Ship passenger arrival records are keys to information

Finding my grand uncle’s ship passenger arrival record was truly the key to discovering more information on him and his immigration experience.

The process of getting his ship passenger arrival record was long. I searched for him using different spellings on The website did not have his record even though I have found so many relatives’ records on

I knew my grand uncle arrived at a New York City port around the early 1950s because I have photos of him with his sister’s family in New York City. He also arrived in the USA after his sister’s family so that eliminated searching an extended time period.

So, I ordered a reproduction of his record from NARA, the US national archives, for the bargain price of $25. NARA provides the records on CD or paper for arrivals by plane or ship from 1820 to 1959. It takes about 2 to 3 months to receive the record in the mail. You will need to register on NARA’s website.

I provided everything I knew- possible spellings of his name, birth date, birthplace, nationality, marital status, race and port of departure. I don’t know how NARA managed to find him based on this information. I did not know the name of his passenger ship, port of arrival or date of arrival.

His ship passenger arrival record gave me the name of the passenger ship, place of departure, date of departure and arrival, and his registered address for the USA. I had no idea why he was scheduled to move near Chicago when his sister’s family lived in New York City.

I assumed he was able to arrange a sponsor in the New York City area. The research into my family has taught me to assume nothing and expect nothing is simple or explainable.

It was great to my find my grand uncle’s record. Then, I wanted more than some random facts about him on a list. I e-mailed the regional archives office where he lived most of his life in the USA. By luck, the office had his application for naturalization.

I already knew most of the information listed on the application, except for his Alien number and sponsors’ names. I knew he was naturalized as a German citizen from his mother’s ancestry but he put himself down as Russian. My grand uncle probably knew putting down the least controversial nationality for immigration applications would make the process easier.

I was disappointed the regional archive office only had a two-page document on my grand uncle. The process of immigration is a long and documented process so there had to be more records on him. Then, I learned about the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ genealogy program for Alien files.

My grand uncle arrived five months too late for his file to become part of the program so I applied for his file with a Freedom of Information Act request. When I finally got his file, I learned how important it was to get his ship passenger arrival record.

See also: Seven months worth waiting. This completes my story about learning more about my grand uncle.

Here is NARA’s page on ship passenger arrival records.