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Overheard in GenForum: Have Immigration what?
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

November 09, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I have obtained immigration years for several of my relatives. What can I do now? The years include 1865-68 and 1890-1894. Naturalizations also. All NY as far as I know. I got these dates from family records and also census records. Can I get anything further? How? -- Wendy

A: You have accomplished the first step in this type of research. You have gathered information from family sources. You have actually gone a little further by looking in the census records.

Your information indicates that your ancestors arrived through the port of New York. Because of this, you will need to do some additional research before you can jump into the passenger lists.

Using passenger lists and naturalization records can help take you back to the old country.

New York Passenger Lists

When most people think about New York, it is Ellis Island that comes immediately to mind. However, Ellis Island was a latecomer to the immigration going through New York. The port of New York City was in operation very early, with records existing from 1820.

The problem though is that not all of these records are indexed. For the port of New York City, there is a gap in the indexing that covers a fifty year period beginning in 1847 and continuing until 1897.

The good news is that these records are all available on microfilm. The bad new is that when all you have is the year of arrival, the number of pages you have to look through is overwhelming. So, you need to narrow down what you are looking for to a month or a year and the name of the ship.

Naturalization Records

You mentioned that you had some naturalization dates. It is often the naturalization records that can supply you with the details of the individual's arrival in this country. The exact date of arrival and the name of the ship are included in the declaration of intent.

For New York, you will want to begin your search of the naturalization records with the Index to Naturalization Records: 1792-1906. This set of cards is organized by soundex code of the last name. It is available on microfilm from the Family History Library.

Once you order the correct index film, the cards on the list will include the court where the naturalization took place. You can then return to the Family History Library Catalog to locate the correct court records.

A search of the various naturalization records may also need to be undertaken. They have the records divided up by naturalization (final papers) and the declaration of intent.

From Naturalization to Passenger List

Once you have gathered the information from the naturalization records, you will then return to the passenger lists. By this time you should have enough information to successfully narrow down your search, even if you didn't get the name of the ship.

Don't get disappointed though by expecting more than the passenger lists will tell you. Those passenger lists for the mid-1800s will not supply you with place of birth and other pertinent details of the immigrants origins. You are more likely to locate this information in the naturalization records.

In Conclusion

You have taken the first steps in this quest. The records that you need are available and are on microfilm. It is very likely that you will discover the place of birth and origin of your immigrant ancestors. And that will be a completely different and equally as exciting adventure.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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