>All extant Customs Passenger Lists have been accessioned by the National Archives, and almost all have been microfilmed. This includes for the five major ports of entry as well as a number of lesser ports on the Atlantic and on the Gulf.
With the exception of recently discovered lists for San Francisco (1902-18) and Port Townsend and Tacoma, Washington (1894-1909) — unusually late for customer passenger lists — lists for Pacific Coast ports do not appear to be extant.
The earlier Customs Passenger Lists for San Francisco were destroyed by fires in 1851 and 1940 and all lists of passengers arriving at San Francisco were thought to have been destroyed until the recent dramatic discovery of a trove of later Immigration Passenger Lists for San Francisco and various other Pacific and Gult Coast ports, as well as the two series of Custom Passenger Lists noted above.
Date gaps at any one port conceal numerous gaps in the records, with coerage varying aquite considerbly from one port to another. Boston, for instance, has no original lists dated earlier than 1883.
Fortunately, copies and abstracts of the passenger lists prepared by the customs collectors are extant for most ports for various years from 1820 to 1874 and used with surprisingly effective results to fill in gaps in the original passenger lists. From the very beginning, when the National Archives took on the project of microfilming the Customs Passenger Lists, they carefully substituted copies and abstracts for missing or illegible originals, giving each port the most complete coverage possible. They who included cargo manifests for the port of Philadelphia, 1800-1819 (the Philadephia “baggage lists”, and City Lists,” 1822-`836, for the port of Baltimore, neither of which, technically, falls under the classification of Customs Passenger Lists. Under the same ambitious program, the Archives microfilmed special indexes to the lists, many of which had been prepared by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930s.
Despite their availability on microfilm, systematic access to the data in the lists often eludes us. Quite apart from the difficulties one encounters in reading old handwriting — and the lists are written in various hands with great originality of style, spelling, and punctuation — the lists themselves are cumbersome and awkard to use, even on microfilm. There are thousands of lists, after all, and they are arranged by port of entry, then according to the date or quarter date of the ship’s arrival, then by ship, and finally, without order, by passengers’ names.
The indexes — which are the usual means of access to such records — might be supposed to hold the key, but some of the most important indexes are incomplete. They are also arranged in different ways, some in alphabetical order by passengers’ surnames, some by soundex (first letter of the surname followed by numerical codes representing letters of the same or similar sound but different spellings); they might contain all of the information needed concerning the arrival of a passenger or just enough to to point the researcher in the direction of the passenger lists. All are subject to copying errors, of course, and must be used with care.
By far the most serious limitation of Customs Passenger Lists is the lack of a complete index to passengers disembarking at the port of New York. Although the WPA compiled indexes to passengers arriving at Baltimore (1820-97), Boston (1848-91), New Orleans (1853-99), and Philadelphia (1800-1906), they failed to carry the New York index beyond 1846, cutting it off the very year that saw the beginning of mass migration from Ireland.
We can only conclude that they were forced to abandon the attempt. In any case, the WPA index to passenger arrivals at the port of New York stops dead at the end of 1846 and until a full fifty years later, June 1897, there is no index to passenger arrivals for this key port of entry. In spite of this, records of individuals can often be located if either the name of the vessel or the exact date are known.
We also would suggest use of Morton Allan Directory of European Pssenger Steamship Arrivals (1931). It lists the name of the vessel and the extant list of its arrival and its European Port of its embarkation. Also consult Passenger Ships Arriving in New York Harbor (1820-1850). Its editor was Bradley W. Stewart of Bountiful, Utah. Precision Indexing, 1991, lists vessel entrances in alphabetical order by name of ship and chronologically by date of arrival, supplying, among other useful bits of information, the ship manifest number, the National Archives microfilm roll number, and the name of the port of embarkation, and giving not only the name of the port, or ports, at which each ship docked enroute to New York, but the order in which each port was visited.
All extant copies and abstracts of Original Captain Lists were given to the National Archives where, as substitutes for missing or illegible originals, they have proved indispensable in the reconstruction of the passenger arrival records. They are available — with gaps themselves — for the following years: port of Baltimore, 1820 -1869; Boston, 1820-1874; New Orleans, 1820-1875; New York, 1820-1874; and Philadelphia, 1820-1854.
For researchers outside the Washington, D.C. area, it may be possible to view microfilm copies of selected Customs Passenger Lists at one of the twelve regional archives of the National Archives which serve citizens across America.
While no regional archives branch holds a copy of every microfilm publication, or even of every microfilm publication relating to the region served, most brances have some microfilmed Customs Passenger Lists. The following is a list of National Archives regional archives and the region they serve.
REGIONAL ARCHIVES OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Central Plains Region
2306 East Bannister Road
National Archives Pacific Northwest Region
125 San Point Way, NE
Microfilm copies of Customs passenger Lists may also be found at various public and university libraries and at historical societies located within proximity of the major ports of entry, but there is only one institution other than the Archives itself that has holdings of virtually all of the microfilmed records — the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.
Boasting probably the largest collection in the world outside government, the Family History Library has records on over one billion people on 1.7 million rolls of microfilm, equal to about 6 million printed volumes (numbers as of 1993) and 325,000 microfiche.
The LDS Church makes its records available to members and non-members alike, and its Salt Lake City library welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each month.