Finding a place of foreign birth with passenger lists
Different passenger lists give you different types of information, especially depending on when your ancestor arrived. If it was before 1820, the list may or may not give the name of the country from which your ancestor left. In these cases, you have to remember that you ancestor may not have left from the country in which he or she lived -- particularly if it was a land-locked country. Beginning in 1893, lists recorded each individual's last residence, while in 1903, they started recording an individual's ethnicity, and in 1906, they began recording each individual's place of birth.
When using passenger lists, you should be aware of their limitations:
To locate your ancestor on a passenger list, you must first find his or her name in an index. There is no single index for all passenger lists, but one of the most complete indexes is Passenger and Immigration Lists Index by P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer. There are many other indexes, some of which concentrate on a specific group of people, such as Germans, or on a specific port of arrival, such as New York. It is possible that you will need to search through several indexes before you locate your ancestor. Check with your local public library, genealogy library, and other resources to see what types of indexes they have. A few examples of specialized indexes are in the list below.
To look at passenger lists held by the National Archives, you must either go to or contact the National Archives regional branch in your area or the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The passenger ship list holdings for the regional branches vary, so you should call before you go. For more information about contacting the National Archives, see the topic The National Archives and regional centers.
You can also order copies of passenger lists from the National Archives themselves. Chapter 2 of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives, published by the National Archives, lists all of the ports of entry for which the National Archives has lists and/or indexes. Write to:
Reference Services Branch (NNIR)
Request a copy of NATF Form 81. You will need to fill out and return this form to order a copy of a particular list.
In addition, the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has passenger lists. You can access the lists through the library itself, as well as through your local Family History Center. For information about contacting the Family History Library, see the topic The LDS Library and Family History Centers.
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