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BIFHS–USA  |  U.S. Research Collection at the LAFHL

III. U.S. Passenger Lists

Early Passenger Lists

Although passenger lists were not required until 1820, there are some pre-1820 passenger lists. These lists have virtually all been published. The major source for finding them are the Filby indexes:

Filby, P. William, with Mary K. Meyer, eds. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: A Guide to Published Arrival Records of more than 2,225,000 Passengers Who Came to the New World between the Sixteenth and the Early Twentieth Centuries. (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1981-Present) Originally 3 vols. Annual supplements.

These volumes are on CD and also online at ancestry.com. If you use the published volumes, you must check all of them. If you do not find your immigrant indexed in the above source, then check the Bibliography below for a list of other sources:

Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900: Being a Guide to Published Lists of Arrivals in the United States and Canada. 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Co, 1988).

Availability of U.S. Passenger Lists

Passenger lists were not required by Federal Law until 1820. The majority of passenger lists are extant for the time period from 1820 to about 1940. For records that have been destroyed, attempts have been made to fill in the gaps with substitute lists and copies or abstracts of originals. The images for the majority of U.S. passenger lists are available online at ancestry.com and ellisisland.org. If you can't find your ancestor in the online indexes, you may wish to use the microfilm. Microfilmed copies of U. S. passenger lists starting in 1820 can be found in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) and can be ordered through any Family History Center. The procedures below describe how to find your ancestor on a passenger list if you can't locate him online.

What will a passenger list tell me?

Depending on the time period, U. S. passenger lists can provide a wealth of information. At the least, they can be used as an additional census record. For example, if your ancestor is listed on a census record prior to 1850, the census will tell the name of the head of household and the number of people in the household by sex and age group. A U. S. passenger list during the same period will give the name of each person on the ship, age, relationship to the head of the family, occupation, and country of origin. Later lists will give the precise place of birth, a physical description, and many other genealogically significant details.

How to Use Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are filed by port of entry, by date, and then by ship. There were five major ports of entry into the United States: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and New Orleans. Check the index for the port where your ancestor arrived. The index will usually give you the name of the ship and the date of arrival.

If there is more than one index for a time period, you must check them all. If quarterly abstracts exist for the port, it may be necessary to check them also. For example, for the port of Baltimore there are several indexes. Many of the Federal lists were destroyed so they were supplemented with Baltimore city passenger lists and combined into one series. But the indexes were not combined. If you believe that your ancestor came to the port of Baltimore in 1851, search the Atlantic & Gulf Coasts index (M334), the Baltimore 1820-1897 index (M327), and the Baltimore 1833-1866 index (M326). If your ancestor is not found in any of these indexes, and you are still convinced that he came to the port of Baltimore, then search the Baltimore quarterly abstracts for 1820-1869 (M596) for the time when you believe your ancestor arrived. The quarterly abstracts are copies of the original lists and will contain names of passengers that are missing from the M277 series. Check quarterly abstracts only as a last resort. Never search page by page through an entire year of passenger lists. There are many more productive uses of your time.

How do you know which is the most likely port of entry for your immigrant?

New York was the number one port. But the second-most-likely port depends on the year. In 1826 it was Philadelphia; in 1836 it was Baltimore. In 1847 the second port was New Orleans and in 1871 it was Boston. If you do not know the port of entry, search the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts index first (M334). This index serves as a partial index to many of the major and minor ports, except New York. If your ancestor's name is not found in M334, then search the indexes for the five major ports.

The Port of New York

Because New York was by far the most important port of entry for passengers from the British Isles during the post-1820 time period, I will describe the indexes in greater detail. There are three major periods for New York passenger lists:

1820-1846. These lists were indexed by the WPA. The index will give you the name of the ship and the date of arrival. Once you know these two items, go to film in the M237 series that contains the date you want. Roll through the film until you get to that date, then look through the passenger lists for that date until you find the one for the ship on which your ancestor arrived. When you find your ancestor's name, copy the entire passenger list. You will need it for future reference when you are looking for possible associates and family members.

1847-1897. There are no microfilmed indexes by surname. Many indexes have been compiled to assist with finding passengers who came to the Port of New York during this time period. If you know either the name of the ship or the date of arrival, check the Register of Vessels 1789-1919 [M1066.] One of the most useful indexes for Irish researchers is The Famine Immigrants: Lists of Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York 1846-1851.

Post-1897. These lists are soundexed and contain considerable genealogical information. The index, however, can be difficult to interpret. A typical entry reads as follows:

L200
Leach, Archibald A 25m 6 65 9991

These entries are read backwards. "9991" is the volume number. The volume number corresponds to the arrival date. A complete list of volume numbers can be found in the Family History Library Catalog under UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION. The entries in the catalog are arranged in alphabetical order by author under that category. The author is "United States. Immigration and Naturalization Service." Volumes 9991-9992 are Aug 26, 1929. The number "65" is the page number and "6" is the line number. "25m" means that he is a 25 year old male. So, Archibald A Leach will appear on page 65, line 6 of volume 9991 for August 26, 1929. The page number is found at the bottom left of the page. There are also page numbers at the top right, but these are not the ones that correspond with the index.

Passenger Lists in the Los Angeles Family History Library

The indexes to U. S. Passenger Lists are available on microfilm and are in the LAFHL. BIFHS-USA completed the actual passenger lists to at least 1891 for the five major ports (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans). If you do not know the port of arrival, check the Atlantic & Gulf Coasts Index first, then check indexes for individual ports listed in the table below.

U.S. Passenger Lists and Indexes in the Los Angeles Family History Library

PORT

Type of Record
DATES NATIONAL ARCHIVES SERIES FHL COMPUTER NUMBER LAFHL HOLDINGS
ATLANTIC & GULF COASTS
Index 1820-1874 M334 0216582 All
NEW YORK, NY
Index 1820-1846 M261 0015681 All
Index 1897-1902 T519 0092040 All
Index (Soundex) 1902-1943 T621 0092040 All
Register of Vessels 1789-1919 M1066 0132219 All
Passenger Lists 1820-1897 M237 0015681 All
Passenger Lists 1897-1942 T715 0092040 Some
BOSTON, MA
Index 1848-1891 M265 0217426 All
Index 1902-1906 T521 0092077 All
Index 1906-1920 T617 0092077 All
Book Index 1899-1940 T790 0092077 Few
Passenger Lists 1820-1891 M277 0217426 All
Passenger Lists 1891-1943 T843 0092077 Few
BALTIMORE, MD
Index (Soundex) 1820-1897 M327 0218234 All
Index (Soundex) 1833-1866 M326 0175226 All
Index (Soundex) 1897-1952 T520 0175219 All
Passenger Lists 1820-1891 M255 0216936 All
Passenger Lists 1891-1921 T844 0216036 Many
Quarterly Abstracts 1820-1869 M596 0216036 All
PHILADELPHIA, PA
Index 1800-1906 M360 0216604 All
Index (Soundex) 1883-1948 T526 0175209 All
Passenger Lists 1800-1882 M425 0216604 All
Passenger Lists 1883-1921 T840 0175209 Many
Boards of Inquiry 1893-1909 M500 0467455 Most
NEW ORLEANS, LA
Index 1853-1899 T527 0216594 All
Index 1900-1952 T618 0216594 All
Passenger Lists 1820-1903 M259 0216594 All
Passenger Lists 1903-1921 T905 0216594 None
Quarterly Abstracts 1820-1875 M272 0216650 All
MISCELLANEOUS PORTS (ATLANTIC, GULF COAST, GREAT LAKES)
Passenger Lists 1820-1873 M575 0216254 All
GREAT LAKES
Passenger Lists 1906-1954 M1478 0432703 Few
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Index 1893-1934 M1389 0423838 All
Passenger Lists 1893-1920 M1410 0423841 Few
From Insular Possessions 1907-1911 M1438 0423844 All
From Honolulu 1902-1904 M1440 0423845 All
ALABAMA, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, SOUTH CAROLINA
Index 1890-1924 T517 0092107 All
KEY WEST, FL
Passenger Lists 1898-1920 T940 0175231 Some
SAVANNAH, GA
Passenger Lists 1906-1945 T943 0092109 None
NEW BEDFORD, MA
Index 1902-1954 T522 0175247 All
Passenger Lists 1902-1942 T944 0175247 None
PORTLAND, ME
Index 1893-1954 T524 0092110 None
Book Indexes 1907-1930 T793 0092064 Few
Passenger Lists 1893-1943 T1151 0092110 None
PROVIDENCE, RI
Index 1911-1954 T518 0175243 All
Book Indexes 1911-1934 T792 0175243 None
Passenger Lists 1911-1954 T1188 0175243 None
GALVESTON, TX
Index 1896-1906 M1357 0280766 Some
Index 1906-1951 M1358 0280766 None
Passenger Lists 1896-1921 M1359 0280766 Some
SEATTLE, WA
Passenger Lists 1890-1957 M1383 0423847 Some
From CANADA through ST. ALBANS, VT
Index (Soundex) 1895-1924 M1461 0423848 All
Index (Cards) 1895-1924 M1462 0423849 All
Index (Soundex) 1924-1952 M1463 0423848 Few
Passenger Lists 1895-1921 M1464 0423848 Few
Passenger Lists 1929-1949 M1465 0423848 None

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U.S. Research Collection at the LAFHL has been compiled and annotated by Linda Jonas.
Copyright © 1998, 2008 Linda Jonas. All rights reserved.


Last edit: Sunday, 26-Sep-2010 19:40:37 MDT