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Janie Riley is an avid genealogist with a habit of stumbling on to dead bodies. She and her husband head to Salt Lake City Utah to research Janie's elusive 4th great-grandmother. But her search into the past leads her to a dark secret. Can she solve the mysteries of the past and the present before disaster strikes? Available now on Amazon.com and the CreateSpace eStore
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Immigration to USA Before 1820

Lorine McGinnis Schulze

Before 1820 approximately 650,000 individuals came to America. To find your ancestor on a Passenger List before 1820 you will need to know his/her name, approximate year of arrival and nationality. Not all passengers were recorded before 1820. You will also need to consult newspaper records for names of immigrants, naturalization oaths, indenture lists, grants and other records. Some helpful tips for searching are:

  • Search for the entire family. You may find needed clues in another family member's details.
  • Search the sources thoroughly and record all details such as neighbors, guardians, witnesses.
  • Don't make your search too narrow. If you think great great grandpa immigrated in 1846, but you can't find him, search 10 years before and after
  • Be aware of all spelling variations. Remember, spelling was not always consistent nor standardized. Names were often spelled phonetically. Often a recording clerk was of a different nationality than the person providing the information and local accents play a strong part in the sound of a name.
  • Use indexes but use them with caution! Remember that indexes can be incomplete or incorrect.

You should also consult P. William Filby's index to names "Passenger and Immigration Lists Index" 15 volumes. You should also refer to Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776

If you have thoroughly searched the records noted above, and have not found anything, you may need to turn to other local records in the USA such as Land records, Obituaries, Census, local histories, Voting Registers, Military Records, and Church Records. These are ways of narrowing the time frame for your ancestor's arrival and finding out more details that will hopefully lead to a place of origin.

For very early arrivals (1600s) in New York, I have started a project to reconstruct names of individuals sailing from Netherlands to the New World. Prior to 1674 passenger lists as we know them were not kept. From the period 1654 to 1664 the West Indies Company kept a ledger book of accounts both paid and owing for voyages. Only the debit side (money due for passage) has been published as "Passengers to New Netherland" in the Year Book of the Holland Society of New Netherland 1902:1-37

I have drawn from several sources (Amsterdam notarial records, court documents in New Netherland/New York, unpublished thesis of Jaap Jacobs found in Amsterdam, and more) to reconstruct names of passengers on known voyages from 1628 to 1664.

For more details of all published lists for this time period, and for information on my ongoing project see


You can also search the lists I have compiled and placed online. This is an Olive Tree Genealogy exclusive and is entirely my own research.

Some pre-1820 passenger lists are online. You can start your search on The Olive Tree Genealogy pages at


Choose the year of interest or the port of interest from the menu found about half-way down the page.

You may also wish to join US-SHIPSLISTS-PRE1820. This is a mailing list that I host for the discussion and sharing of information regarding ship passenger lists, immigration records, naturalization records and ships' lists substitutes for immigration to the United States before 1820.

To subscribe send "subscribe" to us-shipslists-pre1820-l-request@rootsweb.com (mail mode) or us-shipslists-pre1820-d-request@rootsweb.com (digest mode)."

To read the Archives for this list you can Search the US-SHIPSLISTS-PRE1820 archives OR Browse the US-SHIPSLISTS-PRE1820 archives

Other records of interest are Passenger Arrivals in the U.S., 1819-20. Prepared on order of the U. S. Senate, this informative database contains most of the immigrants who arrived in the nation between October 1819 and September 1820. The records contained herein reveal such facts about the immigrant as age, sex, occupation, nation of origin and in some records, the ship on which they arrived. To the researcher of U. S. immigration, this can be a helpful tool. You can search this offsite database for free and see the indexed results. To view details you must purchase a subscription.

To read about Immigration after 1820, go to Immigration to USA After 1820

Some Other Records of Interest:

  • Passenger arrivals at the port of Philadelphia, 1800-1819 : the Philadelphia "baggage lists". editor, Michael H. Tepper [Available on CD ROM Philadelphia "baggage lists"]
  • Passenger lists of vessels arriving at Philadelphia, 1800-1882 with index 1800-1906. United States Bureau of Customs
  • Ship passenger lists, Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1641-1825. Boyer, Carl
  • The Acadian exiles in the American colonies, 1755-1768. compiled, translated and edited by Milton P. Rieder and Norma Gaudet Rieder


This article copyright by Lorine McGinnis Schulze and may be used elsewhere provided it is not altered in any manner. ALL identifying information and URLs must remain intact.



Ships Passenger Lists Index, 1500s-1900s
Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s

arrival information for approximately 3,530,000 individuals who arrived in United States and Canadian ports.

Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776

140,000 names of the men, women, and children who emigrated from England to America between 1607 and 1776. It includes the texts of six books by Peter Wilson Coldham: The Complete Book of Emigrants (four volumes), along with The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage and its supplement.

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