In order to locate a passenger list for your ancestor, you will need
to know which processing facility, if any, that he/she passed through.
The following gives you the New York City facility and the years of operation:
pre-1855: no formal processing center for immigrants in NYC. Passenger lists
were presented to the Collector of Customs. The immigrant would then make
his/her declaration and was free to leave the ship.
August 3, 1855 - April 18, 1890: Castle Garden
April 19, 1890 - December 31, 1891: Barge Office
January 1, 1892 - June 13, 1897: Ellis Island
June 14, 1897 - December 16, 1900: Barge Office
December 17, 1900 - 1924: Ellis Island*
*NOTE: Ellis officially closed in 1954, however most immigrants were
processed at the consulate office after 1924.
Castle Garden, 1870s
Castle Clinton/Castle Garden
This was the processing center for most immigrants entering New York Harbor in the mid to
late 19th century.
Castle Clinton was a fort built in 1808 for defense of New York Harbor.
It was the military headquarters for US forces during the War of 1812.
In 1815, it was named Castle Clinton after New York City mayor DeWitt Clinton.
Castle Clinton, situated on landfill at the tip of the Battery, was ceded to the city
in 1823 and renamed Castle Garden. It was used primarily as an opera house and amusement
center. Swedish opera star Jennie Lind made her US debut there in 1850.
Castle Garden was leased by New York State and designated an immigrant landing depot.
Its doors officially opened August 3, 1855. Eight million people entered the US through
Castle Garden in its 34 years of operation. However, the facility was not only ill-equipped
to handle the large number of immigrants coming to the US, but was also plagued with corruption
and incompetence. It closed its doors on April 18, 1890.
Ellis Island, 1890s
The most famous port in the world is Ellis Island. Its name is synonymous with immigrants
Located off the southwestern tip of Manhattan, Ellis Island was
originally called Kioshk by the Mohegan Indians. In the 1630s, a Dutch man
by the name of Michael Paauw acquired the land and named it Oyster Island.
The area was used to shuck and eat oysters.
In 1664 when the British took control of the New Netherlands colony, they renamed it
Gull Island. Soon after, they changed the name to Gibbet Island and used the area
to hang men convicted of piracy.
During the 1770s, Samuel Ellis purchased the island and the locals used it as a picnic area.
The US War Department bought the island from Ellis in 1808 for ten thousand dollars and
proceeded to use it to protect New York City. Fort Gibson was erected there during the
War of 1812 to house prisoners. During the 1860s, Ellis Island was used as an arsenal and
ordinance depot for federal munitions.
The New Gateway to America
Ellis Island stood vacant until 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison designated it one
of the first federal immigration depots. It officially opened its doors on January 1, 1892,
with a construction cost of five hundred thousand dollars.
On June 13, 1897, the original structure burned down. All the Castle Garden records for 1855-1890,
and most records for the Barge Office and Ellis Island were lost. During reconstruction on Ellis Island
(June 14, 1897 to December 16, 1900), immigrants were processed at the Barge Office. A rebuilt Ellis Island
reopened on December 17, 1900. The cost of rebuilding was 1.2 million dollars.
First and second class passengers were not required to set foot on Ellis Island. They were inspected on
board ship and sent to Ellis only if they were ill or had legal problems. The government felt that if
an immigrant could afford a first or second class ticket, they were no threat to become a public charge.
It was different for third class or steerage passengers. They were taken to Ellis Island by ferry for a
medical and legal inspection. If no problems were detected, the entire inspection process would take 3-5 hours
and the immigrant was free to go. Only 2% of immigrants were denied entry, due to either having a contagious
disease and therefore posing a health threat, or because it was feared they would become a public charge.
Approximately 3500 people died at Ellis Island. Their death certificates will be on file with the Municipal Archives.
Most of these individuals are interred at either of the following cemeteries:
4902 Laurel Hill Blvd.
Woodside NY 11377
Bushwich & Conway Sts.
Brooklyn NY 11201
You can now perform a surname search of deaths in
quarantine at Ellis Island 1909-1911. The database contains
418 people, 85% of whom are under age 13.
During World War I, the US army and navy took over Ellis Island. Immigrant processing
was done on board ship. In 1920, processing was again done on Ellis Island.
After July 1924, only immigrants requiring a physical were processed at Ellis Island.
Since the United States had taken a foothold as a world power, immigrants would apply
for their visas and undergo inspections at the consulates in their native country.
Ellis Island officially closed its doors in 1954.
Ellis Island was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965.
It now houses a museum and the National Park Service estimates that 2 million people visit annually.
In its fifty years of operation, 12 million immigrants used Ellis Island as their entry into the United States.
It is estimated that 40% of all Americans had an ancestor arrive through Ellis Island.
If you would like to honor your immigrant ancestors, you can have their names placed on the
American Immigrant Wall of Honor. Dedication of a name is a
minimum hundred dollar tax-deductible donation. Even if you chose not to donate money, you can search their online
database for free by surname!
The Barge Office was located at the end of Whitehall Street, near the Battery. It officially opened April 19, 1890 when Castle Garden closed and Ellis Island was being constructed.
Once Ellis Island officially opened, the Barge Office closed. It would reopen to process immigrants following the fire on Ellis Island in 1897. It closed again in 1900 when Ellis Island was again fully operational.
You may be under the impression that overseas travel was uncommon for the regular American. That only the rich went abroad. This is untrue. Many ordinary Americans voyaged to Europe, usually to visit their homelands. Passports were, as they are now, issued to those travelling outside the United States. Even though passports were not a legal requirement until 1941, they were issued as early as 1795! Passports were issued free of charge until July 1, 1862, when a three dollar fee was enacted. The Immigration and Naturalization Service produced the following figures showing years and number of passports issued:
1810-1873: 130,360 issued
1877-1909: 369,844 issued
1912-1925: 1,184,085 issued
Even though there was no law until 1941 requiring travel with a passport,there were certain periods in US history when one was required. The two most notable are:
August 19, 1861 through March 17, 1862
May 22, 1918 through 1921 - following the formal end to World War I
There are different types of passports, but the one most useful to the researcher is the regular passport. This gives the most information, including date and place of birth, physical description, occupation and destination. If the individual was a naturalized citizen, the passport may state the court and date of naturalization and even the name of the ship he/she arrived on. Please keep in mind that aliens were not issued passports unless they had made their declaration of intent in a court of law. This law was enacted and repealed several times throughout history.
Passport applications from October 1795 through March 1925 can be found at the National Archives. To request a search, you can email NARA and provide them with the individual's name and approximate year of travel. To search these NARA microfilms yourself, you will need to use the following microfilm:
Registers and Indexes for Passport Applications 1810-1906
Record Group: M1371
NOTE: This film covers the following dates:
December 21, 1810-October 7, 1817
February 22, 1830-November 15, 1831
November 14, 1834-February 28, 1906
Index to Passport Applications
Record Group: M1848
NOTE: This film covers the following years:
1850-1852; 1860-1880; 1881; 1906-1923.
For passport applications after 1925, you will need to contact the Departmentof State.
The New York Public Library has the following microfilm available in the Milstein Division Microform Room (Room 119):
Registers and Indexes for Passport Applications 1810-1906
Index to Passport Applications 1850-1852; 1860-1880; 1881;1906-1923