Genealogy Introduction—Immigration Records at the National Archives

Rebecca: Hello, I’m Rebecca Crawford, and
I’m an archives specialist at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Katherine: And I’m Katherine Vollen, and I’m also an archives specialist at the National
Archives and Records Administration. And today we’re going to be looking at immigration
records. Rebecca: Part of our immigration records,
we have records of U.S. Customs Service that are part of Record Group 36. They’re going
to cover the time period 1820 to 1890 with the exception of Philadelphia which will start
in 1800. We will also look at some examples from the Immigration and Naturalization Service
which are part of Record Group 85. They’re going to range from 1891 to 1957. On the screen
you’ll see a list of the major ports that we have relating to immigration. Within those
ports, you’ll see records for the port of Philadelphia which range from 1800 to 1952,
for the port of New York from 1820 to 1957, Baltimore for 1820 to 1957, New Orleans from
1820 to 1952, and San Francisco from 1882 to 1957. We also have some records for our
border crossings here at the National Archives. So, if your ancestors crossed the border from
Canada into the United States, you’re going to look at the port of St. Alban’s. Those
records will start in 1895 and go through 1954. If you have an immigrant ancestor that
came from the border from Mexico, then you’re going to be looking at the Mexican border
crossings. Those records will start about 1903 and run to about 1955.
Katherine: Now, the type of information that you can find in the immigration records is
going to vary over time. But all of the immigration records, both the Customs and INS records,
will include the name of the ship, the name of the ship’s master, the port of arrival
and embarkation, and also the date of departure and the date of arrival. The kind of thing
that you’ll be looking for when you do genealogy research, the early Customs records are going
to include the name of the individual, their age, their occupation, country of origin,
and destination. Now, as I said, these vary and they’re going to be different over time.
And this is a really early record into Philadelphia. This is the Brig Experiment coming in 1809.
And if you take a look, you see all the damage. You’ve got holes. You’ve got tape it looks
like. This record is not in good shape. These were actually stored on the docks before they
were turned over to us. So, they were exposed to water, other elements, vermin, rats could
get at these things. So, we’re lucky we actually have what we do have. But, this is
actually mostly a cargo list. So, up here, this is all cargo, and the passengers are
down at the bottom. So, you’ll see there are fourteen boxes of linen, one chest of
glass, one chest of ceiling wax. And for passengers, we have an example of Henry Vogt and his wife
and three children. Now, the rest of the family’s names are not listed. So, all we know is Henry
Vogt had a wife, and he had three children that came with him. We don’t know their
names, but we do know that they were carrying one trunk and some number bags of bedding.
The number is not there. By 1846, we see a little more information. This is the Brig
Nautilus arriving in New Orleans in 1846. There’s no cargo listed on this, but this
is the entire passenger list. There are only seven things listed. We have a man named Galtier,
no first name listed. But, he is 36 years old. He is a clergyman from France, and he
is intending to settle in the United States. Now, there’s a column on the right side
of the page that says number that have died on the voyage. And, when you start seeing
columns with questions like that, you know that the government is trying to track something.
And, in this case, they’re trying to track how many people died on the voyage. And, we
see that one person died, and he’s listed down here. Matthew, again I don’t know if
this is his first name or his last name, but he died during the passage. And, this is 1886,
the Nova Scotian arriving in Baltimore. And, this is a longer manifest. This is actually
page six of a six-page manifest. So, you can see with these numbers down here, there were
221 passengers and, in this case, we get the individual’s name, their age, their sex,
their occupation, the country they’re coming from, state or town to which they’re going,
and again it asks if anyone died on the voyage, and it also asks what section of the ship
they were in. And, these people were divided into female steerage and male steerage. This
entire ship seemed to be in steerage. So, we see here Mary Calleghan. She was 17 years
old. She was a domestic servant from Ireland, and she was going to Chicago, Illinois. Now,
I mentioned again we had the question “Did anybody die on the voyage?” Down here, we
have Maria and Pete Housen or Paulsen. It actually says Housen or Paulsen. Since this
information was taken down orally, it’s very possible that the person providing the
information had an accent, and the person taking it down just couldn’t understand
if it was Housen or Paulsen. So, they wrote both. They were both born at sea on August
10th. And on August 12th, Maria died, and Pete died on August 17th. So, they were less
than a week old, and they both died. Rebecca: Now, we’ve looked at what we can
find on the earlier passenger manifests. On the later passenger manifests, you’re going
to get more information. With these records, you can get the name of the individual, names
of any traveling companions, the age and personal description of each person traveling, their
occupation, their last residence, the name and address of relatives they’re going to
join, whether they can read or write, the amount of money they are carrying, and you
can also find out whether or not they were a polygamist or an anarchist. This is an example
of a passenger list for the S.S. Majestic which arrived into the port of New York on
March 27, 1923. As you can see, this manifest is nicely typed. A lot of the manifests will
not be and are very difficult to read. But, you’ll also notice that at the top of this
list, it is called “The List of United States Citizens.” And sometimes you will see that
the lists will be separate. So, sometimes you’ll have a list of aliens, and sometimes
you’ll have a list of citizens, and sometimes they’ll be mingled in together. On this
particular list, you have the names of each passenger along with their age, their sex,
their marital status, where they were living. You also have a column that’s filled in
with a bunch of handwritten notations. These are going to the passport numbers for each
of these individuals. So, it could lead you to another source of information that we have
at the National Archives. Down at the bottom towards the end, you’ll have an individual.
His name is Seth Van Slaars. You’ll find out that he is 21 years old. He is a male.
He is married. He has U.S. passport number of 2-4-1-4-6-9, and his address is listed
as T.C. and Son, New York. And, upon further investigation, it seems that T.C. Son in New
York is actually the name of a travel agency. Katherine: Thomas Cook and Son
Rebecca: This passenger list here is for the S.S. Rotterdam which arrived into New York
City on August 17, 1921. This one, instead of being a list of U.S. citizens, it’s actually
a list of aliens and it tells you that at the very top of the page. And it gives you
a whole lot of information about the passengers. Not only do you have page one, but you’re
going to have a second page to this manifest which will give you even more information
about each passenger. One of the people aboard this ship is Jacob Burger. He’s 25 years
old. He is married. He is a butcher. He can read, and he can write. He was born in Rotterdam,
and his last permanent residence is in New Jersey. It also gives the address of his father
who still lives in Rotterdam. It tells you that his final destination is back to New
Jersey. He paid his passage by “workaway”, which means he worked on board the ship in
order to pay his passage. He is carrying 25 dollars. It gives you the name of his wife
Mrs. Burger and her address in New Jersey, and it also gives you a personal description
of Jacob Burger. So, from the manifest, we learn that he is 5’ 5” with blue eyes,
and we also learn that, unfortunately, he is not a polygamist or an anarchist. So, you
can see that the later immigration lists will give you a wide source and a wide variety
of different information. Katherine: I want to point out two things
about this list. One, Rebecca says unfortunately he is not a polygamist or an anarchist because
no one ever says yes. They wouldn’t be allowed into the country if they admitted to that.
But, if you ever find one that says yes they are is a polygamist or an anarchist, please
let us know because we’ve been looking for these. And the second thing I want to point
out is that we were giving this lecture at one of our Genealogy Fairs, and a gentleman
in the front row recognized this family. And Mrs. Burger’s name is apparently Edna according
to this researcher. I have no way to verify this, but he told us that.
Rebecca: Moving on, now we have the passenger manifest of the S.S New Amsterdam which arrived
into New York on June 11, 1953. Because this is one of the later manifests, you’ll notice
that it does not give as much information about the individuals as the earlier manifests
do. On this manifest, you have John and Augusta Alexander. John was born in New York. Augusta
was born in Germany. And you find the amount of luggage that they are traveling with. They
have five suitcases, one trunk, one box, and two packages. Now, one of the things that
you want to take note of on this manifest is that under the passport number they both
have the same number. So, it’s quite possible that they are a married couple even though
it does not specify this on the manifest. Katherine: Now, I want to talk about availability
of these records. All of the examples we just showed you are available on microfilm at the
National Archives building and at some of our regional facilities. Their holdings will
vary. So, it’s a good idea to check ahead before you visit. Most of these records have
been digitized and are available on And we provide access at all of our facilities
free of charge. Some of the records, the New York records for 1892 to 1924, are available
at, and has a searchable database but no images of the
New York arrival records between 1820 and 1913. And of course you can always submit
a mail order request, and you can download a mail order form at HYPERLINK “” . And, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.
Our general email is [email protected] .

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