The passenger list and the voyage it represents often provides the vital link to the old country, which is why people with an interest in family history often spend more time hunting for their ancestors in ship passenger lists than in any other type of record. If you're about to embark (pun intended!) on a search for ship passenger lists, be prepared to do some digging. Governments around the world have long kept records of the emigrants departing from and immigrants arriving on their shores, but these records have not always survived and many of them are unindexed. Passenger lists are also not always the treasure trove of information that one might expect. The information collected on passenger lists will vary greatly depending upon country and time period. Some passenger lists will only provide a passenger name and country of departure (not necessarily the country of origin), while others provide such detailed information as physical description, hometown, place of birth, and name and address of relatives the immigrant is heading to join.
Since so many passenger lists are not indexed it is usually easiest to begin your search for an ancestor's passenger list at home, not digging through books or reeling through microfilm. Immigration was a momentous experience and people often kept treasured keepsakes from their journey, such as tickets, naturalization papers, newspaper clippings, letters related to the voyage, etc. Talk to relatives to see if any of them have information which might help you identify the ship your ancestors sailed on or the date of their arrival.
If you aren't able to locate a year and port of arrival, there are several other options available to you. Many published indexes to passenger lists exist in book format and many other passenger lists have been indexed on microfilm. Thousands of passenger lists are also available online.
Article URL: http://genealogy.about.com/cs/immigration/a/passenger_lists.htm
© 2003 Kimberly Powell and About.com.