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Searching for Immigrant Ancestors at the Boston Port

Researchers too often just think of their immigrant ancestors landing in Ellis Island in New York.  Yet, this major port for new arrivals did not open until January 1, 1892.  From that point until 1954, millions of immigrants were handled at Ellis Island, the first Federal government processing center.

Before 1892, millions of earlier immigrants into New York entered through Castle Garden Deport in lower Manhattan, New York.  Yet, for decades, not all immigrants have come through New York.  A very popular destination port for Canadians and Europeans was Boston, Massachusetts.  A special note:  many immigrants first went to Canada and then came at a later date to the United States.

Especially for most of the 19th century, some one million immigrants first arrived in Boston.  That doesn’t mean they all settled in the city of Boston or in Massachusetts.  Some had family or friends in other neighboring states or were headed to the Midwest states of Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana or Ohio.  Even after Ellis Island opened in 1892, the Port of Boston was a major entry well into the 20th century.

Using the Massachusetts State Archives website with passenger lists for arrivals from 1848 to 1891 just might provide some answers if you had not located the arrival of an ancestor.

The passenger manifest index search engine has you place a surname, a given name, a ship name and an arrival date range.  However, not all that information has to be supplied.  If the relative has an unusual surname, that is all that is needed to place in the search.  A common surname, do place a first name or initials.  Don’t worry about placing a ship’s name, hopefully you can find it on the database.

The range of dates has to be written with numbers for the month-date-year.  For example, searching between Jan. 1, 1871 to Dec. 31, 1878 would be written 01/01/1871 and 12/31/1878.  Do give yourself a spread of years unless you can narrow it down, say because a child was born to the family in 1876 in the United States, then they had to arrive by 1876.

Another thing to be aware of are name given and surname spelling differences.  Many of the first names would be shorten.  The name Margaret could be ‘Margt.’ or ‘Maggie’.  Surname spelling could have been changed, so try various forms. Another thing to look for some immigrates who just provide the name ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Mr.‘ or ‘Miss’ without any given names.  If you find there is a possible ancestor on the index, review all the other information, age, birth location, occupation, whom was traveling with them, etc.  Each name is listed separate, so look for any with the same surname who came on the same ship and arrived the same day.

Another tip to look at is if the person listed they had been living in the United States already.  If they had not, it is marked “N”, if they had it is “Y.”

Overall, the Massachusetts Archives site can be another good source to check for any arriving ancestors between 1848 and 1891.

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