The growth of New York State has been greatly influenced by immigration from countries all over the world. New York immigration records document the arrival of individuals from foreign countries in New York State.
The Port of New York in New York City was (and still is) the only official seaport entry into the state. On land, several points along the Canadian border are official immigration stations, but only beginning in 1895.
Immigration record keeping has evolved throughout history, and the Port of New York has seen several major immigration processing facilities, each with different record-keeping procedures and availability of records.
This guide will list all major collections of immigration records that can be found online, but it's important to note that not all immigration records are online. For a comprehensive overview of all New York immigration records, see the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer chapter on immigration, or our recent publication Tracing Immigrants Through the Port of New York: Early National Period to 1924.
Additional free resources for help tracing your immigrant ancestors (including several blog articles and a free video presentation) are available at the end of this guide.
The New Netherland Ships Passenger Lists Project
1624–1664 | Olive Tree Genealogy
The New Netherland Ships Passenger Project, found on Olive Tree Genealogy, holds an extensive collection of passenger lists of ships to New Netherland from 1624–1664. Ship names and arrival dates are listed chronologically—clicking the ship name will show the passenger list.
The lists are extracted or reconstructed from various sources, and each list is very well cited. Visit Olive Tree Genealogy to view these records.
U.S. Customs Records (Ship Manifests)
1820–1891 | FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com
Consistent record keeping related to immigration did not begin until 1820 when it became mandatory for vessels arriving from foreign ports to file a passenger list with the United States Customs Collector.
Since many of the passenger lists processed by Castle Garden (the predecessor to Ellis Island, which was opened in 1891) were destroyed in a fire, these U.S. Customs records remain an essential resource for researchers investigating the many immigrants that arrived before 1892.
The original United States Customs records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration in two microfilm publications: M237, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1897 and M261, Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1846.
Both of these microfilm publications have been digitized and indexed, and are available to search online.
Ancestry.com has both (and other records) in the collection New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957
FamilySearch.org has records from the same microfilm publications in two distinct collections: New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891 (M237), and New York, New York, Index to Passenger Lists, 1820-1846 (M261).
Researchers should note the databases are not identical, so querying both may be advised.
1892–1957 | Ellis Island Foundation, Ancestry.com
The U.S. Immigration Service was created in 1891, moving authority over immigration from the individual states to the federal government. In New York, Ellis Island opened in 1892 as a federal immigration station, replacing the state-run Castle Garden as New York's primary immigration facility.
Ellis Island generated its own passenger lists from each ship's manifest. Most of these have been digitized and are available to search online. For a detailed overview of interpreting and getting the most out of Ellis Island records, see our print publications on immigration.
The Ellis Island Foundation has indexes and digital images of most records from 1892–1957 available for free on Libertyellisfoundation.org. Ancestry.com has Ellis Island records in their collection New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957.
Canadian Border Crossing
1895–1960 | Ancestry.com
Although most immigrants arrived by sea, plenty of immigrants crossed over the New York-Canada border. As mentioned in our article Helpful Facts About Immigration to New York, prices to travel to Canada were at times significantly cheaper than tickets to New York. Many immigrants took advantage of this and traveled first to Canada but eventually crossed over into New York.
The United States designated several points on the New York-Canada border as federal immigration stations in 1894, with records beginning in 1895. Before that, border crossings were not routinely documented.
Digital records of border crossings are available at Ancestry.com U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960.
NYG&B Online Immigration Records
The NYG&B's Online Records Platform has several collections that cover New York Immigrants.
Voices of the Irish Immigrant: Information Wanted Ads in the Truth Teller, 1825–1844
These transcribed information wanted ads—compiled by Diane Fitzpatrick Haberstroh and Laura Murphy DeGrazia—provide researchers with insight into the Irish community of New York City during the early nineteenth century. Newspapers like the Truth Teller accepted “Information Wanted” advertisements from people who had lost contact with friends or relatives that had made the voyage from Ireland to the United States before them.
Information Wanted ads were not just exclusive to newly arrived immigrants. They were arranged by shipping companies, immigrant aid societies, parents looking for missing children, priests and masters looking for runaway apprentices. This volume can be found in our New York County Newspaper Abstracts, 1825 - 1870 collection.
Shipwrecked Passengers Bound for the Americas, 1817–1875
This volume contains the stories and assembled passenger lists of 339 shipwrecks that are not found in other immigration records in print or online.
Passengers from ships that were shipwrecked were unlikely to be recorded by the usual immigration stations. NYG&B Scholar Frank A. Biebel combed through newspapers and other sources to compile this list of lost immigrants. These fascinating stories can be searched or browsed in Shipwrecked Passengers Bound for the Americas, 1817–1875.
The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record
This quarterly periodical, published by the NYG&B since 1870, has accumulated thousands of articles on New York State families, many of which contain research on immigrant families, from early Dutch settlers to nineteenth and twentieth-century immigrants.
Many articles focus on discovering the immigrant journey and foreign origins; others cover immigration as part of a larger study on a family or individual.
Even if your immigrant ancestor is not covered in the pages of The Record, you are likely to find an immigrant of the same country and time period that you're researching—following the work of a scholarly genealogist can help you break through your own brick wall.
Immigration Research Guides
The NYG&B has produced two print publications which will be useful for those researching immigrant ancestors.
Tracing Immigrants through the Port of New York: Early National Period to 1924: This guide, released in 2020, details the records and research strategies for use when tracing immigrants who passed through New York City. It is available in print or as a PDF download.
The New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer: This publication is a comprehensive overview of genealogy research in New York State, including a chapter on immigration and naturalization records. It is available in print or as a PDF download.