How To Find Ellis Island Records for Ancestors

By Diane Haddad Premium

From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island was host to the largest human migration in modern history. As a result, the Ellis Island Archive contains the passenger lists of more than 51 million people. These immigrants, passengers, and crew members came through both Ellis Island and the Port of New York from 1892 to 1957. While this certainly may be a daunting amount of information to search through, you can find Ellis Island records less cumbersome by using these resources and tips.

Where to search for Ellis Island Records

Passenger lists documenting Ellis Island arrivals grew increasingly detailed over time as laws required more information of travelers. Luckily, there are a few different websites that provide searchable passenger lists. First, you can find these Ellis Island ancestor records online at The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website (free account registration required). Visitors can’t download images, but you can support the immigration museum by ordering high-quality printed records. Another option is the free Family­Search searchable index, which links to digitized records on the Ellis Island website. Finally, Ellis Island records also are part of the New York passenger list collections at subscription genealogy sites, MyHeritage and Findmypast.

Things to be aware of

Because passenger lists were created at ports of departure, immigrants are recorded by their names in the old country—which might differ from the names they used after arriving in America. These name changes, combined with hard-to-read handwriting, spelling variants and transcription errors, can stymie searches for your relative’s passenger records. Due to this, the One-Step Ellis Island Search Forms give you enhanced search options that can help you locate hard-to-find immigrants. Also remember that passengers who arrived through other ports won’t appear in Ellis Island records.

A version of this article appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.