Introduction to Red Book: Immigration
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
We are, with the exception of Native American residents, all descendants of immigrants, although not all immigrants came to America by choice. Nearly all of twentieth-century immigration records from ships’ arrivals on the eastern and southern coasts of the United States have been indexed or Soundexed (as with census records) and can be viewed on microfilm in collections at the National Archives. Its publication, Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications, available online under “Publications” on its website lists these records.
Federal immigration records from before the twentieth century are on microfilm, and although not completely indexed, are becoming more available online. When indexes do not exist, the passenger lists may still exist, but the port of entry, name of ship, and date of arrival need to be known. Even when aided by the 1900 or 1930 census information as to year of immigration (if accurately given), it still means searching through several reels of microfilm.
The most comprehensive index to all immigrant arrivals is published in the multi-volume set edited initially by P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer and updated annually by Filby and others: Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s–1900s (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Research, 2003) lists millions of names in both the original volumes and the annual supplements. These and a growing number of lists from the National Archives indexes are now available online through subscription membership at www.ancestry.com. The original and secondary source material used in the compilation may still need to be located to verify accuracy.
The American Family Immigration Family History Center provides online access to ships manifest records for the 22 million who entered through Ellis Island in the Port of New York from 1892–1924. Registration is required to access some of its holdings. Access to Ellis Island immigration records is made easier through www.stevemorse.org.