There’s something satisfying about finding the passenger list/ship record of the arrival of our ancestors to America. It provides that critical connection between the old and new country. Over the years it has become easier to find ancestors on ship records that were delivered by the ship’s captain when they reached port here in the United States and Canada. We’ve talked about many resources in past blogs, and I thought today we could delve into Castle Garden. Let’s look.
While Ellis Island gets more attention, the original place for processing immigrants arriving in New York was Castle Garden. You can still see the brick walls of the original building and it is my understanding that there is an effort to revitalize the building to its old splendor. I had the opportunity walk through the area several years ago. I wonder what our ancestors were feeling—new sights, different languages, and unknown adventures ahead.
It has been quite a while since I’ve searched the Castle Garden site for ships and ancestors, and I was surprised to get a java script and jumbled page instead of results. Searching to see if the site was down indicated that this search has been broken for some time. None the less, it is worth visiting the site to learn more about the history and see photos and information about this important site to immigration. You can view that information Castle Garden. In 1892, Immigrants were processed in the newly built center on Ellis Island.
The good news is that you can search the Castle Garden information using two familiar sites: FamilySearch and Ancestry.
FamilySearch has a nice article Castle Garden and Ellis Island Immigration Records (familysearch.org) To begin your search for your ancestor at Castle Garden you can go here: New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891 — FamilySearch.org You can filter by the years to help narrow down your search. It is sometimes challenging to be sure that you have the right person because the names are occasionally misspelled, or the ages are not noted or even the country of origin might reflect the port they were traveling from rather than their home country. If you have other records that help you identify that this is indeed your person congratulations! One group of my Luxembourgers are mentioned as part of a larger group that traveled to America in 1887. This is noted in the Luxembourg Gazette and so I have corroborating evidence that these are indeed my people. Sometimes we give up as the record may have been lost or they weren’t recorded. I don’t have a ship record for all my direct ancestors but there is always hope that something new will turn up in the online collections.
If you haven’t had luck searching in FamilySearch, you could try other sources. Ancestry has this list: New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 | Ancestry®. I do like the search in Ancestry because I can put the immigration year as well as a keyword to help the search.
You might want to check out these passenger list sites:
Resources for Finding New York Passenger Lists 1820-1897 (germanroots.com)
Passenger Arrival Lists | National Archives
Castle Garden: Ships Passenger Lists to New York 1 Aug. 1855 - 18 Apr. 1890 (rootsweb.com)
If you know the date that your family arrived but can’t find the actual ship record, you could look to see if there are any newspaper notices regarding the ship arrivals. Perhaps you can narrow your search with that information and garner the ship names. The New York Times has an archive of older newspapers: New York Times Article Archive - NYTimes.com While it does say you can search for free, my experience was that it required you to have a membership in order to search. If you have ancestors who landed in New York or lived there for a time, it might be worth the membership to join, it looks like they have monthly subscriptions.
Like most of our genealogy research, it is good to go back and review what information we have, what we’re missing and what is now available. If you haven’t searched for your ancestors on the passenger/ship lists, carve out some time to explore these. Perhaps your “ship will come in!”. Happy searching!
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.