U.S. Immigration – Before 1820
Over a million immigrants came to the United States before 1820. Few names of passengers were recorded on ship’s logs or by the government, so you must rely on books compiled from other sources. Government passenger lists for ships arriving in the United States began in 1820. There are cargo manifest passenger lists for ships arriving at the port of Philadelphia from 1800 to 1820.
To search for immigrants to the United States before 1820, you need to know at least your ancestor’s:
- Full name
- Approximate date of arrival in the U.S.
- Approximate age on arrival
To find your ancestor, first search indexes, and then source information.
Most of the known passenger lists have been published. Many have been indexed in:
- Book Index—FHL book 973 W32p, 20+ vols. Detroit, Mich. Gale Research, 1981–. Some editions are available on microfilm and microfiche and can be loaned to family history centers. Most genealogical libraries, larger public libraries, and university libraries have the Passenger and Immigration Lists Index and supplements.
- Internet Index—Ancestry has most of this index online. It is free at the Family History Library and regional family history centers at www.ancestryinstitution.com, or for a fee at www.ancestry.com. Many public libraries have a subscription to Ancestry. The index entries at Ancestry are searchable by surname and include the source bibliographic citation, but may not include the latest yearly supplements.
When searching the book indexes, search each set alphabetically by the ancestor’s name. Search all sets of these indexes and the supplements that are published every year. Copy the information about your ancestor.
If you are searching the book indexes to Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, the introduction in the front of each volume describes the sources that were indexed. Find the source code number you wrote above in the introduction to the volume. Write the Family History Library call number.
The sources can be found in the U.S. and Canada book or film collections on the second or third floor.
Ancestry will give a full bibliographic citation for the source, including book title and author. Use the Family History Library Catalog Title Search, and type in the title of the source listed on Ancestry. If the source is available at the Family History Library and family history centers, it will show the book or film call number. The source books might also be available through local public or university libraries.
For a comprehensive list of sources used in the indexes published before 1988, see:
- Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1988. (FHL book 973 W33p)
This book may be available at libraries that have copies of the Index.
Look in Tracing Immigrant Origins Research at the FamilySearch Wiki for research principles, search strategies, and additional record types you can use. Copies are available at the Family History Library or on the Internet at www.familysearch.org under the Search tab and the topic Research Helps.
For other sources, search the Family History Library Catalog using the Place Search under United States, or the name of the state, and the topic Emigration and Immigration.
Helps on the Internet:
- Emigration and Immigration Records and Links. This site includes links to many passenger list indexes and other immigration resources.
- Immigration and Ships Passenger List Research Guide .This guide includes research helps on finding passenger lists before 1820.
- Immigration and Naturalization in Cyndi’s List. This list has links to other Internet sites with information on immigration and naturalization records.
- Ships and Passenger Lists in Cyndi’s List. This list has links to other Internet sites with information on immigrant ships and passenger lists.