Tracing Immigrants Arrival Emigration and Immigration

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Tracing Immigrant Origins
Wiki Topics
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News and Events
Part 1. General
Part 2. Country of Arrival

 Country of Arrival Search Tactics
 Country of Arrival Record Finder
 Country of Arrival Record Types

Part 3. Country of Origin

 Country of Origin Search Tactics
 Country of Origin Record Finder
 Country of Origin Record Types

For Further Reading
The FamilySearch moderator for Tracing Immigrants Origin is GoAncestry

The Dove (replica) helped carry the first European colonists to Maryland.
Passenger arrival lists are some of the best sources for documenting an ancestor's immigration. Most immigrants should be sought in arrival lists. However, lists were not kept for every immigrant, some lists have been lost, and others are not indexed.

Immigration lists vary in content and availability depending on the time period and the port of arrival. Earlier records seldom give the immigrant's town of origin. They often give only the immigrant's name, age, and country of origin or the ship's last port-of-call. More recent lists tend to give more detailed information, often including the place of origin.

Some governments kept comprehensive arrival lists called manuscript ship manifests. However, these records vary from country to country. The United States did not require passenger arrival lists until 1820. Canada did not keep them until 1865. Australian lists date from 1826. However, some port authorities kept lists for earlier years because of local laws.

To find an immigrant on a passenger list, you need to know the immigrant's name, port of arrival, and the date of arrival. If you do not know the specific date, you may be able to find it by using a ship arrival list if you know the year of arrival and the ship's name.

Passenger arrival lists for most ports are indexed, so approximate dates are sufficient for these lists. Unfortunately, some ports, such as New York City (from 1846 to 1897) do not have complete indexes. Such records are so vast that a more precise date (within about a week) is needed. Various fragmentary indexes are available to partially overcome this problem.

Most early lists (prior to 1820) have been published, especially for North America. A growing number of later lists are being published. Significant published arrival lists for the United States include—

  • Irish arrivals at New York from 1846 to 1852.
  • Dutch arrivals from 1820 to 1880.
  • German arrivals from 1727-1808; 1850-1870 (ongoing series).

These sources are generally found in the FamilySearch Catalog under—


An excellent bibliography of over 2,600 published lists of immigrants is—

  • Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900. Rev. ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. (FHL book 973 W33p 1988.)

About half of the above lists are indexed in—

  • Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981-. (FHL book 973 W32p and supps.) This multi-volume set of indexes is now available on the Internet as part and is easier to use there than the book edition.

The Family History Library has copies of most available arrival lists for most destination countries. Lists are also available from the national archives of the various countries. Specific lists are described in the portal or research outline for applicable countries.

Additional types of immigration records are available for some countries, including Canadian border crossings into the United States. There are also card indexes of Austrian settlers in Galicia (Ansiedlerkartei nach Galizien 1782-1805) and in the Banat (Ansiedlerakten 1686-1855). Passports may have been issued to immigrants by the country of arrival if they were returning to visit relatives in the country of origin. The records will usually indicate a birthplace or destination, which is likely near the place of origin. Passports were often not required until the twentieth century, but were available as early as 1795 for travelers from the United States.