A. Castle Garden, located on the southern tip of Manhattan, was the immigrant receiving station that predated Ellis Island. It opened in 1855 and processed immigrants until Ellis Island replaced it in 1892. No special records were created during the processing at Castle Garden. Only Customs Lists, the passenger arrivals from 1820 to about 1891, exist. These lists were usually printed in the United States, completed by ship company personnel at the port of departure and maintained primarily for statistical purposes. Therefore, they contain scanty information: name of ship and its master, port of embarkation, date and port of arrival, each passenger’s name, sex, age, occupation and nationality. The lists were then turned over to officials at Castle Garden, who used them for immigrant processing.
Not all of these lists have survived, and the entire time period isn’t indexed. For Castle Garden immigrants, port of New York indexes cover 1820 to 1846. (New York indexes also cover Ellis Island arrivals from 1897 to 1902, 1902 to 1943 and 1944 to 1948.)
You can obtain prints of microfilmed passenger lists by mail from the National Archives for a modest fee, using NATF Form 81. Request forms by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408. The National Archives will not do research for you, however. The minimum information required for a search of the index is (1) full name of the person, (2) port of arrival and (3) the month and year of arrival. Additional facts such as the passenger’s age and names of accompanying passengers are also helpful. If the list isn’t indexed, you’ll need more specific information, such as the exact date of arrival and the name of the ship.
Ship’s arrivals on microfilm are also available at the Family History Library or through its Family History Centers, and you can make prints there as well. Or check with a National Archives regional records services facility that would have films for its corresponding port, such as NARA’s Northeast Region in New York City for the Port of New York passenger arrival lists.
From the February 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine