Searching Passenger Lists

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What do I need to know to identify my immigrant ancestor?[edit | edit source]

As you search, you will likely find people with the same name and age as your ancestor. To be sure you find the correct one, it is best to build your ancestor's identity as you research. This includes his name, age, residence, family members, and other people in his life. This is information you gain as you research any record.

The following information will be helpful to know:

  • The immigrant's name. Many names of immigrants were misspelled or changed because of the difficulty of the language. You may know him as John Black in the United States, while he was known as Johannes Schwartz in his original country.
  • Approximate age when he/she immigrated will help you recognize your ancestor on the passenger list.
  • Name of a relative. Learning the names of some relatives of your ancestor is important. If you find him on the passenger manifest along with other known relatives, this will help you be more sure that you have the right person.
  • Friends and neighbors. Many immigrants traveled in groups or settled among friends from their native lands.
  • Family stories and traditions. While many family traditions are exaggerated (such as those about stowaways), they may include accurate facts.
  • Clues found in other sources. Clues about an ancestors' immigration are found in various sources, including diaries and other records in your family's possession. Sometimes the information can be found in family and local histories, church records, obituaries, marriage records, death records, tombstones, passports (particularly since the 1860s), and applications for naturalization.
  • Census Records. After 1850 census records list ages and birth places of children. Ages of children can help determine when your ancestor immigrated or when he or she married. A large gap between birth dates may suggest a second marriage for either the husband or wife.

Search an index[edit | edit source]

Using an index saves both time and frustration in finding an immigration record for your ancestor.

  • Tip: When more than one index exists, search the easiest or most convenient one first. If the person you needed was not found, try the other index. An example might be and English-speaking indexer reading German names, or a local indexer reading local names.

Search the index in a variety of ways:

  • Name variations: Surnames were often mis-spelled, translated, or misunderstood as United States officials recorded names of immigrants, most of whom had heavy accents or could not speak English.
  • Town of origin: You may find relatives, in-laws, old friends and CLUES!
  • Date ranges: Use this to mix and match with other searches to focus results.

On the Internet[edit | edit source] has indexes with links to images for every port in the United States.  Your Guide to Finding and Using Passenger Records & Ship Information  New York Passenger Lists Quick Guide 1820-1957, Joe Beine

On microfilm[edit | edit source]

The Family History Library has microfilm copies of both indexes and passenger lists.

Offices to Contact[edit | edit source]

National Archives and Records Administration[edit | edit source]

U.S. Citizenship and and Immigration Services Genealogy Program[edit | edit source]

The USCIS Genealogy Program is a fee-for-service program that provides researchers with timely access to historical immigration and naturalization records of deceased immigrants. If the immigrant was born less than 100 years ago, you will also need to provide proof of his/her death.

Immigration Records Available[edit | edit source]
  • A-Files: Immigrant Files, (A-Files) are the individual alien case files, which became the official file for all immigration records created or consolidated since April 1, 1944.
  • Alien Registration Forms (AR-2s): Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2) are copies of approximately 5.5 million Alien Registration Forms completed by all aliens age 14 and older, residing in or entering the United States between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944.
  • Registry Files: Registry Files are records, which document the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found.
  • Visa Files: Visa Files are original arrival records of immigrants admitted for permanent residence under provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.[1]
Requesting a Record[edit | edit source]

Analyze the information[edit | edit source]

To make effective use of what you have learned from the passenger lists, ask yourself these questions:

  • What information was given about the immigrant?
    • Was the age of immigrant listed?
    • Does the record give the place and date of birth?
    • Are other residences listed for your ancestor
    • Were relatives or friends in the new country listed?
    • Was a final destination for the immigrant listed?
  • Does this information match what you knew before?
  • What information was given about other people on the ship?
    • Note: They may be friends, neighbors, in-laws, or a guardian.
    • Who was traveling with the immigrant?
    • Who else on the ship had the same surname? (Family may have been separated.)
    • Who else was on the ship from the same town?
  • Understanding the annotations on a Passenger Lists

How can I be sure I found the right family?[edit | edit source]

Sometimes many individuals have the same information, making it difficult to determine which one might be your immigrant. For additional information dealing with identifying the correct ancestor, see the guide How to Recognize your United States Ancestor

  1. "Genealogy", at USCIS,, accessed 26 March 2021.