Other possible gateways to America
What other ports did Italian immigrants enter the U.S.?
When looking for ports of entry for your immigrant family, the statistics clearly indicate New York as a logical choice. Consider, though, other possible gateways to America when you are not able to find your ancestor’s name in the New York Passenger Arrival indices.
Perhaps you’ve had relatives who disembarked after a long, hard journey across the sea in Boston (2 million immigrants), Baltimore (1.5 million), Philadelphia (1.2 million), New Orleans, (710,000), San Francisco (500,000), Key West, Florida (130,000), Portland-Falmouth, Maine (120,000), Galveston, Texas (110,000), Passamaquoddy, Maine (more than 80,000) or minor ports like New Bedford, Massachusetts (40,000), Providence, Rhode Island (40,000), and Charleston, South Carolina (20,000). Or maybe they headed to Canada’s two main ports: Halifax, Nova Scotia and Quebec City in Quebec.
Other possible gateways
While each port maintained some sort of private or government-run immigration station, none was so feared or as rigorous as Ellis Island. Often people who were rejected in New York — either due to lack of funds or the fear they might become a public charge — could come in through Philadelphia.
Immigration became a competitive trade among shipping lines and port cities vied for top ranked spots in immigrant entry. Ports attracted different immigrant populations based on their industries and partnerships with railroads and shipping companies.
Baltimore was the third most common point of entry to the US, after New York and Boston. Baltimore’s allure was the link to the American West, strengthened by the 1867 agreement between the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the North German Lloyd Steamship Line. Now the immigrant could buy and use a single ticket for passage to Baltimore by ship and to the west by train.
Immigrant groups were predominantly German, Irish and English, though there was a French influx before 1830. After 1877, the numbers of Czechs, Russian Jews, Ukrainians, Greeks and Italians increased.
Boston owes its popularity as a port of entry to the Irish potato famine. From 1847-1854 about 20,000 immigrants arrived here each year, largely from Ireland. Because Boston was the terminus for Britain’s Cunard steamship line and rates were subsidized by the British government, even the poor could afford the ticket.
By 1879, Boston was clearly established as the second major port of entry after New York. And when larger ships were introduced in the following decade that could hold 1,500 steerage passengers, the high volume of Irish immigrants continued. Other immigrant groups included Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Polish and Russian Jews, and Armenians.
Before Ellis Island opened in 1892, hundreds of thousands of immigrants passed through the Port of Galveston, Texas. The vast majority of immigrants arrived through Galveston from the 1840s – 1920s. Immigration records for the Port of Galveston from the latter half of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century are available online.
- The Galveston Historic Seaport has compiled the nation’s only computerized listing of immigrants to Galveston, Texas. For your convenience, the database is also available online.
- Galveston Immigration Database
- Texas and Arizona Arrivals, 1903-1910
- Texas, Brownsville Passenger and Crew List of Airplanes, 1943-1964
- Texas, Indexes and Manifests of Arrivals at the Port of Del Rio, 1906-1953
- Texas, Laredo Arrival Manifests, 1903-1955
- Texas, Manifests of Aliens Granted Temporary Admission at El Paso, ca. July 1924-1954
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans enjoyed its brief heyday as a major port of entry before the Civil War. Cotton ship captains in search of return cargo for their routes embraced human cargo — particularly Irish, German and French immigrants — from the European ports of Liverpool, Le Havre, Bremen and Hamburg. Though the route was much longer, the fare was much cheaper and many immigrants used New Orleans as their gateway to the West.
New Orleans had a very diverse mix of immigrants both before and after the Civil War. For instance, throughout the 1800s, the city was one of the few in America to attract substantial numbers from Spain and Latin America. It also drew groups from the Mediterranean, particularly from Sicily. They found opportunities working on the plantations and farms, because they were skilled at delicate fruit handling.
Because it offered no protection from major infectious diseases like cholera and yellow fever, New Orleans quickly fell from the ranks of the top immigration ports.
Dutch and German religious groups formed the first major movement of non-British Europeans to an English-speaking colony as early as 1683. As a port city, Philadelphia experienced major fluctuations. The relatively longer journey and the ice that formed five-foot thick ridges along the river prohibited easy entry and a continuous flow of immigrants. Local entrepreneurs spurred some short-term growth when they established shipping lines with Liverpool and Londonderry in northern Ireland.
It wasn’t until 1873 when the American Line and the Red Star Line began operations in Philadelphia that substantial growth occurred. By the 1880s, the city had risen again in the ranks of immigration ports. The American Line, through its weekly sailings from Liverpool, delivered most of Philadelphia’s 20,000 immigrants each year between 1880 and 1910. The Red Star Line, with its main embarkation point of Antwerp, Belgium, and a run between Hamburg and Philadelphia, brought massive numbers of Jews and Poles from Russia and Austria-Hungary.
- Pennsylvania, Crew Lists arriving at Erie, 1952-1957
- Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931
San Francisco, California
With the 1849 gold rush, which coincided with both the potato famine and major economic and political upheavals in central Europe, San Francisco became a major port for immigration. Later, the city received waves of “new” immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, including Portuguese, Greeks, Polish and Russian Jews, and Italians. And, of course, San Francisco was the major entry point for the Chinese.
- California, San Diego Passenger Lists, 1904-1952
- California, San Francisco Airplane Arrival Card Index, 1936-1949
- California, San Francisco Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving, 1954-1957
- California, San Francisco, Immigration Office Special Inquiry Records, 1910-1941
- California, San Pedro, Immigration Office Special Inquiry Records, 1930-1936
During the Colonial period, emigration from the British empire was encouraged and subsidized. Scots and Irish constituted the major influx of immigrants to Canada’s Atlantic ports from 1815-1850. Before 1900, the two main immigration entry points into Canada were Halifax and Quebec City. In early 1900s Quebec, the largest groups of immigrants were British, eastern Europeans and Italians.
Canada welcomed nearly three million immigrants between 1896 and 1914, with growing numbers of newcomers from Russia, Italy, and other southern and eastern European points.
An immigrant could land in Canada or Mexico and then move to the United States. If the immigrants first entered Canada they often then entered the United States through:
- Chicago, Illinois
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Detroit, Michigan
- Duluth, Minnesota
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- By Way of Canada – U.S. Records of Immigration Across the U.S.-Canadian Border – In the 1880s, as the United States began to impose more stringent immigration rules at its own ports of entry, even more immigrants from the same regions and elsewhere chose to travel via Canada to avoid the trouble and delay of U.S. immigrant inspection. While much of this traffic remained Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, or Russian, the business of carrying Italians, Greeks, and others from Mediterranean ports to Canada grew. These records are popularly known as the St. Albans Lists.
- United States Border Crossings from Canada to United States, 1895-1956
- Vermont, St. Albans Canadian Border Crossings, 1895-1924
- Border Crossings from Mexico to United States, 1903-1957
You can view an extensive list of immigration and naturalization records on FamilySearch.
- Did My Ancestor Come Through Ellis Island? – Researching Immigrant Arrivals at American Ports by Kimberly Powell
- If Not Through New York, Then Where? by Barbara Krasner-Khait