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Q. My great-great-grandfather came to the United States through New York in 1849. If Castle Garden didn’t open until 1855, where would he have arrived, and are records available?
A. In 1819, customs collectors began working the various docks in the port of New York, collecting information on arriving ships, passengers and ports of origin. The impetus to establish a central processing point, which became Castle Garden and later Ellis Island, came from a state commission’s finding in 1847 that arriving passengers frequently fell victim to fraud and crime. Boardinghouses would hire “runners” to steal luggage and even snatch children to force immigrants to go to their lodgings, where they would overcharge them and assess fraudulent fees. In 1848, New York State leased a pier at the end of Hubert Street in lower Manhattan to use as a processing site. Complaints from neighbors forced a move south to Castle Clinton, where Castle Garden was opened in 1855.
Passenger lists and indexes to these early arrivals, regardless of pier, are at the National Archives. These include Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, NY, 1820-1846, 103 microfilm rolls (M261); Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, NY, 1820-1897, 675 rolls (M237); and, for ship info, Registers of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports, 1789-1919, 27 rolls (M1066). You also can search these on Ancestry.com.
From the May/June 2015 Family Tree Magazine