Exploring US Passenger Records on Ancestry

Passenger lists are a great resource that people know about but probably aren’t using to the fullest. In addition to immigrants crossing the ocean, citizens and foreign visitors disembarked at a US Port.

If your ancestor was traveling across the ocean in the 1900s or the 1800s, chances are there is a passenger list in the U.S Archives with their name on it. Ancestry.com is particularly helpful in helping you trace your ancestors in passenger records.

Brief History of US Passenger Lists

Before 1820, few ships kept list documenting their passengers. If you want to find when your ancestor arrived in the US prior to this date, use newspapers, naturalization oaths, or the following two resources.

There is some disagreement about when a passenger list was created. Some genealogists say it was created as a customs report after a person arrived in the US. Others say the ship manifests were create in the port of departure.

All genealogists agree that checking a passenger list MAY reward you with the following information:

Pay attention to others listed on the ship. Family members, kinsmen, and traveling companions from the same original town may travel in the same group.

The more modern the record, the more details you may find. Some immigration records from the 1900s may reveal:

  • The name of the relative the passenger plans to join in the US and where that person lived

  • Who paid for the passage

  • The amount of money the immigrant had in his or her possession

  • A physical description.

  • A passport or other identification number.

To learn more about immigration research, check out this handout on FamilySearch or this resource for online passenger lists.

Search For Passengers on Ancestry

On Ancestry.com, occasionally you will receive hints for passenger records for your ancestors. However, it’s better to be a researcher rather than a hint harvester on Ancestry.

Search Ancestry from profile page

Search Ancestry from profile page

From a profile page, find and click on the “Search” button at the top of the page.

Ancestry will take you to the search page and it will pre-load the information at the top with your ancestor’s name and their family members.

Scroll down for Ancestry filters

Scroll down for Ancestry filters

Scroll down this column until you see the filters.

Notice that there are quite a few filters. But the one we’re most interested in is the one that says ‘Immigration and emigration,’ ‘passenger list,’ and ‘crew list.’

Filter to Immigration Lists

Filter to Immigration Lists

After I filtered Angeline Long to the immigration passenger list, I found an entry that looked extremely promising because:

After clicking on the hint, I came to this index page.

Index to Angeline Long's passenger record

Index to Angeline Long’s passenger record

Since we’re all striving to be great genealogists, we need to click on the “View” button to review the original record. To see the original record, watch this video demonstration.

When I reviewed this passenger record, I discovered a few things in addition to the indexed information:

  • Angeline is a widow.

  • She was born in Mansfield, Ohio.

  • The address she was destined for.

As shown in the video, three other passengers have the same destination address of are 304 Deshler Avenue, Columbus, Ohio listed. The other two women were Gertrude Rang and Elizabeth Long, who turned out to be Angeline’s daughters.

Be careful.

Sometimes people lie on these documents. Gertrude Rang stated that she was a widow. Perhaps when you repeat a lie often enough, you begin to believe it is true. Gertrude divorced her husband shortly after the birth of their daughter. From that point forward, Gertrude referred to herself as divorced, while her ex-husband was very much alive.

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Passenger Records Can Substitute for Birth Records

if you don’t have a birth record for your ancestors, records like these can serve as substitutes. Often people were using passports before they got on board some of these ships in the 1920s and 30s. In Angeline’s case, she traveled in 1928.

As the use of passports increased, passenger lists became more reliable with regards to biographical information. By so doing, these records create a circle of documentation to support a birth date.

Angeline doesn’t have a county-level birth record, but the passenger list can be a substitute for this lack of documentation.

This blog posts is only part of the demonstration discussed in this video.

Be Curious in Ancestry Passenger Lists

Leverage your curiosity when exploring the different record collections on Ancestry.com. Even though you may think an ancestor might not appear in a collection, try it out. You never know. The collections just might surprise you.

Check Military Passenger Lists


Sometimes Ancestry’s filters aren’t helpful, so you should use the Card Catalog instead.

Try to search for Guy Evans Springer born 29 Aug 1899 in North Dakota. He died 24 May 1984 in Wyoming, Minnesota.

You might not find him on a military passenger list unless you use the Card Catalog.

Ancestry Card catalog transport keyword

Type “Transport” in the keyword field

For those military aged ancestors, visit the Ancestry Card Catalog o

In the field that says ‘keywords,’ type in the word ‘transport.’

The ‘transport’ keyword filters this list to some really great military records.

One is the U.S World War I Troop Transport Ships list.

Another is the U.S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departure collection.

Searching for Guy

Select the second one listed above.

Keep your search extremely broad in the beginning.

For instance, only type in the name Guy E Springer and nothing else.

Army Transport Service Hints

Hints for Guy Springer in the Army Transport Service

What makes this hint of interest is the list of the next of kin as Mary. Guy’s mother’s name was Mary.

What should we do?

We need to open the hint and review the record.

In the video mentioned above, I share with you how I discovered that this was the guy I was looking for. Spoiler alert, the name Mary was the ticket to confirmation.

The other things you will learn with this record collection include:

If you don’t know any of this information, you know have the clues you need to access service records from the US National Archives.

If at any time you would like the assistance of an experienced heir hunter or forensic genealogist, check out our friends over at Legacy Tree Genealogists. and tell them Devon Noel Lee referred you.

Go Try Out Ancestry’s Passenger Lists

Are you excited now to look at passenger records on Ancestry.com?

Sometimes you will get hints in the Ancestry family tree.

Other times you will need to be curious and put your ancestors name in the search and try the filter.

Finally, leave no stone unturned by using the Card Catalog and try some of the other collections that are buried a little bit deeper in the collections on Ancestry.

You can also check out passenger records on FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage.

One other thing to keep in mind. There are passenger lists that were created at the port of departure there are some in LaHarve, France. There are some from Bremen and Hamburg, Germany. There’s some from the Holland, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Dive into Ancestry’s Card Catalog for some of these collections.

If you can not find the collections you’re looking for, check out this reference page, Emigration and Immigration Records and Resources.

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