What follows is only a short list of some of the immigration records and how to access them. This information has been combined from a couple of different articles I’ve written including a the sidebar for my article “Voyage to America” in Family History Magazine and parts of an article in the May 2007 Internet Genealogy Magazine called “Crossing the Ocean with the Internet.”
First: Keep in mind that emigration records besides passenger departure lists may have been created when our ancestors left. Sometimes they had to show they had to apply for permission to leave in some way (or sometimes show they had fulfilled their military service or other requirement). I highly recommend that you read the Research Outline (available at www.familysearch.org under “forms, maps, and guides” above the picture on the right) for your country to make sure you aren’t missing an important source that is specific for your country or area.
Ports of Departure:
Hamburg: Hamburg, Germany provided one of the most important points of departure for European immigrants to America. Almost a third of immigrants from central and eastern Europe who came during the period of 1850 to 1934 came through Hamburg.
Currently, only partial indexes are available online. Ancestry has a computerized searchable index for the years 1890 to 1913. They also have all the handwritten lists and indexes which you can browse. The year 1872 has also been indexed. You can access this index for free at http://www.progenealogists.com/germany/hamburg/index.html. All of the information is also available by microfilm.
For more information on the offline records, try the following website: http://www.genealogienetz.de/misc/emig/ham_pass.html. The familysearch website also has the LDS’s Hamburg Passenger Lists Resource Guide online at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/rg/guide/Hamburg_Pass_List.asp. The outline describes that there were two types of voyages to Hamburg – direct and indirect (with indirect usually meaning the ship stopped in London). There are several types of microfilmed indexes available. First, there is the regular year by year index. Another possibility is the fifteen year index which covers the 1856-1871 direct lists, but isn’t complete. Finally, the Klüber Kartei contains two files covering the years 1850-1871 (in overlapping segments).
Bremen: Although Bremen was a large and important port of departure, nearly all the records for this period were destroyed. Some of the lists have been partially reconstructed and indexed in a four-volume series entitled Lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York, 1847-1867, with Places of Origin (by Gary Zimmerman and Marion Wolfert, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985-88). The Bremen Chamber of Commerce has put lists from 1920-1939 online at: http://www.schiffslisten.de/index.php?lang=en. You can search by name, hometown, ship, etc. The search will pull up transcribed lists.
Le Havre: A large number of emigrants passed through this French port. Although records have not been filmed, some do exist for the period until 1850. Access them at the following address: Archives de la Chambre de Commerce, et d'Industrie du Havre, Place Leon-Meyer, (B.P. 1410) 76600, Le Havre, France.
Copenhagen: These are not technically passenger lists, but records of emigrants made by the Copenhagen police. The records in this collection, originally kept by the Copenhagen police, include nearly 400,000 emigrants. Thirteen items of basic information were taken from each record. Lists began in 1869. Microfilmed versions of the lists dating until 1911 can be accessed through the FHL.
An online version covering the years 1869 to 1908 is available online through the The Danish Emigration Database at http://www.emiarch.dk/search.php3?l=en. The database can be searched for free now. Read their explanation of the database at http://www.emiarch.dk/info.php3?l=en for more information.
Swedish Emigration Lists: You can access the Emigranten database for information on 1.3 million people leaving through Swedish ports. This includes the Göteborg whose records have survived from 1869 on. Emigranten is available by CD (found at some family history centers or available for purchase) or at Ancestry.
British Departures: Online at www.ancestorsonboard, this database includes 30 million records from 1890 to 1960. The search is free but you use a pay-per-view system to view the transcription or the actual images.
Other Departures: Other major ports of departure included Amsterdam, Antwerp, Gothenberg, Lisbon, Liverpool, London, Naples, Oslo, Rotterdam, Stockholm, and Trieste. Many do not have lists available (for example, lists for Antwerp are only available for the year 1855). Check under the Family History Library Catalogue for that particular locality.
A number of passenger departure lists (and arrival lists) are available online through the Ship’s Transcriber’s guild at http://www.immigrantships.net/departures.
Don’t forget to look on Joe Beine’s German Roots site if your family may have left through a German port. He lists the German states individually and provides links and information on emigration records of many types that exist. Access his “Online German Emigration Records, Lists & Indexes” at http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/emigration.html. One of the important German online indexes mentioned on this site is the Wuerttemberg Emigration Index. This index, accessed online through ancestry.com, includes 60,000 people who left Wuerttemberg from 1808 until 1900. At http://www.auswanderer.lad-bw.de/, you can search a Wuerttemberg database for free (if you can navigate the site which is only in German). Ancestry also has the Baden Emigration Index with 28,000 people who left Baden between 1866 and 1911. Their site at http://www.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=4610 explains more about the records. Finally, Ancestry has an index to 61,000 persons included in the emigration records of Brandenburg. (All these Ancestry databases can be located by going to http://www.ancestry.com/search/, and “more” under “Immigration” on the sidebar. Finally, scroll down the long list of databases in the middle box until you find the database for which you are looking.)
Also try The Association of European Migration Institute’s website at: http://www.aemi.dk/adr.php for links to other online passenger list or other information about emigrants. They have links to some of the same sites covered here – plus others.
Ports of Arrival (information includes arrivals in the period of 1820-1920):
New York: Arrivals in New York dwarf the other U.S. ports. During the period from 1855 until 1890, immigrants landed at Castle Garden. After this, they came to Ellis Island.
Ancestry’s collection covers the period from 1820 to 1857. The index is linked to images from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) films. The records may include names, ages, genders, arrival dates, ports of arrival, ports of departure, ship names, and origins. To access the collection, go to http://www.ancestry.com/search/. On the right side, you’ll see a bar containing various records available to search. Scroll down until you reach “New York Passenger Lists” under the “Immigration” heading.
One option that doesn’t require payment is the Castle Garden website online at www.castlegarden.org. The search available here includes ten million names of people arriving between 1830 and 1892 when Ellis Island opened. Everyone who arrived during this time period isn’t included, but it’s certainly worth a try. The search will pull up any possible matches. You can click on the name to see the complete extracted information.
For later arrivals, check the Ellis Island website at http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/. This site includes 22 million immigrants arriving from 1892 until 1924. If you click on “Passenger Search” and scroll down to “Search Tips” you’ll find some useful advice to help you find your ancestor more easily. This contains hints on broadening and narrowing your search. It also reminds you that volunteers transcribed the records exactly as they were found in the original (although of course transcription errors occur also). If there was a spelling mistake in the arrival list, you will find this in the computer version as well.
There are other small databases on New York arrival information. Try the “What Passenger Lists are Online?” section of Joe Beine’s German Roots website (found at http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/onlinelists.html) for more links to some of these other New York collections online.
Boston: Although Boston arrivals can’t compare to New York arrivals, a sizable number of immigrants did land there. Lists are available for 1820-1874 and 1883-1935. Microfilm indexes cover the time period of 1848-1891 and 1902-1920. There are also two main sites on the internet to try.
If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription, start with Massachusetts’s archive site online at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ArchivesSearch/PassengermanifestSearch.asp. If you click on the “contents” link at the bottom of the page, you can read what records the online search contains. Here, it explains that the state of Massachusetts kept records of arrivals in Boston from January of 1848 until July of 1891. One million people arrived during this time period. The archives hold the originals, the only microfilm copy of these particular records, and an alphabetical card index to the records. Currently, volunteers are making this information available online. However, as of now the project is only partially completed.
Ancestry also has Boston ship arrival records and an index available. Their information is not taken from the Massachusetts state lists but from the records of the NARA. Because of this, the records have a gap for the years 1855-1856 and 1875-1882. Ancestry’s index covers the years 1820 to 1943. The index is linked to the images from the actual records. You can access it at http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=8745&offerid=0%3a7858%3a0 or by going to http://www.ancestry.com/search/, selecting “more” under the “Immigration” heading on the side, then finally scrolling down to click on “Boston Passenger Lists.”
Baltimore: A little under 1.5 million immigrants came through Baltimore in this time period. Microfilmed lists and indexes are available for the entire period. Ancestry has these lists.
Philadelphia: About 1.25 million immigrants landed in Philadelphia. Lists and microfilm indexes are available for the entire period. You can search these lists on Ancestry.
New Orleans: Just over 700,000 immigrants came through New Orleans. Lists cover the entire period of 1820-1920, and microfilmed indexes have only a small gap (1851-1852). Ancestry has these lists as well.
Other Arrival Records: There were numerous other ports used by a smaller number of immigrants including Galveston, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and others. Many records are available by microfilm and online.>
A number of emigration and immigration indexes that span numerous ports have also been created. For example, Germans to America covers the period 1840 to 1897, including people from German speaking lands who arrived at U.S. ports. There are other similar sources such as Italians to America etc. Always use caution when searching an index. Just because your ancestor doesn’t appear in the index, doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t appear in the original record. The index will have all the errors of the original records, plus an extra layer or errors from indexing.
For Pre-1820 Arrivals:
There are relatively few immigrants and not many records for this earlier period. Try Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: a Guide to Published Arrival Records of Passengers Who Came to the United States and Canada in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries; edited by P. William Filby; published by Gale Research Co, Detroit, MI (1981-ongoing), available at the FHL in books or on CD or online through ancestry.com. This includes over 4 million immigrants. Also, information is available for certain groups of people such as in the Palatines to America series (which covers the German people who arrived in New York from 1709-1710 – and then continues onward).