Ellis Island Records
When searching Ellis Island Records, there are many factors to consider in order to successfully locate your immigrant ancestor. The peak period of American immigration occurred between 1892-1924, with the majority of these arrivals coming through the Port of New York at Ellis Island. As the number of arrivals increased, so too did the controls imposed upon steamship companies bringing passengers to American ports.
In general, the later your ancestors arrived in America, the more detail you should be able to obtain. This will hold true for both first-time arrivals, as well as for American citizens returning home from abroad. Since many passengers made multiple trips, you should be sure to evalutate each arrival for new or different information.
Listed below are the various items you may find recorded on an original ship manifest. Expect variations in handwriting from one manifest to the next (typewritten records become common about 1917/1918). Items in bold have been transcribed as part of the Ellis Island online database and appear on our commemorative Passenger Record.
Beginning in 1892:
Port of Departure
Date of Departure
Port of Arrival
Date of Arrival
Name of Ship
Line Number (as assigned)
The Country of Citizenship
Whether can read or write
Intended Destination or location
Number of pieces of baggage
Location of Compartment or space occupied.
Specify whether forward, amidships or aft
Date and Cause of Death
Whether Visitors only, or intending to be permanent settlers
Appearing by 1893:
Last Place of Residence
Citizen of USA
Appearing by 1894:
Appearing by 1897:
Final Destination in US (State, City or Town)
Whether Having a Ticket to Final Destination
Who paid for passage
Whether in possession of $30 (or more/less)
Whether in US before (and when)
Whether going to join a friend/relative and their address
Ever in prison/almshouse/supported by charity
Whether under contract (express or implied) to labor in the US
Condition of health (Mental and Physical)
Deformed or cripled (nature and cause)
View sample manifests from January 1892 (below left) or October 1899 (below right).
Appearing by 1906:
Declaration of cash now $50 (previously $30)
Race or People
Appearing by 1907:
Passenger Name now appears separated as Family Name / Given Name
Personal Description (Height, Feet/Inches)
Color of Eyes/Hair
Marks of Identification
Place of Birth (Country, City/Town)
Name and address of nearest relative/friend in country of origin
If previously in US (1897), how many years and where
Appearing by 1917:
Purpose for coming to the US
Appearing by 1924:
Immigration Visa Number (and place and date of issue)
By the end of 1907, nearly all passenger manifests required two-page forms to accomodate the additional reporting requirements for each passenger. Click on the miniature manifest images immediately below to view a sample two-page manifest from November 1919: 1919 (Page 1) at left and 1919 (Page 2) at right.
Note: If you have an approximate year of birth for the passenger you are trying to find, try using it to narrow down results if your search yields too many records to evaluate. Using a plus/minus 1, 2 or more years could help if you're not 100% certain of the birth year, but have been able to calculate an approximate year based on data from other sources.
Once you have located one or more passengers, you may wish to search for them in the corresponding US Federal Census. If the passenger arrived in 1912, then look in the 1920 Census. Keep in mind that the census is kept private for 72 years and that the 1940 Census won't be accessible for research until the year 2012. Follow this link to learn more about the 1940 Census.