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September 5, 2012

Think Outside the Box When Looking for a Ship's Passenger List

Charlene G. sent Olive Tree Genealogy an email asking about Ships Passenger Lists from Ireland in the 1840s. I think my answer to her question (below) may be of interest to other genealogists

I am specifically looking for Irish passenger ship records from 1845-1847, the probably year(s) that my great-great grandparents immigrated to the United States.  For many years I have been searching  Irish passenger ships arriving at the port of New York.  Because Ellis Island was not yet established, I assume my Irish great-great grandparents entered the U.S. via Castle Garden.  Can you tell me if ALL ship passenger records for the years 1845-1847 have been transcribed? 
Lorine's Answer: First let me clear up some possible confusion. Ellis Island and Castle Garden were processing centers. The port of arrival was New York and that is the arrival port you want to look for if you are positive your ancestor arrived via New York. You will not find ships lists giving a port of arrival as "Ellis Island" or "Castle Garden" since they were simply the processing areas used at different time periods for arrivals in the port of New York.

The short answer to your last question is YES. All known ships passenger lists arriving in New York have been transcribed, indexed and are found on . If you are searching the Castle Garden website be aware that it includes arrivals in  ports other than New York and as far as I know, it is not complete for the port of New York.

If you are unable to find your ancestors, be sure you search other ports of arrival. Also you might wish to look for ships arriving in Canada as it was much cheaper to come in that way than go directly to America. Just be aware that before 1865 ships arriving in Canadian ports did not have to keep their passenger lists. But there are alternate lists you can search. See Filling in The Gaps for help.

You should also be sure you are using wildcards if you are searching on . The early ships passenger lists are often difficult to read and your ancestor's surname might be badly mangled or misread. Try widening your search parameters too. Leave out first names. Use only a surname (with wildcards to pick up variant spellings such as SM*TH* which would get results for SMITH, SMYTH, SMYTHE etc. ) and an approximate year of birth.


Sonja Hunter said...

I also have a couple of tips. First, Castle Garden didn't open until 8-1-1855 so if her ancestors came over before then searching the Castle Garden website won't help. More troubling is that there is a possibility she won't find her ancestors on passenger lists at all if they came through Liverpool, due to unscrupulous ship masters and ticket agents. According to Terry Coleman's excellent book, Going to America (available on, ages were sometimes altered (because children were allotted less space than adults) and sometimes extra passengers were put on board illegally (and therefore their names were not included on passenger lists). I recently wrote a post about this if you are interested. It is at

Anonymous said...

Great information! Thank you.


Cheri Hopkins aka You Go Genealogy Girl #2 said...

Great post, short and concise. Thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

lighwalIt is doubtful that "All known ships passenger lists arriving in New York have been transcribed, indexed...". The list of Cholera ships arriving at refers to several 1866 ship lists that do not appear at, which seems limited to microfilm M237.