Immigration Primer

Immigration Immigration Primer

Immigration & Ships

Primer on Immigration, Emigration and Associated Subjects


Migration is defined as the movement from one country, place or locality to another. The reasons varied for such movements, but they were primarily (a) finding enough food (b) breeding and (c) climate. According to archaeological findings, the homo sapiens evolved somewhere in the warm climates of the Ethiopian plains of Africa. From this beginning man began his migrations to all four corners of the earth. Even the Indians, the only true "native" Americans, were migrants. They came to the new world over a prehistoric land bridge from Asia, settled here, and developed for thousands of years before the first European explorers discovered them in the fifteenth century.


Migration to America started to gain momentum after the Napoleonic Wars. This great migration was spurred in large by the effects of the industrial revolution, but it no longer seems to express adequately the phenomenal changes and social upheaval that took place during the nineteenth century. New technology, inventions, materials, concepts of self government and the rights of man wrenched the centuries old European culture from its traditional mainstays of land, church, and aristocracy and thrust it headlong into the modern age. The effects of this great revolution, along with a steady growth in Europe's population, displaced an ancient social system and induced millions to leave their homes, and attempt to find their livelihoods elsewhere.



Emigration is defined as departing from one country or region to settle or reside in another.


The migration of masses of people from European countries ascending on the ports of debarkation attracted millions of emigrants who wanted to be moved from one country to another. Nearly sixty million people packed up their belongings and traveled thousands of miles to seek new opportunities in new lands, to find political or religious freedom. Not all emigrants came to the United States.  Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil and Canada attracted about one third of the total emigrant population, and millions more moved from one country to another within European boundaries.


The decision to leave was not an easy one, and once made, was beset again and again by a variety of obstacles. The emigrant had to apply for identity papers, visas and medical documents for himself and his family; he had to choose a destination and plan a route of travel on secondhand information from often unreliable sources. If he lived far inland, he would also have to arrange transportation to a port on the Atlantic or Mediterranean. To finance his journey, the emigrant would sell all his property  ­ all, that is, that he could not carry with him and pack up the rest in makeshift boxes and bundles. He might also have to borrow money, which he could not pay back until he had established himself in his new country.


The overland journey to a port of embarkation was disheartening for those who had long distances to cover. In the days before the railroad, the emigrants traveled by wagon, carriage, barge or on foot.  They were often victimized by dishonest innkeepers and border guards.  Once in port they were harassed by hordes of land based pirates, swindlers selling counterfeit tickets and unscrupulous agents selling passage on ships that were barely seaworthy. High pressure jobbers would buttonhole emigrants and take them to disreputable inns or other places where they could be fleeced by a lively assortment of thugs, prostitutes and thieves.


Emigrant guide books, newspaper articles, and promotional brochures from states in the Midwest and west seeking settlers, steamship lines selling passage, and railway companies selling transcontinental tickets all spread the good word about America as a new promised land. The big transatlantic steamship companies looking for trade (White Star, Cunard, Hamburg America, La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique) were especially aggressive in promoting an extravagant and inviting image of the United States. They had thousands of agents throughout Europe distributing posters and selling tickets.


The transatlantic voyage was the next ordeal for the emigrants and was probable their worst.


The  Journey

Sailing ships were designed to carry cargo, not passengers and there was little effort to adapt them for human comfort. Apart from bringing on provisions - flour, potatoes, oatmeal, tea, some salted fish, and water (often stored in rancid casks used previously for oil or other containments) - a captain merely would lay down a temporary deck over the cargo and construct narrow, flimsy berths that could be dismantled after the voyage.


Passengers were packed tightly, often with no more than a few square feet of space per person.  There were no toilet facilities and no windows, so sanitation and ventilation were serious problems. Conditions varied among vessels, but nearly all emigrants on sailing ships, regardless of class, had to suffer overcrowding and disorder, seasickness, a foul atmosphere, and poor food.  A trip took anywhere from five weeks to two months; a few recorded trips took 100 days or more.  A storm could make things much worse. With the ship pitching and creaking, decks awash, hatches battened down, people sick everywhere, it was a miserable experience.


Worse yet was the knowledge that at any moment disaster could strike in the form of fire, shipwreck or epidemic. On a wooden ship, lighted candles and open cooking fires were a constant hazard. It was not unusual for more than 100 people to die of shipboard fires in a single year.  Shipwrecks, too, took their toll. In the terrible winter of 1853­54, 200 German immigrants drowned when their ship was driven onto the New Jersey shore, and 480 emigrants and their ship out of Glasgow disappeared altogether.


Much more common and lethal were epidemics. Typhus or "ship fever", spread by lice, produced a frightful mortality rate. In 1847, the worst year of the Irish Famine, a total of 7,000 emigrants died of typhus at sea and 10,000 more after arrival in Quebec. Another scourge was Asiatic cholera, caused by an intestinal microbe and spread in contaminated water, The worst year for cholera was 1853, when ten to fifteen percent of the passengers on some ships succumbed to the disease.


With all dire possibilities, there still were pleasant moments at sea. Certainly, no entertainment was provided by the shipping lines, but in good weather, passengers could go on deck. Men and boys might help the sailors haul sail or make repairs. Women and girls sat on deck reading or chatting. Children played with homemade toys, marbles, cards and dominoes. There were worship services, sometimes music and dancing.


With the advent of steam, the quality of transatlantic passage was gradually elevated from potentially deadly to merely uncomfortable. By the 1870's the trip had been shortened to ten to fourteen days on the average, reducing the threat of epidemics. Typhus and smallpox still cropped up occasionally, but at least all ships by then had physicians on staff, and conditions in steerage had been improved enough to control contagion to some degree.


After 1886 the most impressive structure in sight was the 300 foot copper clad Statue of Liberty.


Immigration is defined as settlers coming into a country of which one is not a native for permanent  residence.


Immigration into the New World began with the discovery of the continent by Christopher  Columbus in 1492.  His many trips from Spain introduced the Europeans to the new lands for various purposes, mainly the search for gold. This opened the unchecked and unregulated influx until the mid­nineteenth century.


The Spanish came first, then the Dutch, Swedish, English, French, Germans, Scotch­-Irish, Poles and Italians.  In addition thousands of Blacks were brought here as slaves. The English were the most numerous. They brought with them their language and other Anglo­Saxon traditions that largely became the basis of the American way of life.


Patterns of settlement were determined by the type and availability of land and employment, approximating conditions in settlers homelands. The Spanish ­ in search of gold - explored and settled Florida, New Mexico, and southern California.


Dutch and English tended to stay on the eastern seaboard, where they capitalized on the bounty of the sea and engaged in foreign trade. The French explored the east, then struck out for the interior with the Indians and settled in pockets both north and south. Swedish and later Norwegians went to the midwestern  prairies and to the north central timberlands which closely resembled Scandinavia.


The Germans liked the midwest, but also were drawn to the hills of Pennsylvania, as were the Scotch­Irish.


Blacks were imported to the south, where they became the mainstay of an agrarian economy.


The Scotch­Irish, an exception, settled in the deep south backwoods as far away from the Englishmen as they could get.


For the first 200 years of colonization, growth was small. In 1680 the population was about 200,000; in 1776 it still was only about 2,000,000. Yet by Revolutionary times, when an immigrant stepped off the boat he no longer encountered the same hardships as the early settlers. He found small towns and large cities, judicial and educational systems, churches and businesses, books and newspapers, comfortable homes, and enough of his native countrymen to feel kinship.


During the American and French Revolutionary Wars, immigration was scant. No more than 10,000 people a year came to America. With the end of the war of 1812 and Napoleonic Wars, however, normal travel once again became possible.


All postwar economic conditions in Europe generated an even greater exodus than peace time periods. The years from 1820 to 1870 marked the first modern wave of immigration. In all nearly 7.4 million people entered America during this period - the rate slackening only during the civil war. They came predominantly from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and Germany, but also for the first time from the Orient. Over 100,000 Chinese settled on the west coast to work on the railroads and in the mines. There were also 112,000 known immigrants from Canada.


In 1862 congress passed the Homestead Act to encourage people to settle west of the Mississippi river. The act provided that a man could earn title to 160 acres simply by living on them and cultivating them for five years. The depression of 1870 limited immigration again for a short time, but with the first sign of recovery the numbers began to climb once more, creating a "second wave" as great as the first. It is difficult to assess all the factors that caused people to emigrate to America.  Travel books provided personal experiences written by wealthy, educated travelers and were generally truthful sources of  information, as were formal guidebooks, but these were not widely distributed among the poorer classes.


Landing was always chaotic. Before 1847, boardinghouse runners, tavern keepers and peddlers were allowed on board to make bargains directly with the confused newcomers. In 1855 the New York State Immigration Commission was created to regulate landing procedures and licensing of concessionaires. Also in that year the first formal receiving station was put into operation. Castle Garden operated as the receiving station in New York for thirty-five years.


Construction of Ellis Island begun in 1890. The new immigration receiving station on Ellis island was opened in 1892 and consisted of twelve buildings, including a large two-story main processing building built of pine and galvanized iron, a separate group of four hospital buildings, surgeon's quarters, record storage office, restaurant and kitchen building, detention building, disinfecting house, boiler house, and tank and coal house. In the meantime Castle Garden was closed during this construction period and immigration processing was moved a short distance up the battery to the barge office. Originally this barge office was used by the customs bureau for inspection of first and second class passengers. The barge office was a cramped space hardly adequate for the processing of large numbers of steerage passengers. Nevertheless nearly 525,000 immigrants, eighty percent of the national total, passed through the barge office in the two year interval between the closing of Castle Garden and the opening of Ellis Island.


In the 1950's Ellis Island gradually quieted down. With rarely more than a few hundred detains on the island at any time, it was considered too costly to operate and was closed to immigration processing. The administrative offices of immigration and naturalization were moved to a government office in Manhattan on November 29, 1954.


Ellis Island is once again opened for all to see, but renovation of many buildings will take many years to complete. It is a monument to all the immigrants who came to America to make a new life for themselves and their children.

Early Ports of Entry

The first settlement in modern day America was St. Augustine, Florida. Here a colony was established by the Spanish.  However it was not considered a port of entry of immigrants. Next was the establishment of the Jamestown colony in colonial Virginia. At about the same time the colony on Roanoke island was established but did not flourish. It became known as the lost colony.


In the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts, the Mayflower, then the Ark and Dove, were early ship arrivals with immigrants to this new country. A point to remember is that these new arrivals were involved with staying alive and maintaining body and soul and not involved in keeping records. As time went on, records started to be kept and these are the ones we are searching for when trying to locate our immigrant ancestor or ancestors.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the principal port of entry into the colonies in the early 1700ís bringing many Germans from Germany via England. These Germans were accompanied by both English and Irish immigrants.


New York received a small share of the immigrants in the colonial period, mainly Dutch (Holland), some French and some English.


Baltimore, Maryland in its beginning received many immigrants from England, France, Germany and the Poles of later times (1800ís).


Boston Massachusetts received many English, Irish and Scotch immigrants.


Wilmington, North Carolina received many English and Scotch­Irish and settled North and South Carolina.


Savannah, Georgia received many English prisoners, when England cleaned out her prisons.


The port of New York is a difficult place to research. But if your ancestor came thru New York and its several immigration centers in the 1900s, then your search will not be difficult because most of the immigration or passenger lists have been indexed and many have been soundexed for your easier use.


The passenger lists for New York between 1850s and 1890s have not been indexed nor soundexed. This is where you need to know the month and year that your ancestors came into New York plus the name of the ship if that is possible.


The Ellis Island foundation is now in the process of indexing and establishing a computer base for all the immigrants who came thru Ellis Island - some 15 million plus immigrants from many, many foreign countries.


Knowing the time period that your ancestors arrived in America is very important in searching passenger ship lists. The later the better.  But it can be done if one has the time and knowledge to continue in passenger lists research.

Ship Passenger Lists

Passenger lists are a means of determining when your ancestors came to this country and in some cases, include the name of their native countries. As you can imagine, for a nation with the massive long­term flow of immigration of the United States, these lists are far from complete. If the name of the port of entry and the approximate date of arrival are known, together with the name of the ship and the immigrant ancestorís name as it was spelled when he departed Europe, one may consult the passenger arrival lists for other genealogical data.


The three types of ships passenger arrival lists of prime genealogical value are 1) Custom Passenger lists, 2) Customs Lists of Aliens, 3) Immigration Passenger Lists.


The passenger lists for ships arriving at the Port of New York have been indexed for the years 1820 to 1846 and 1897 to 1943. The lists are available for checking on microfilm. The National Archives has the Customs Passenger Lists for New Orleans for the years 1820­1902 and the Immigration Passenger Lists for 1903­1945. Their index includes the years 1853­1952.


The National Archives has a passenger arrival listing for ninety­five Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Ports. Some of the lists date back to 1798.  But most of them are for the years 1820 to 1945. There are many gaps where whole decades are missing from some of these lists, and many lists do not have complete information concerning passengers. Names are illegible, occupations are omitted, and so on, but they remain a major source for family historians looking for immigrant ancestors. The original lists were prepared on board ship by the Captain of the vessel and filed later with the Collector of Customs when the ship reached port. You will find the following information on these documented passenger lists:


1.   Name of the Vessel
2.   Master of Vessel
3.   Port of Embarkation
4.   Date of Sailing
5.   Arriving at Port of
6.   Date of Arrival
7.   Name of Passenger
8.   Age
9.   Sex
10. Occupation
11. Name of Country or Countries from which he came.

If a person died en-route, the date and circumstances were also recorded.


The early transatlantic steamship companies prepared manifests in a very slipshod manner. Each manifest was supposed to record names of thirty immigrants and answer the questions stated on the manifest. Since each manifest had to be notarized, steamship representatives would squeeze ten to twenty extra names onto a page to save money on notary fees. A manifest that had many omissions or incorrect information wreaked havoc on the inspection line inside the registry hall at Ellis Island. Inspectors would have to question immigrants at length to get the information needed. Since anywhere between two thousand and five thousand immigrants were being inspected each day, it was essential, in order to keep the lines moving, that manifests be in proper order. A ten dollar fine was imposed on the steamship companies for each name not properly listed. This improved the manifests greatly and aided the registry clerks with their long and tedious job.


Fewer than one percent of passenger records from 1790 to 1820 survived. A bibliography of early passenger lists can be found in Harold Lancer's Passenger Lists of Ships Coming to America 1538­1825. From 1820 to 1919 the National Archives has many, if incomplete, ships passenger lists.


Most passenger records dating after 1919 are located at the Department of Immigration and Naturalization. The National Archives will search their passenger lists indexes for you if you can give them the passengers full name, name of port of arrival, approximate date of arrival and the name of the vessel, if known.


In order to receive information from the National Archives, one must obtain a Ship Passenger Arrival Records form by writing to this address:


Reference Service Branch (NNIR)
National Archives And Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20408


When you receive these forms, fill them out completely with the information you already have on hand. Send in the form ­ one for each passenger ­ to the address on the form. Do not send any money. If the passenger is located in their lists they will notify you of the find and let you know how much it costs for a copy of the manifest. One word of information ­ when a notice is received from the Archives!!! Copy all the Information on that Notice !!! this is for your own benefit in case the information is lost en-route from Washington to Georgia, where the manifests are stored.  There is no charge for the search, however for each list reproduced there is a fee. No payment is to be mailed with the form. A part of the form will be returned to the sender and will serve as a bill when the order has been filled.


If you are able to obtain a Ship's Passenger List with information from the Archives, you will also have sufficient data to write to:


The Immigration and Naturalization Service
119 D Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20536


For more information on passenger arrival lists see, Guide To Genealogical Records In The National Archives by Meredith Colket, Jr. and Frank E. Bridgere; Washington, 1964.


Since the bulk of the immigration occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, the researcher will frequently find need for the type of information included in the Morton Allan Directory Of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals.


The Morton Allan Directory European Passenger Steam Ship Arrivals are for the years of 1890  to 1930 at the port of New York and for the years 1904 to 1926 at the ports of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore.


The ship's arrival dates are presented in chronological order. It is arranged by year and steamship company, port of entry, the name of the vessel, its arrival date and the port of embarkation.


The volume, originally published in 1931 has been reprinted by the Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc.,  11 Water Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21202.


Other Immigration Records - At the LDS Family History Library and Centers


1. Utah Immigration Card Index 1847­1868
2. European Emigration Card Index 1849­1925
3. Emigration Register of the British Mission 1849­1885, 1899­1925
4. Emigration Register of Continental Europe 1852­1886, 1901­1932
5. Perpetual Emigration Fund Company, 1850­1877


The Passenger Lists Of The Port of Hamburg, Germany


Your ancestor may have left Europe from the German ports of Bremen or Hamburg. The passenger lists for the port of Bremen were destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II but the Hamburg lists survive. The Hamburg lists are readily accessible to genealogists.


These lists are divided into a "direct" and "indirect" series; the former contains the names of persons leaving for North America from Hamburg on ships having no intermediate stops at other European ports. The latter contains the names of persons leaving on ships with intermediate ports of call. The direct series begins in 1850, the indirect begins in 1855.


Both series contain passenger lists arranged chronologically by ship departure date. For some years the emigrants are listed in alphabetical order by surname within the year. For the years, 1855 on they are indexed alphabetically approximately by year and by initial letter of surname only.


By checking the Hamburg passenger lists the researcher will find the place of origin of an immigrant ancestor. The information included in the lists: surnames, age, last place of residence, address, city, occupation and sometimes the destination of the immigrant. Also the name of the vessel, captain's name, departure date and members of his/her family who traveled along.


The Hamburg Passenger Lists have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City or they can be sent out to branch libraries with microfilm reading facilities. The years 1850­1934 are covered on 361 rolls of microfilm, of which there are 105 rolls with indexes to the regular emigrant lists. Because of WW1 there are no lists from 1914 -1918.


In 1969 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter­Day Saints (LDS) began work on indexing the direct Hamburg Passenger Lists for the years, 1856­1871. This project was discontinued before its completion and the find­shed cards were sent to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. A microfilm copy of these cards was made and may be consulted for research purposes.


Naturalization Records

Some readers may have found a framed certificate of Naturalization in their home. This document was awarded to those who completed the process to become a citizen of the United States ­ from the filing of the Declaration of Intention and/or the Petition of Naturalization to the oath of allegiance and the Certificate of Naturalization. The latter contains the least significant genealogical data of all the papers involved.


The "First Papers", or the Declaration of Intent or Petition, contains the most important information. They may have been filed five years or more before the final papers were granted. And many completed the first steps but did not follow through and gain citizenship.


The records of naturalization created before 1906 are not as helpful to genealogists as those completed after that date. At best, one can hope to find the name of the ancestor (and the original spelling), the date and port of arrival, and the country of origin. Remember before 1918 the country of origin may be Russia, Austria or Germany. After 1906, the Declaration of Intention asked for the applicant's occupation, personal description, birthplace, birth date, port of embarkation, vessel, last foreign residence, arrival date in the U.S. and port.


A United States Department of Justice, "Application for Verification of Information from Immigration and Naturalization Service Record", is to be used when requesting data from papers after 1906.


Records of naturalization filed before September 27, 1906 are maintained by the court in which the person was naturalized. Copies or extraction may be supplied upon request. Read the instructions on the form carefully before submitting an application.