They key to most ethnic group research is to identify the immigrants original name and family’s home village
The earliest available immigration records include ship manifests and passenger lists beginning in the 1600’s. However, US passenger arrival records are spotty prior to 1820.
From 1820 to 1891 the arrival ports of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans maintained detailed customs lists
In 1891 the US Office of Immigration standardized passenger manifets, adding details such as previous residence, marital status, final destination, etc.
Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954
- Over 70% of U.S. immigrants came through Ellis Island
- Almost half of Americans today have an ancestor who arrived at Ellis Island
- A fire in 1987 destroyed thousands of Ellis Island records
The first border arrival records kept for entries from Canada begin in 1895. However, records of borner crossings were only formally established in 1908.
During WWI, from 1917 to 1918, German, Japanese and Italian nationals were requred to file an Enemy Alien Registration Affidavit
From 1924 to 1944 U.S. embassies began issuing visa’s. Visa’s were filed at the INS and copies can be ordered through USCIS
During WWII, from 1940 to 1944, aliens older than 14 had to register at the local post office or upon entering the country. These Alien Registration (AR-2) Forms can be ordered through USCIS
During WWII, “enemy aliens” and their US citizen relatives were incarcerated within the U.S. in internment camps. A database of inmate files can be found at here
Surnames were often changes during immigration. A free Surname Variation Chart can be found online through Family Tree Magazine
To become a US citizen involved three steps:
- Sign a Declaration of Intention
- Clues in the Declaration of Intention can point you to your ancestors immigration information, family members and residence
- Petition for Naturalization, and
- Take the Oath of Citizenship
To request copies of these records, visit this link
- Ancestry has a section for Immigration and Travel
- From the search drop down box, choose card catalog. You can click the Immigration and Travel link on the left hand side of the page to review the entire collection.
- Boston Passenger Manifests
- Bremen Passenger Lists
- Visit Castle Garden for immigration records from 1820-1892 (prior to the opening of Ellis Island)
- Hint: Try using variations of the name and ship’s spelling.
- Cook County Clerk contains searchable database of naturalization records from 1871 – 1929.
- Ellis Island American Family Immigration History Center
- Galveston Immigration Database
- Hawaii State Archives Digital Collections
- Covers Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese passengers from Hawaii from 1843-1900
- Immigration History and Research Center and Archives contains a large database of ethnic newspapers, oral histories and personal papers
- Hint: Immigrants names were not changed at Ellis Island. Immigration clerks never recorded names, they simply checked against a list filled out at the port of departure
- Immigrant Ship Records
- Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania The Balch Institute
- You are able to search their collection online, but will need to visit in person or order documents to actually view them.
- Collections span the 17th to the 2th century.
- Includes family papers, business and organizational records, newspapers, photographs, postcards, etc…
- Library and Archives Canada – covers 6 Canadian ports from 1865 – 1922
- My Heritage has a collection of U.S. Border Crossings from Canada, 1895-1956
- The Ship’s List – contains immigration information for Canada, the United States, Australia and South Africa
- Steve Morse contains tools for finding immigration records, census records, vital records, and for dealing with calendars, maps, foreign alphabets, and much more.
- University of Minnesota Immigration History Research Center