Immigration Record Sources

By Sherry Stevens, professional genealogist

Looking for your ancestor’s immigration story? In what year did Great-grandpa arrive? What ship did he arrive on, and what were its living conditions?  Who were his traveling companions?  In what port did he first disembark in his new country? These popular websites might just tell his immigration tale:

Castle Garden
If your ancestor arrived in the port of New York between 1820 through 1892, Castle Garden was where they were processed. This was the facility used before Ellis Island was built. At this website, you can search a database of 11 million immigrants.

Ellis Island
If your ancestor arrived through the port of New York between 1892 and 1924, they would have been processed at Ellis Island. The Ellis Island website provides free access to 22 million records of passenger arrivals. You can now also search by ship name as well.  The excellent photos on this site provide and even richer insight into the immigrant processing experience.  Registration is required for searching, but it is free. 

Perhaps your ancestor arrived through a port other than New York, such as Baltimore, Galveston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, etc.  This website by Steve Morse allows you to search arrivals at these ports, as well as Ellis Island and Castle Garden.  Steve’s sophisticated search engine also allows a search of many types of immigration records in “one step”.  Some searches on this site will link to, for which you still need a subscription.

This site is fee-based, but much of it is free at your local library or FamilySearch center.  It contains images of immigration records from the 1500’s to the 1900’s. Even if your ancestor was not of European descent, don’t forget to check the records of those coming in from the UK or Hamburg.  Many immigrants transferred to ships in these ports before crossing the Atlantic. 

This free site contains millions of records in its Migration and Naturalization collection.  The records are organized by port and year, and then by surname.  All records on this database are digitized, so a view of the original document is available.

Wee Monster

This site is a source of great links to immigration records.  Most of them are organized by port and year, so it ’s easy to search this site fast. 

You can search this site by passenger name, arrival date, or ship name.  Here you will find information about voyages, ship descriptions, and even photos or drawings of the ships.  The collection also includes an extensive list of Australian and Canadian arrivals.

Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
Links! Links! Links!  This site contains over 11,000 ship’s passenger lists and links to the immigration records of many nationalities and ethnic groups.  It even includes arrivals at ports all over the world.  Although not extremely user-friendly, its extensive collection is hard to beat.

If your ancestor can’t be found in these popular websites, it may be because he or she had a common name or a name spelled in a way you didn’t expect.  Perhaps you need to learn the year of immigration first.  Perhaps your ancestor arrived at an unexpected port or came across the border from Canada.  In future articles we will explore ways to find the more elusive immigration records.  Until then, happy hunting!


P.S. For expert help with your genealogical research, contact me at

8 Facts About Ellis Island

Ellis Island has become a symbol of immigration in the U.S., a symbol of the foreign heritage most of us share as Americans. Ellis Island is also incredibly important to most genealogists in the U.S. because, chances are, their ancestors passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Center during its tenure as the U.S.’s primary portal. To give our readers an idea of just how much of a role Ellis Island played in American history, we created this infographic and included the documentary below. Hope you enjoy it!


Ellis Island then and now

Ellis Island Then and Now


More Family History Coolness

I am fortunate to have parents who love family history. And even after over 30 years of hearing their stories about pilgrims and Civil War heroes, they still manage to bring up some that I’ve never heard before. I knew my great-grandfather was an outlaw and then an oil man in Southern CA (I guess the oil industry hasn’t changed much:). I knew my great-great-grandmother came as a pioneer from the Hawaiian islands to the desert of Northern Utah. I knew some of our forebears were among the passengers of the famous Mayflower. And still others of our ancestors were closely related to William Wallace of Braveheart fame. But this new goes farther back and may be cooler. 

According to some recent family history by my father, our family ties back to a line of Viking kings. Instantly, my head is swimming with images of men in horned helmets ransacking helpless villages and plundering all the food and loot they can find. At least they’re very manly- there is something undeniably manly about having the blood of Vikings flowing through your veins. And to be related to royalty is pretty good, too.

Then my dad dropped another one on us: we can trace our lineage back to Charlemagne- the Charlemagne. For those who snoozed through Ancient History 101, Charlemagne was the king of the Gauls who was known for his Solomon-like wisdom and his prowess in battle. Oh, and did I mention he was giant for his time, towering benevolently over his subjects. More manliness! 

So I was thrilled to find out just how much awesome manliness resides in my family lines and in my DNA. Kings, warriors,… oh, and pilgrims are cool, too, I guess.