Tip 8, Researching the Journey from Galicia or Germany to North America

Immigration to the USA and Canada

All ships arriving in the USA and Canada were required, even from the earliest days of immigration, to provide a list of all the passengers disembarking from their ship. The US National Archives and the Canadian National Archives have microfilm copies of almost all of these ship lists. See www.ellisislandrecords.org. Records begin in 1892. Once you register on their site, you are free to search for your ancestors. Bear in mind that the Anglicized name you may know your ancestor by, may not be the same name as found on the ship lists. Names such as Elizabeth may have originally been Elzibet, Albert may have been Bela, John may have been Johann, Joseph may have been Josef, Henry may be Heinrich, etc. Sometimes you may have to just search under the surname, you then narrow down the search as you proceed.

To access ship lists for ships arriving in US ports (New York, Baltimore, etc) you can either go in person to the US National Archives in Washington or, if you check their holdings first, to one of the regional National Archives centers scattered around the USA   OR  you can get a microfilm copy of a particular port and year via Interlibrary Loan from your local public library. For Canadian ports (Halifax & Quebec City) you can get microfilms of a particular port and year from the Canadian Archives. Major Canadian libraries have copies of the Canadian port ship list microfilms or can get them on interlibrary loan. Check online sources, as more and more database are coming available weekly.

The easiest method may be to visit a Family History Center or a large public library that has online access to www.ancestry.com. Ancestry has census records for USA, Canada, United Kingdom, ship/passenger/immigration information and many other databases. Ancestry.com has indexes for many subjects on their website. Check out the Portal on the Family History Center's computers for many premium databases. Alternatively, you can always purchase a few months subscription to www.ancestry.com and do this on your home computer. 

Morton Allen Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals for the Years 1890-1930 at the port of N. Y. and for the years 1904-1926 at ports of NY, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore. Most genealogical and public libraries should have a copy of this book. The Morton Allen Directory plus the online site www.EllisIslandRecords.org will cover the vast majority of arrivals.

For those of us of German ancestry the "Germans to America" books are a good resource of ship lists. This series of books totals over 60 volumes at this time and ranges from the 1850s to the early 1900s. Each book has an alphabetical index of surnames. These books are printed lists transcribed from the original microfilms so they are easy to read and although they have many flaws the accuracy is reasonably good. Only immigrants of "German" ancestry are supposedly included so this is by no means a complete index.

This series is called "Germans to America" by Ira A.Glazier & P. William Filby (Scholarly Resources; 1984-). The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a complete set of these books (Ref 973 W2ger) (details including ISBN numbers are at: "Germans to America" in the FamilySearch catalog) and I'm sure other major libraries in the USA and Canada have a set (Seattle Public Library has a set). Contact your local library with the ISBN number to get copies from other libraries via Interlibrary loan. The biggest disappointment with the Germans to America books is the lack in most cases where no reference is made from where in Germany they came from, and no references made to their destination once in America.

 Emigration from Bremen or Hamburg

If you can't find your ancestors disembarking in North America, another alternative is the other side of the Atlantic. The primary embarkation ports in Europe were Bremen and Hamburg. Many Bremen records were lost in WWII, but Family Search Wiki has links to those still remaining. Passenger lists from Hamburg are available in Family History Library Catalog:

Hamburg (Hamburg). Auswanderungsamt (Main Author)


The Hamburg passenger lists contain two sections: DIRECT passenger lists (with indexes) show passengers who left Hamburg, Germany, and went directly to their destination without stopping at other European ports. INDIRECT passenger lists (with indexes) show passengers who stopped at other European or British ports before sailing for their destination. . A separate DIRECT index exists on another catalog record under the title of Index zu Hamburger Schiffslistenkarteien, 1850-1871, also known as the "Klüber Kartei" and produced by the Auswanderungsamt in Hamburg. This is superior to the direct indexes listed below.

FIFTEEN YEAR INDEX: In addition to the regular indexes, a special card index of the direct passenger lists was made for the period 1856-1871 This card index is easy to use because of its typewritten format, but it is incomplete. Therefore, be sure to search the regular DIRECT, and INDIRECT indexes if you do not find a particular passenger in this fifteen year index.

INDEXES: 1850-1854: No index is needed, the lists are alphabetical. 1855-1914: Each volume (Bd.) of index is alphabetical only by the first letter of the surname of the head of the household. 1915-1919: Passenger lists not kept because of World War I. 1920-1934: Indexes are completely alphabetical.

LISTS: 1850-1854: Each volume (Bd.) of lists is alphabetical only by the first letter of the surname of the head of household. There is no separate index. 1855-1934: These lists are arranged approximately by ship departure date. Indexes show the page number where the passenger will be found in the lists.


Where did immigrants arrive in New York?


Before August 1855: Wharfs of Manhattan. 

Before the creation of Castle Garden in 1855 passengers were allowed to disembark directly from the ship onto the wharfs of Manhattan.

August 1, 1855- April 18, 1890 : Castle Garden

NY State founded the United States' first center for processing arriving immigrants in 1855. It was established on an island off the southwest tip of Manhattan - Castle Garden. It was hoped that a receiving station off the mainland would serve two purposes : to prevent people with contagious diseases from entering the country and help arriving immigrants from the hazards of fraud, robbery and deceit when they first arrived.

April 19, 1890-Dec. 31, 1891: Barge Office

On April 18, 1890 the Secretary of the Treasury terminated the contract with the NY State Commissioners of Emigration and assumed control of immigration of the harbor. NY officials were very upset and refused to allow the government to use Castle Garden for immigration. Therefore, on April 19, 1890, the US government established a temporary processing center for immigrants at the Old Barge Office at the southeast foot of Manhattan near the US Customs House. A small , swampy piece of federally owned property was given to the Treasury Dept. to build the first federal immigrant receiving station. It was called Ellis Island. 

In 1891, the federal government assumed jurisdiction over all ports, not just NY, so processing centers were established at other ports.

January 1, 1892- 1924: Ellis Island Records cover these years.

Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. It was constructed entirely of wood, was three stories high and designed to handle up to 10,000 immigrants a day.

On December 17, 1900 the new steel, brick and stone building on Ellis Island opened. However, it was too small from the start and would have to be expanded many times.

So, while many of us say our ancestors arrived at Ellis Island - this timeline should help you see where they really arrived!

All ship manifests for Castle Garden and Ellis Island arrivals (1820-1947) are available through any Family History Center or NARA branch. Please see the section on Passenger Ships into NY for information on searching them.

"Where to look for hard-to-find German-speaking ancestors in Eastern Europe. Index to 16,372 surnames." Author: Bruce Brandt. Includes surnames and references to 5 sources where they may be found in Galicia, Austria, Hungary, the Banat, and the Batschka." Book not microfilmed, but Galizien German Descendants has a copy in our Library. Contact the GGD secretary for more information/help.

One last suggestion: 3 years or so after arriving immigrants could apply for naturalization and in that application they were required to state where they were from and the date they arrived. This could be useful if you can find ancestor's Naturalization certificate. For Canadians the Canadian Goverment provides access to whatever citizenship documents that are available). For US citizens the US Government National Archives has an Immigration Records page.