Ship Manifests

How and where would a newspaper reporter in 1899 view Ship Manifests from ships arriving in Boston from Ireland?

  • Anne, I just spent an hour in my files to find a situation... which might not pertain to your request.... but it might.  A well known businessman in the midwest applied for naturalization.  His case was denied as the immigration service couldn't find his name on the ship he indicated he arrived in at Ellis Island.  He had the ship name, and date of arrival.  No certificate of arrival could be issued (so this was after 1906).  He demanded to see, or to have his lawyer see the actual ship manifest so he could see for himself.  His initial demand was met by immigration officials with the response that the manifest was not a public document, but the property of the U.S. government, and his request denied.  I could see that as there could be a fraud situation if too many people could access, at the time or shortly afterwards, this document.  The immigrant took the director of Ellis Island to court, and the day they were scheduled in court.... lo and behold, the immigration authorities found his mistranscribed name.  I couldn't find this on my files, or looking at the index for historical New York Times which I believe had the original article that might be hiding on my computer.  I don't think your 1899 newspaper reporter was going to easily see ship manifests..... but I'll pay attention to other answers to your query.

  • Thank you, Joel! This is very helpful. I'm working on a novel, and though it's fiction, I still need to have some facts straight. I wonder if the Massachusetts District Police, at that time, would have had access to the manifests when investigating a suspect.

  • Anne,

    First, I found the article.  "Sues to See Ship List".  New York Times, Oct. 25, 1927.  page 48.   "Suit to enjoin Immigration Commissioner Benjamin M Day from refusing to permit examination of a passenger list filed with port officials on Dec. , 1913, was begun yesterday..."

    Second, there was fraud at Ellis Island with ship manifests changed after the fact.  There were some *federal* investigations of the ship manifests that led to charges against Ellis Island clerks.  That's one reason why it was decided to film the manifests so that the records would be frozen in time.  I'm looking in my files, as that's one area of interest to me, about some specific cases.  So far, can't find, but one of them was an addition of a name to the manifest...first name "Bozo".... appropriately enough.  I'll continue looking.

  • Ahh... found my file.  If you want to see a forged ship manifest of Bozo Galantich.... where his line was typed in with a different typewriter as to the rest of the manifest.... SS Mount Clay, sailing from Hamburg August 25, 1921...List 29.  Some articles: Aliens Fixers Paid Million Washington Post April 10, 1935 page 1.  Alien Frauds Laid To An Ex-Official, New York Times june 26, 1935 p. 3.  22 are Indicted Here In Citizenship Fraud  New York Times May 8, 1936 page 18.  Jailed for Alien Frauds, New York Times Aug 8, 1935 page 3.  $1,000,000 Mulcted From Aliens Here, New York Times April 10, 1935 page 4.

  • Often the names of 1st and sometimes 2nd class passengers were listed in the newspaper.  I assume that the shipping line routinely provided the info to the newspaper.  This is a partial list from the Boston Herald 21 Oct 1899, p. 6               

  • Hi Anne,

    Prior to World War I, most Steamship Line offices would respond to reference requests from the public or reporters.  If the ship arrived in Boston, then that ship's line office in Boston (or the line's principle ticket agent) would have the line's copy of the manifest on file.  Many people who found the gov't couldn't find their record would visit or write to the SS Line in the city of arrival and ask them to search and find the correct ship and date.  The lines usually charged a fee for this service.

    During WW I the US gov't seized he records of the Italian and German lines from their offices here.  The British lines likely kept their records but after the war the government asked the lines to ensure security of the information.  Fraud investigations of the 1920's and 1930's found that some people were still able to get such information from the SS Lines.

    The fraud problems were not just alterations of the records (changed or added names).  Rather, some paid to have them find a record that COULD be the person who wanted a record of lawful admission.  Someone from the same country, same age, hair color, etc.  Then the immigrant just applied for naturalization under the lawful passenger's name!  Hence the gov't tryed to control access to that information.  

    Marian Smith


    Thank you for posting your question on History Hub!

    We concur with the responses that you have already received from the community, particularly the information provided here.

    For general background information about passengers lists and how they were created, you may wish to review the following:  

    It may also interest you to know that there were additional ports of entry in Massachusetts, though Boston was of course the busiest port. See Browse by Port of Entry for more information about what ports we have records for, and how to locate them online at websites such as FamilySearch and Ancestry. 

    If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to use these websites to browse period passenger lists to see what they would have looked like and what types of information they included. FamilySearch is accessible with a free account.  You may view Ancestry for free at one of NARA's facilities. For the nearest NARA location, please consult our Visit Us webpage. Additionally, you may check with your local public library or university library as these institutions often provide access to websites such as

    We hope this assists you with your research! 


    Textual Reference Archives II Branch (RR2RA)


  • Hi Marian, Thank you so much for your response! Sorry for this late reply. Do you know if the town my character was from in Ireland would have been listed on the manifest, or would it just be the port she left from?

  • HI Anne, by 1899 ship manifest forms had to call for "last residence," and checking just a few for Irish-born people arriving at Boston that year I see they are completed showing towns/cities.  So the probability is that if they were living in their home town prior to departure it would be listed.  Of course there are likely cases where it was left blank, or "ditto'd" from an entry above, or mis-transcribed.  But as a general rule that information should have been on the record (at least whatever the character said was their last residence).