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

immigrants-arriving-ellis-island

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.

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