Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors with Newspaper Passenger Lists

Be sure to check passenger lists that were routinely printed in newspapers—they have critical genealogical information about your immigrant ancestors that you need for your family history research.

Look at this typical example, published in the Irish Nation newspaper in New York City.

This passenger list reports on the Irish passengers who arrived in New York City on board various ships recently arrived from Europe. Look at the entry for Jane Williamson.

passenger list, Irish Nation newspaper article 7 January 1882
Irish Nation (New York City, New York), 7 January 1882, page 8

This passenger list newspaper article tells us that Jane Williamson, from County Antrim, Ireland, arrived on 28 December 1881 on board the steamer England. It also says that her ultimate destination in America was Cincinnati, Ohio.

Enter Last Name










I looked at the original passenger list online, and found that it has no mention of the facts that Jane was from County Antrim or that she was heading to Cincinnati.

  • For the entry “Place of Last Residence” it was blank.
  • For the entry “Province of Last Residence” it read: “Unknown.”
  • For the entry “City or Village of Destination” it read: “United States.”

How did the Irish Nation newspaper get more complete information about Jane Williamson for its newspaper article than was contained in the original passenger list?

Did they pay arriving Irish immigrants for self-reporting this information? Did they devote a lot of reporters’ time to getting all the facts—and do this for the hundreds and hundreds of Irish immigrants that arrived every day?

What a great resource for genealogists who are tracing their ancestral roots overseas!

The federal passenger lists contain part of the story—to get the rest of the story, you need to turn to old newspapers.

It is essential to check the deep newspaper archives on GenealogyBank to get more of the details about your ancestors and their immigration to the United States.

Keep digging and discover the stories of your ancestors’ lives.

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5 thoughts on “Trace Your Immigrant Ancestors with Newspaper Passenger Lists

  1. I have never seen a list like this. I am a subscriber and have been for a few years. I would love to find my two great grandmothers who came over from Irleand on a list like this.
    I will try.
    Thank you for the post.
    Diane

  2. That’s great Diane.
    Like you – I was surprised to see the extent that the Irish American newspapers covered arriving immigrants – often giving details that just are not in the federal passenger lists we’re all familiar with. As you dig deeper you’ll see that these newspapers had pages and pages of the marriages and deaths back in Ireland – especially valuable because they printed these well before civil registration started over there. This is a key go-to source for Irish American genealogists.

  3. Peter Lanahan was born in Ireland. Somewhere I got he was born in Rosscannon. This may not be right. His wife was born in England in 1841. They both lived in Boston, MA during their later years. They had two daughters: Emma Louise and Alice. Emma married Henry W. McCombs and had two children: Estelle Louise and Eldon McCombs. Emma died with pancreatic cancer in 1918. Her mother, Peter Lanahan’s wife, died in 1915. That is all I know about Peter Lanahan and Anne Hattaway. I would love any information you might get for me. Thanks.

  4. Dear Betty Sue,

    I would highly recommend that you look at FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/en/), which is a free website that is invaluable for family history research. You’ll find vital records (birth, marriage, death), immigration & census records, & other such information from around the world. I looked there for Peter Lanahan & his spouse, Anne Hattaway. The search populated with many results that I believe are your Peter & Anne.

    Among FamilySearch’s offerings, their ResearchWiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Main_Page) is magnificent! You may search either topically OR geographically. This Wiki will provide you an excellent list of resources & research paths which will help you better track down the information which you seek.

    Of particular interest to you, I would look at the following:
    Ireland: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Ireland_Genealogy
    Northern Ireland: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Northern_Ireland_Genealogy
    England: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Genealogy
    Massachusetts: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Massachusetts,_United_States_Genealogy

    You can use any of those names (or any others which you may come across) & find all sorts of relevant information on your ancestors. Happy hunting!

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