New Rules Due to the Irish Potato Famine Migration
In February of 1847, partly due to the Irish Potato Famine which led to the beginning of mass migration, a passenger act was passed which tried to reform the issue of space. They still had 2 passengers for every 5 tons of the ship’s register, but they also added in feet per person (depending on the deck). They also began keeping track of the number, size, and position of the berths.
Rules regarding children were that 2 children under 8 equaled 1 adult, and 1 child under 1 weren’t counted at all. (This was repealed in March 1847, partially reinstated in 1848, then fully reinstated in 1855.) Still, ventilation was a problem.
In May of 1848, Congress made an attempt at ventilation, cooking stoves, and the captain had to enforce health standards. The tonnage per passenger was changed to 14 feet of deck space per person. However, problems still persisted.
In 1855, other attempts at overcrowding were implemented. This didn’t always work however. But part of what resulted were changes in the manifests. The captain had to report name, age, sex, occupation, country to which belonged, where passenger intended to become an inhabitant, whether any passenger and what number died, and the part of vessel the passenger occupied. This report was in effect until 1882.
Restricting Who Come Emigrate to the United States
In 1875, Congress excluded criminals (except for political offenses) and prostitutes. In 1876, the Supreme Court said that the state can no longer regulate and tax the immigrants. The states were interfering with foreign commerce. The Court suggested Congress take over immigration.
The result was a 50 cent head tax in August of 1882. The Secretary of the Treasury was in charge of this act. This act excluded the following persons: lunatics, idiots, persons likely to become public charges, and foreign convicts (except for political offenses).
This act began putting immigration into the hands of the Federals. Also, in 1882, distinctions were made between sailing vessels and steamships so the problems and abuses would stop. Now, the captain had to report names, age, sex, occupation, and the new one: the country of which the passenger was citizen. Steerage manifests were the same except that they asked for native country and intended destination.
More Changes in the 1890s
In 1890, the Secretary of the Treasury ended its contract and the Federal government took complete control. They created the Bureau of Immigration. This is why and where we start to see many changes take place.
In 1891, reforms to place more restrictions were added. No polygamists, no contagious or loathsome diseases, no persons whose employment was secured through ads placed in foreign countries; the transportation companies couldn’t solicit passengers except by ordinary ways, etc, etc. Also, the captain had to report the last residence and destination of those aboard his ship.
In 1893, a literacy test was threatened (to lessen the flow of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe) and a more detailed manifest was implemented: full name, age, sex; married or single; occupations; whether able to read and write; nationality; last residence; seaport for landing in the U.S.; final destination; ticket to final destination; passage paid by whom; how much money; going to join relative–who, including name and address; if in U.S. before and when and where; in prison, almshouse or supported by charity; polygamist; under contract to perform labor in U.S.; and health (mentally and physically). In March 1903, race was added and the exclusion list included epileptics, anarchists, beggars, people with 2 or more attacks of insanity, and prior deportees.
The Challenges Finding Records
In 1906, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was created. The manifests were then changed to include personal description and birthplace. In 1907 they added the name and address of the nearest relative in overseas country.
The Passenger Lists were the results of acts passed in 1882 and later. Most of the lists date from the 1890’s. Different ports enacted the various laws at different times, thus there is no one starting point. The lists cover Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports, the Pacific ports and the ports in Canada. The original manifests were destroyed after filming. The manifests were to have no more than 30 names so Ellis Islands officials wouldn’t have to flip pages. They just verified what were on the manifests. Names weren’t changed at Ellis. Checkmarks were made by the names.
In the 1940’s, the INS began the filming which was “carried out over a period of years.” It is thought to be complete. Within the last 10 years, more lists were found in the Washington, DC National Records Center in Suitland, MD. The found the following Pacific Coast ports: San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco (all CA); Portland, Seattle (Port Townsend), Tacoma (all WA) and Honolulu. Other Gulf ports were found too. San Francisco, Seattle, and Galveston have been filmed and given to the National Archives. The others will be filmed and given to the National Archives as well, as long as they meet the 30-year rule.
The films are arranged by port of entry, then date of arrival, then the ship. You will need to know the port and date if you are searching by index. If you are not going to use the index (or it was of no help), you will need to know the port and either the date or the ship. Luckily, most Passenger Lists are indexed. In more modern times, flight manifests exist (for NY).
A word about Canada: From 1895, about 40% of people going to Canada had a final destination in the U.S. They may have been denied entry at the U.S. ports. Also, it was cheaper to enter through Canada. Some U.S. officials needed to be stationed at Canadian ports. These have been filmed too. (1895-1954).
Searching For Passenger Lists
To search the Passenger Lists, you will need to first check the indices (books and film) for your names and ports. If you find the name, then go get the film for that manifest. However, if you are not that lucky, or they are not in the index, check “Registry of Vessels Arriving at the Port of New York from Foreign Ports 1789-1919.” This includes the name of the vessel, country of origin, type of rig, date of entry, master’s name, and last port of embarkation. Some years the ships are arranged chronologically, in others alphabetically, and sometimes, even by steamship line.
If you know the name of the ship, you can search by film (M1066) for all the dates it came in. Earlier ships didn’t make as many crossings as did a steamship, so there will be less to search. You can also use this same film to search by dates. You can use it to search via port of embarkation–just eliminate all the non-Portuguese ports. Part of this film is in book form titled, “Passenger Ships Arriving in New York Harbor (1820-1850).” Future volumes are being planned. You may also need to consult the Morton-Allen Directory for NY 1890-1930, and for Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia for 1904-1926. Film M334 has some Boston (1820-1847), New Orleans (1820-1850) as well as some Philadelphia and Baltimore.
“Jumping ship” refers to a crew member entering the U.S. without a document. If your ancestor “jumped ship” you will want to check crew lists for Boston (1917-1943), New Bedford (1917- 1943), New York (1897-1957) and others. The lists vary in information given.
Newspapers at the port of arrival may have a general printed information about the ship and its passengers. They will report anything out of the ordinary such as diseases, quarantines, etc.
As was relayed to me, the APGHS out of Taunton say that 90% of all Portuguese came through New Bedford.
Note: Since this article was written, some passenger lists have been digitized. Try Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.Org, and other sites to see if what you seek is available.
Tepper, Michael. American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to the Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988, 1993).
Colletta, John P. They Came in Ships. (Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 1989, 1993).
© 2003-2021 Cheri Mello
About the Author:
Cheri Mello has extensive experience researching and teaching Portuguese genealogy. She currently moderates the Azores Genealogy Google Group.