On 17 March 2012, I attended the Family History Day sponsored by ancestry.com and the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Tarrytown, New York.
The first workshop I attended was “Coming to America: Finding Your Ancestor's Arrival Record on Ancestry.com” by Juliana Szucs Smith.
Juliana discussed the differences in arrival records throughout the history of America. Pre-1820 are the hardest to find, as manifests were not required and those that were created did not tend to survive. One of her tips was to check works such as the Great Migration Project and old publications for abstracts of lists.
In 1820, passenger lists were required. Although there is not a lot of information available on these forms, it is always exciting to see your ancestors name listed. One of Juliana’s best tips for this era is to look at the end of passenger lists, where births and deaths that occurred on board are often located.
In the 1890s, manifests expanded to include information such as marital status, last residence, final destination, if they had been in the US before, name of relative they were joining, ethnic background, and the name & address of a relative in the old country. These more recent lists can help your research tremendously.
It is also important to remember that not all immigrants came straight to the USA. It was cheaper to travel to Canada or Mexico, so many people went through there first. Ancestry.com has passenger lists and border crossing lists for these countries as well.
Just like today, it is possible that your ancestors went back to their homeland many times and will be found on a multitude of passenger lists (or border crossings). Passports were also popular around the World Wars for those traveling back home so that they could easily get back to the US. Ancestry.com has these, as well, and the best of these even have photographs attached.
For more information on immigration, check out the Oral History Project by Ellis Island, Theshipslist.com, Jewishgen.org/infofiles/manifests, Germanroots.com/ei.html and books such as They Came in Ships, Forgotten Doors and Germans to America.
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