Passenger arrival lists are valuable sources of information about family immigration, according to Ancestry.com. Records usually include the name of the ship and ports of arrival and departure. Passengers' names, ages, country of origin and occupation are also included.
The National Archive and Records Administration, or NARA, houses information about arrivals of ships from foreign ports between 1820 and 1982. Although the National Archive does not provide online access to passenger lists, its website includes detailed directions for accessing passenger lists on microfilm and instructions for locating immigration data.
Unfortunately, passenger lists for some ships have not survived. Prior to 1820, immigration laws did not require a ship's captain to provide passenger names when arriving at U.S. ports Therefore, surviving passenger lists for arrivals prior to 1820 are rare. Exceptions include ships arriving at New Orleans between 1813 and 1819, and at Philadelphia between 1800 and 1819. The National Archive houses microfilm of these records and provides bibliographies for printed resources about arrivals at other ports.
The internet age has sparked a resurgence of interest in genealogy. Ancestor.com, a subscription service, has made passenger lists available for all ships that arrived in New York between 1820 and 1957. The service is free to use at many local libraries.