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Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records - North America
Column published: 02 December 2006
By: Rick Roberts,   Biography & Archived Articles


Finding passenger arrival and immigration records of our ancestors is a prominent goal of most family historians. This article is designed to help you locate records of those who immigrated to North America. I use the term "North America" because, from a migration point of view, immigrants to both the Canada and the USA arrived at whichever port was convenient for their needs and financial resources.

Tens of thousands of Canadian immigrants arrived at American ports and then continued on to Canada by road, railway or inland waterways. The same is true of those who arrived in Canadian ports who then made a hard-left-turn into the USA. This is especially evident in the Canadian example when you examine the passenger lists of the St. Lawrence Steam Ship Company. The St. Lawence Steam Ship Company became engaged in the haulage of people and goods between Quebec City and Montreal in 1819. Oftentimes the ocean ships ended their passenger obligation at Quebec City. Smaller vessels then hauled those passengers up the St. Lawrence to Montreal. When you examine the lists of those who took the westbound trip, you will find a bounty of examples of those who arrived at Quebec City, took the boat-ride up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, then turned south to follow the Lake Champlain/Hudson River route into the northeast USA. Even more surprising is how often extended families divided at this point, some going to settle in the USA, other continuing up the St. Lawrence or Ottawa Rivers to settle in Upper or Lower Canada.

The passenger arrvial lists that began in 1820 in the USA are helpful for Canadian looking for their immigrant ancestors insfar as the final column on the right-hand side of the page often include the "final destination" of the passenger. Sometimes these references are as vague as "Canada" or "British Morth America" (BNA). Other times the reference is more specific.

The ship arrival records and passenger arrival lists of Canada and the USA vary greatly. US legislation required compilation of passenger arrivals as early as 1820, where Canada did not formalize the requirement until 1865.

Passenger arrival lists in Canada before 1865 are very rare. However, there are many secondary sources that can help lead you to the identity and arrival date of the ship on which your ancestor arrived. Some of those are listed below.

The resources that I have listed here include online indexes and databases (both free and commercial), information on CD , books and microfilm.

Canadian Immigration, Ships, Passengers

  • Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 Search (free) Library and Archives Canada
    Passenger lists (RG 76) were the official immigration documents from 1865 to 1935. The lists contain information such as the name, age, country of origin, occupation and destination of each passenger. The lists are organized by port and date of arrival. This database provides access to passenger lists for the ports of Québec (1865-1921), Halifax (1881-1912, to 1922 shortly), to Saint John (1900-1912), North Sydney (1906-1908), Vancouver (1905-1912) and Victoria (1905 to 1912), shortly. This database is growing, so be sure to check it frequently for new entries.
  • St. Lawrence Steamboat Co. Passengers 1819 - ? (free) The ShipsList.com
    After arriving by ship at the port of Quebec, most passengers continued by steam ship from Quebec City to Montreal. Oftentimes passenger lists do not survive for the ocean portion of the trip, however the passenger records of the St. Lawernce Steam ship Company do. They are being transcribed by volunteers on this web site.
  • Cdn Naturalization Records (free) Library and Archives Canada
    The Canadian Naturalization databases contain references to about 200,000 people who applied for and received status as naturalized Canadians from 1915 to 1932.
  • Immigrants at Grosse-Île 1832 and 1937 (free) Library and Archives Canada
    This database includes information on 33,026 immigrants whose names appear in surviving records of the Grosse-Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. Grosse-Île is an island in the St Lawerence River near Quebec City where passenger of inbound ships had to pass health inspections. Those who were judged to have a contageous disease were held at the Quarantine Station until they recovered or died.
  • Immigrant Ancestors Project (free) Brigham Young University
    The site assists family historians to identify emigration records and their current repositories in a a free access online database of all the emigrants extracted from the records. Volunteers working with scholars and researchers at Brigham Young University are creating a database of millions of immigrants based on these emigration registers. The database of individual immigrants is growing rapidly.
  • Immigrants - Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection, 1898 - 1922 (free) Library and Archives Canada
    The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection (LI-RA-MA) contains documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the consular offices of the Russian Empire in Canada. The series on passports and identity papers is comprised of about 11,400 files on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who came to Canada from the Russian Empire. The series includes passport applications and questionnaires containing general information. Nearly half the database is now available online, with the rest to be added shortly.
  • Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book (1832) (free) Library and Archives Canada
    Organizations such as the Montreal Emigrant Society were founded to help immigrants. This research tool provides access to 1,945 references to people who received aid from the Montreal Emigrant Society between May 12 and November 5, 1832.
  • Port of New Westminster (British Columbia)- Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908) (free) Library and Archives Canada
    The Department of Immigration created documents specifically for new arrivals from China The research tool provides access to 470 references to Chinese immigrants who arrived at the port of New Westminster between 1887 and 1908.
  • Immigration Records 1925-35 (free) Library and Archives Canada
    Pier 21 Society in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has input the information from the passenger list indexes into this database. Over 500,000 records.
  • Immigrant Diaries and Guides (free) Library and Archives Canada
    Nearly 15,000 pages of digitized immigrant diaries and immigration guides. They demonstrate the full range of the Canadian immigrant experience: emigration, the trip, migration and travel within Canada, as well as life in Canada as told by Canadian settlers. The diaries and guides were written or published at various times, from the mid-18th century to the beginning of the Second World War; some diaries are incomplete and may end abruptly.


  • More links to searchable online Canadian resources >>
USA Immigration, Ships, Passengers
  • New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957 ($) Ancestry.com
    This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at the port of New York from 1820-1957. In addition, the names found in the index are linked to actual images of the passenger lists. Information contained in the index includes given name, surname, age, gender, arrival date, port of arrival, port of departure and ship name. Includes the Barge Office, Castle Garden and Ellis Island years
  • Passenger arrivals: The Battery & Castle Clinton 1820-1912 (NY) (free index - no images) CastleGarden.org
    Before Ellis Island became the primary immigration port in New York, thousands of immigrants to USA and Canada arrived at 'The Battery'.
  • Ellis Island Arrivals 1892-1954 (NY) (free data, fee for printed certificates) Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
    From 1892 to 1954, millions of people arrived in North America via Ellis Island.
  • ARTICLE: New York Inbound Passenger Lists 1820-1846 (on microfilm). (free) GlobalGazette.net
    By Rick Roberts. Millions of Canadians and Americans are descended from immigrants who arrived at the port of New York. Most of the early records survive and have been microfilmed. Included here, are National Archives microfilm numbers and LDS Family History Library microfilm numbers, They are sorted alphabetically by immigrant surname. Includes information on how to access films.
  • New York Passenger Lists Online Index 1820-1850 ($) Ancestry.com
    This data set contains alphabetical listings of approximately 1.6 million individuals who arrived in the United States at New York from foreign ports between 1820 and 1850. The following types of information may be included here: gender, birthplace, age, occupation, country of origin, port of departure, port of arrival, date of arrival, destination, and name of ship.   NOTE: Also Available on CD-Rom from Genealogy.com
  • New York Passenger Lists Online Index & Images 1851-1891 ($) Ancestry.com
    This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at the port of New York from 1820-1957. In addition, the names found in the index are linked to actual images of the passenger lists. Information contained in the index includes given name, surname, age, gender, arrival date, port of arrival, port of departure and ship name.
  • Baltimore Passenger Lists Online Index 1820-1948 ($) Ancestry.com
    This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at the port of Baltimore, Maryland, USA, from 1820-1948. In addition, the names found in the index are linked to actual images of the passenger lists. Information contained in the index includes given name, surname, age, gender, ethnicity, nationality or last country of permanent residence, destination, arrival date, port of arrival, port of departure, ship name, and microfilm roll and page number.
  • CD-ROM: Baltimore Passenger Lists Index September 2, 1820 to May 28, 1852 CD-Rom ($) Genealogy.com
    These Baltimore Immigration Records feature approximately 89,000 names of immigrants who arrived between 1820 and 1852.
  • CD-ROM: Baltimore Passenger Lists Index June 1852 to 29 February 1872 CD-Rom ($) Genealogy.com
    Baltimore Passenger and Immigration Lists Volume 2 features approximately 138,000 names of immigrants who arrived between 1851 and 1872.
  • New Orleans Passenger Lists Index & Images 1820-1945 ($) Ancestry.com
    This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at the port of New Orleans, Louisiana from 1820-1945. In addition, the names found in the index are linked to actual images of the passenger lists, copied from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm. Information contained in this index includes: name, age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, destination, arrival data and port, port of departure, ship name, and source information.
  • CD-ROM:Passenger and Immigration Lists: New Orleans, 1820-1850 (CD 358) ($) Genealogy.com
    These New Orleans Passenger and Immigration Lists feature approximately 258,000 names of immigrants who arrived between 1820 and 1850.
  • Philadelphia Passenger Lists - Index & Images 1800-1945 ($) Ancestry.com
    This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, from 1800-1945. In addition, the names found in the index are linked to actual images of the passenger lists. Information contained in the index includes given name, surname, age, gender, ethnicity, nationality or last country of permanent residence, destination, arrival date, port of arrival, port of departure, ship name, and microfilm roll and page number.
  • Philadelphia Passenger Lists Online Index 1800-1850 ($) Ancestry.com
    This data set contains alphabetical listings of approximately 180,000 individuals who arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. from foreign ports between 1800 and 1850. The following information may be found in this database: name, gender, birthplace, age, occupation, country of origin, port of departure, port of arrival, date of arrival, destination, ship name, and source information. Also on CD-Rom from Genealogy.com

  • Atlantic Ports Passenger Lists, 1820-1873 and 1893-1959 ($) Ancestry.com
    Online index and digitized images of the passenger lists This database is an index to the passenger lists of ships arriving from foreign ports at various American Atlantic ports. Information contained in the index includes given name, surname, age, gender, ethnicity, last residence, arrival date, port of arrival, port of departure, ship name, and microfilm roll and page number. If a name of a friend or relative whom the individual was going to join with, or a place of nativity was provided, that information is included in the index as well. includes the following ports...
    • Alexandria, Virginia
    • Georgetown, District of Columbia
    • Perth Amboy, New Jersey
    • Annapolis, Maryland
    • Gloucester, Massachusetts
    • Petersburg, Virginia
    • Bangor, Maine
    • Hampton, Virginia
    • Plymouth, Massachusetts
    • Barnstable, Massachusetts
    • Hartford, Connecticut
    • Plymouth, North Carolina
    • Bath, Maine
    • Havre De Grace, Maryland
    • Port Royal, South Carolina
    • Beaufort, North Carolina
    • Kennebunk, Maine
    • Portland and Falmouth, Maine
    • Belfast, Maine
    • Key West, Florida
    • Portland, Maine
    • Bridgeport, Connecticut
    • Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey
    • Portsmouth, New Hampshire
    • Bridgeport, New Haven
    • New London, Connecticut
    • Marblehead, Massachusetts
    • Providence, Rhode Island
    • Bridgeton, New Jersey
    • Mobile, Alabama
    • Richmond, Virginia
    • Bristol and Warren, Rhode Island
    • Nantucket, Massachusetts
    • Rochester, New York
    • Cape May, New Jersey
    • New Bedford, Massachusetts
    • Sag Harbor, New York
    • Charleston, South Carolina
    • New Berne, North Carolina
    • Salem, Massachusetts
    • Darien, Georgia
    • New Haven, Connecticut
    • Sandusky, Ohio
    • Dighton, Massachusetts
    • New London, Connecticut
    • Savannah, Georgia
    • East River, Virginia
    • Newark, New Jersey
    • Saybrook, Connecticut
    • Edenton, North Carolina
    • Newburyport, Massachusetts
    • St Augustine, Florida
    • Edgartown, Massachusetts
    • Newport, Rhode Island
    • St Johns, Florida
    • Fairfield, Connecticut
    • Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia
    • Waldeboro, Maine
    • Fall River, Massachusetts
    • Oswegatchie, New York
    • Washington, North Carolina
    • Frenchmans Bay, Maine
    • Passamaquoddy, Maine
    • Wilmington, Delaware
    • Galveston, Texas
    • Penobscot, Maine
    • Yarmouth, Maine
  • Ancestry's Immigration Collection ($) Ancestry.com
    Includes passenger indexes (some with images from the microfilm) for New York (1820-1850; 1851-1891 & 1935-1938 with images), Boston (1820-1943 with images), Baltimore (1820-1948 with images), Philadelphia (1800-1945 with images), New Orleans (1820-1850), and San Francisco (1893-1953 with images), plus some smaller ports and some naturalization records.
  • International & Passenger Records Collection ($) Ancestry.com
    This authoritative collection includes passenger lists for all of America's major Atlantic ports, plus European, British, and Canadian records. Pinpoint your family's homeland and learn more about their journey to America. You'll find the immigrant's name, names of family members, dates of vital events, port and date of arrival, and much more.
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s ($) Ancestry.com
    Updated annually, this database is an index to passengers who arrived in United States and Canadian ports from the 1500s through the 1900s. It contains listings of approximately 4,461,000 individuals and references thousands of different records compiled from everything from original passenger lists to personal diaries. For each individual listed, you may find the following information: name, age, year and place of arrival, and the source of the record. The entire dataset is also available on a single CD-ROM from Genealogy.com. You can also access this same data by subscribing to Ancestry's Immigration Collection - see above.

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