Immigration Records in Hispanic Research
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The best records for identifying the place of origin of the immigrant ancestor, aside from naturalization and citizenship records, are passenger lists. (For a discussion of these, see They Became Americans by Loretto Dennis Szucs.)14 A passenger list is a list of individuals who arrived at or left a port on a ship, generally created by the ship’s captain and submitted to the port authorities upon arrival or before sailing. Such lists usually contain at least the name of the head of the family and the number of individuals in the family, but some list all passengers individually, the port of embarkation in Europe, or the destination, and their places of origin. Obviously, if the last is given, a good part of the work of identifying the place of origin is complete. If, for arrival lists, only the port of embarkation is given, it may then be necessary to check records in the place of embarkation, such as port records (where available) or municipal census records for the port city, as the family may have lived there for a period of time before their voyage.
Few passenger lists created before 1820 exist in the United States. However, extensive post-1820 passenger and shipping records have been preserved. Most of these are now on file at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Those for the ports of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans, for the period 1819 to 1976, are available on microfilm through the LDS Church’s Family History Library. Other ports of particular interest for Hispanics are those in Florida, Texas, and California. Chapter 2 of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives contains an excellent discussion of U.S. passenger lists and their availability on a port-by-port basis.15 Index of Spanish Citizens Entering the Port of New Orleans Between January, 1840 and December, 1865, and its companion volume, which covers the period 1819 to 1839, provide an index of all persons with Spanish surnames who passed through the port of New Orleans during this period.16 Unfortunately, only those from after 1893 give the place of origin. Many of those lists are now available online.
Since the border between the United States and Mexico was open until the early part of the twentieth century, with few customs restrictions, few records are available for Mexican border immigration into the southwestern United States during that period. For the period from 1893 to 1953, individual border crossing records created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service are available on microfilm from the National Archives. These are for non-U.S. citizens who were granted legal border-crossing privileges along Mexico’s border from California to Texas. For further information, go to http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/immigration/border-mexico.html.