One of the biggest surprises for most visitors to Ellis Island is that you can’t trace your family tree there — at least not until the late-2000 opening of The American Family Immigration History Center. For now, to learn details about your immigrant ancestors you need to consult the microfilms of ship passenger lists stored at the National Archives & Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408, <www.nara.gov>. The archives also has 13 regional offices across the country, listed online at <www.nara.gov/nara/gotonara.html>.
Copies of the microfilm are also stored at the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 35 N. West Temple St., Salt Lake City, UT 84150, (801) 240-2331. You can borrow from the library via your local Family History Center, which the church has set up in more than 3,000 cities in 64 countries. To find the center nearest you, see <www.familysearch.0rg/Search/searchfhc2.asp>.
The National Archives holds passenger records for the Port of New York from 1820-1957; only records from 1820-1846 and 1897-1948 are indexed, however. To search for your ancestor’s records, you need to know:
• Approximate age on arrival
• Approximate date of arrival
• Port of departure
Passenger lists before 1893 typically contain: name of ship; date and port of arrival; passenger’s age, gender, occupation and country of origin. They may also note whether your ancestor traveled alone or with family, and how many bags he or she carried. (Deaths en route are also recorded.)
After 1893, records usually added information on marital status, nationality, last residence, final destination, any previous visits to America, and name and address of any relative the immigrant was planning to stay with. Later records expanded to include race (1903), physical description and birthplace (1906), and name and address of nearest relative back in the home country (1907).
If your ancestor isn’t indexed, you can try naturalization records after 1892 and federal census records for 1900,1910 and 1920.