list of United States customs passenger lists, with links, of both the free and subscription databases online in the FamilySearch wiki.

Immigration Passenger Lists from 1891 to 1906

The office of the Superintendent of Immigration was established in the United States in 1891, and the customs passenger lists changed to immigration passenger lists. These immigration records typically included more information than the earlier customs passenger records.

drawing of emigrant life aboard an immigration ship

Information on these lists may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Port of departure
  • Port of arrival
  • Date of arrival
  • Name of ship
  • Nationality of immigrant
  • Name of immigrant (and family members’ names if they traveled on the same ship)
  • Age and sex of immigrant
  • Occupation
  • Whether the immigrant had been to the United States before
  • Final destination of the immigrant
  • If the passenger was joining a relative, the name of the relative and where the person lived
  • Who paid for the passage
  • The amount of money the immigrant had in his or her possession

After 1906, a physical description of the immigrant and place of birth may have been included. Your ancestor’s story is waiting! Check out the FamilySearch wiki for a list of places you can find immigrant records.

Amie Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant is a genealogy researcher, writer and presenter.She writes blog articles and other content for many top companies and societies in the genealogy field. Her most treasured experience is working as a consultant for family history. Amie lives with her husband and three children in Ohio, surrounded by many of her extended family.

Latest posts by Amie Tennant (see all)

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  1. Excellent itemization on finding these records. Most people only think about Castle Garden & Ellis Island. Very informative.

  2. I am from Samoa, So I’d appreciate any info about my ancestors any one can find anytime. Please send it.

  3. Annie, Do you have a copy of Michael Tepper’s book, AMERICAN PASSENGER ARRIVAL RECORDS, published by Genealogical Publishing Co.

    1. I am very excited to share this information with my family. We are working together to find our ancestors which came here on a ship. I have records of six of my family coming to America. One horrible problem was the captain of a ship stomped a toddler to death after his mother and father died. Also, How do I get a copy of Tepper’s book please. Can I order it from the LDS book store?

  4. Congratulations ! I love and I am very thankful to Family Tree Organization ! Actually, I live in Uruguay South America and we are Spanish descenders from whom I would love theirr arrivals to Buenos Aires records.I have been working on our family tree which has been and still is a wonderful amazing experience ! Do hoy think there could be any chance to get information about arrivals records to Bs As Argentina between 1890 and 1930 as well as from 1500 to Peru ordered by the Spanish Crown to serve it in those territories? How could I access to them if possible? Thank you !

  5. Looking for information about Carlo Nobile. He lived in New Castle, PA and Kaylor, PA. He died in 1919. he was from reggio calabria, Italy. his mother was unknown and his father was Carlo nobili He was in New Castle, PA in 1909. Went to Italy and married Rosina Burzachechi and returned to united states in 1912.

  6. Hola soy Susana y de Uruguay,consultora del Temploe Historia Familiar,busco a mi bisabuelo en Alemania Juan Martin klüver,1810-1869,,,casado con Maria Metta Reinkeürs,no tengo mas nada solo se que que un hijo Juan Federico klüver se caso con Maria Grütter Kohler,suiza 1853-1897. ,los padres de Maria,,,,,son.Maria Emilia kohler1830,,,y Jacob Grutter1828,lo que pueda saber de ellos me encantaria,,gracias.

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: Hello, I am Susana and from Uruguay, a consultant for the Temple and Family History, I am looking for my great-grandfather in Germany, Juan Martin klüver, 1810-1869 ,,, married to Maria Metta Reinkeürs, I have nothing left but that a son Juan Federico klüver married with Maria Grütter Kohler, Switzerland 1853-1897. , the parents of Maria ,,,,, are.Maria Emilia kohler1830 ,,, and Jacob Grutter1828, what I can know about them I would love ,, thank you.

  7. Hola Amie,talvez puedas ayudarme con un antepasado que salio de Alemania,supuestamente entre 1850 y 1875,su nombre Johann Federici kluver,desde ya muchas ggracias.

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: Hello Amie, maybe you can help me with an ancestor who left Germany, supposedly between 1850 and 1875, his name Johann Federici kluver, thank you very much in advance.

    1. Hi Susana! Thank you for your research question. Please check out the free Family History Library Online Consultations where you can schedule time with a consultant to help you on any family history question you may have. You can also connect with other FamilySearch users who may be able to help you, by joining the FamilySearch Community. Good luck and thank you for reading the blog!

      Google Translate – English to Spanish: Gracias por su pregunta de investigación. Consulte las Consultas en línea de la Biblioteca de Historia Familiar gratuitas donde puede programar tiempo con un consultor para que lo ayude con cualquier pregunta de historia familiar que pueda tener. También puede conectarse con otros usuarios de FamilySearch que puedan ayudarlo uniéndose a la Comunidad de FamilySearch . ¡Buena suerte y gracias por leer el blog!

  8. if a couple were married on a ship while immigrating to america, how would I find the record of it.