These records are a crucial piece of history illustrating the massive immigration to the United States through the city of New York during the 1800s and 1900s. Millions of Americans can trace their ancestors back to ships arriving in New York City, and Ellis Island in particular. As well as being a hub for immigration, New York was also a major commercial and industrial center and the passenger lists show that many Americans returned to their country through the port of New York. In fact, the passenger lists only end in the second half of the 20th century as air travel became more common than travelling by sea.
Arriving in New York City was just the first step of a long journey for many families in the United States. Use these records to find out new information that will allow you to expand your family history and continue your research. The details you uncover can then help you to locate your relatives in our other collections.
Depending on the origin of the given record, you may be able to view both an image of the original passenger lists and a transcript of the record. Transcripts will contain a combination of the following information:
Birth year and country
Ship departure port
Arrival year and date
There are several different passenger forms used in this collection. Depending on the form used, viewing the original image may be able to provide you with additional information such as whether your ancestor could read and write and in what language. The images may also tell you details from your ancestor’s voyage, such as what part of the vessel your ancestor stayed in.
This collection comprises material from three National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) publications:
Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897, microfilm publication M237 – These transcripts are taken from the original ship’s passenger lists and are provided, in part, through partnership with the JFK Trust, an organization that has worked to assemble a database of all Irish emigration to the United States. The JFK Trust has worked with organizations including the Balch Institute, the Ellis Island Restoration Commission and the Battery Conservancy to amass its collection of records, which demonstrate the long history of Irish immigration to the United States.
Alphabetical Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, microfilm publication M261
Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, microfilm publication T715
These passenger lists chronicle information about immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and other countries who arrived in the port between the middle of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century. The early records coincide with the Great Irish Famine, when millions of families left Ireland for America, while later records document the beginning of mass migration from other parts of Europe, prior to the creation of Ellis Island. These earlier immigrants passed through the immigration center known as Castle Garden. As the country’s largest city and port, New York received more immigrants than any other city, with roughly 7.5 million people passing through Castle Garden. Records in this collection cover much of the Castle Garden period.
When researching your family’s arrival in the United States, keep in mind that some families did not always arrive in a single group. In many cases, the head of a family would travel ahead to prepare the way for his wife and children. Their arrival in New York was often only the first stop on a family’s longer journey into America. Families often made their way to areas where distant relatives or those from their former homeland had previously settled, whether in New York or other cities and states.
Passenger lists are just one of many records that detail your family’s journey to America. These records can include errors or mistakes in spellings, occupations, and ages. Birth years in this collection were calculated from an individual’s stated age and the year of immigration. To find more information about your relatives, explore local newspapers, as well as census and vital records. Naturalisation records are another useful source, as many immigrants strove to become American citizens, filing papers for their naturalisation after their arrival.
For more information about original passenger lists see The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd Edition, by Val D. Greenwood.