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Passenger Lists in Genealogy

by: Sydney Ferris

When searching for your immigrant ancestors, passenger lists are of great help. They are a primary source of immigration information because the lists were created at the port of departure or arrival for your ancestors. Some researchers have even found information pertaining to both ports.

Where might your ancestor have entered the U.S.? "The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy" lists the names of almost 80 ports for which there are passenger lists. For example, there are lists available for these major ports:

  • Baltimore: 1820-1957
  • Boston: 1820-1943
  • New York: 1820-1957
  • New Orleans: 1820-1952
  • Philadelphia: 1800-1948
  • San Francisco: 1893-1957

There are many more. The National Archives publication "Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications" has detailed information on what records are available for which ports and years.

You will find microfilmed copies of passenger lists at the National Archives and its regional centers, public and private libraries, and at the LDS Family History Library and its thousands of local Family History Centers.

The amount of information on a passenger list varies from one list to another. More recent lists contain more information than earlier ones. You may find when a person left and his destination; his age or birth date, birthplace or residence, parentage, marital status, spouse's name, the names of children as well as other interesting facts. A passenger's birthplace or residence appears most often in a column labeled "Hailing Place or Place of Starting."

Palladium Interactive is extracting information from certain passenger lists and will make it and the images of the passenger lists themselves available in the Ultimate Family Data Library series .

Don't overlook lists of people who entered the country via land rather than sea. A helpful tool here is the collection of arrival indexes and manifests for persons crossing the border between the United States and Canada. These records, which begin in 1895 and end in 1954, are often listed as records of the St. Albans District but the collection is not limited to just St. Albans, Vermont. The St. Albans district encompassed most of the U.S.- Canadian border. Look for "St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory" in your Family History Center or branch of the National Archives.

The Immigration and Naturalization tutorial in Ultimate Family Tree (UFT) Premier discusses these lists in detail and the UFT Basic Records tutorial also covers them. Viewing these multimedia tutorials is a great way to learn about these primary records and how to trace the steps your ancestors took. If you want to trace your ancestry in the records of a foreign country, you need to know an exact birthplace or town where an immigrant ancestor resided before immigrating. Some passenger lists, mostly after 1890, contain that information.

We know that passenger lists content varies widely; the records are incomplete; and they are not all indexed. Yet despite these drawbacks, they have great potential. When you want to know when an ancestor arrived, where he sailed from, and where he was going, these passenger lists, created to monitor immigrant arrivals, are an obvious choice. The Palladium passenger list indices and images can "unlock" these hidden sources.


Written by Sydney Ferris and previously published by RootsWeb Genealogical Data Cooperative, RootsWeb Review, Vol. 1, No. 11, 26 August 1998. Reprinted on this site with permission from Rootsweb. You may visit RootsWeb's main Web page at


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