Before You Search
It may be helpful to do a little homework to help narrow down the search...
- Clues in the Census (U.S. decennial census)
- The 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses give year of arrival for immigrants
- The 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940 censuses tell whether an immigrant was naturalized
- The 1920 census gives year of naturalization
- Census records may contain errors
- U.S. Census Records Online at Ancestry (fee-based subscription required)
- U.S. Census Records Online at FamilySearch (free with registration) Scroll down to "United States Census."
- Naturalization Records
- U.S. Naturalization records created 27 Sept. 1906 and later usually give the name of the ship, date and port of arrival for the person. Naturalization records before then usually do not (although some might). Some pre-27 Sept. 1906 naturalization records may have year of arrival.
- Places to Find U.S. Naturalization Records and Indexes Online
- It's also helpful to know the person's date or year of birth
- U.S. Census records give the person's age
- Cemetery headstones (and burial records) sometimes have year or date of birth. See the Death Indexes website listed just below for links to some cemetery burial indexes.
- Some death certificates have the date of birth for the person.
- WWI and WWII draft cards usually give the date of birth for the person
Search the Major Ports and Many Smaller Ports at Once
The five major U.S. ports for arriving immigrants: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans.
At Ancestry and FamilySearch, you can search the major ports and many smaller ports in a single database -- see the links below. Ancestry's ship passenger lists database has a large collection of passenger lists for many US ports, plus ports in the UK, Canada, Germany (Hamburg), and Australia.
Port by Port Search
Italians to America - Germans to America - Irish Famine Immigrants - And Other Finding Aids
- FamilySearch - Search Records (free with registration)
Where it says "Restrict records by," click on "Type," then check the "Immigration and Naturalization" box.
Ellis Island Information
- Not all passenger lists have survived. There are some gaps in the records -- some of these are discussed on the individual port pages listed above. Some of the missing records may have alternate resources to help fill in the gaps.
- Passenger lists may have errors and omissions.
- Typed ship manifests (passenger lists) generally began in 1917. Before that they were handwritten.
- Indexing for the passenger lists is not always going to be perfect, especially for the handwritten lists. Try alternate spellings and soundex/sound-alike searches. Think about handwritten letters that may look similar. Some examples: U/V, u/v, M/N, m/n, A/O, a/o, j/y. Watch for uncrossed t's that may be mistaken for l's, and un-dotted i's that may be mistaken for e's.
(What do all those scribbles and numbers on the passenger list mean?)
What Was It Like to Travel by Ship to America in the 19th Century?
Compiled by Joe Beine, 2019-2020. May not be reproduced without permission.
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