How To Find Your Ellis Island Ancestor

How To Find Your Ellis Island Ancestor

Not sure how to go about tracking down the records of your ancestor's arrival through Ellis Island? With these tips and resources, you'll find them in no time!

From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island was host to the largest human migration in modern history. The Ellis Island Archive contains the passenger lists of more than 51 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members who came through both Ellis Island and the Port of New York from 1892 to 1957. While this may be a daunting amount of information to search through, finding your ancestor’s records is simple using these resources and tips.

find ellis island ancestor records

Where to search

Passenger lists documenting Ellis Island arrivals grew increasingly detailed over time as laws required more information of travelers. You can search and view the 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. The free Family­Search has a searchable index, which links to digitized records on the Ellis Island website. Ellis Island records also are part of the New York passenger list collections at subscription genealogy sites Ancestry.com, 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. This, combined with hard-to-read handwriting, spelling variants and transcription errors, can stymie searches for your relative’s passenger records. The One-Step Ellis Island Search Forms give you enhanced search options that can help you locate hard-to-find immigrants (learn more about enhanced search options here). Also remember that passengers who arrived through other ports won’t appear in Ellis Island records.

For further information on discovering records of your immigrant ancestors on the web, check out our Online Passenger Lists video class.

From the May/June 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.


Want to read more about Ellis Island? Check out our May/June 2018 Family Tree Magazine, which contains a beautiful feature article about America’s “Golden Door”!

 Holes in History: The Ellis Island Fire

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  1. Diane,

    FYI…The link to One-Step Ellis Island Search Forms is “broken”….you can get there by clicking on your link then clicking on HIS error message link to all his Search Forms. But you might want to change your link to directly to that page.

    Appreciate your fine writings otherwise!

    Jeffrey Albaugh