Genie Angels has posted information about a new genealogy program at USCIS, United States citizenship and Immigration Services. Genealogy research has usually been conducted through a FOIA request. With the establishment of the Genealogy program there likely will be changes to the USCIS genealogy site in the future [new URL]in addition to changes in what records may be accessed through a FOIA request and what is available through the Genealogy Program. The Federal Register indicated, if I’ve read it correctly, that the Genealogy program will go into effect on August 13, 2008.
Establishment of a Genealogy Program – From the
& Immigration Services
The USCIS website also had information pertaining to the laws regarding historical immigration and why we have passenger lists today. There are several PDF files available, but the most interesting years to note were 1790 -1900. You will find in the excerpt below, laws and rules made providing for meals aboard the ship, computations of passenger numbers with regards to children, rules for ventilation, fines, and cleanliness.
Legislation from 1901 – 1940 (76KB PDF)
Legislation from 1941-1960 (85KB PDF)
Legislation from 1961-1980 (87KB PDF)
Legislation from 1981-1996 (91KB PDF)
Sources for Legislation (11KB PDF)
Legislation from 1790 – 1900 (61KB PDF)
Steerage Act of March 2, 1819
First significant Federal law relating to immigration. Provisions:
a. Established the continuing reporting of immigration to the United States by requiring that
passenger lists or manifests of all arriving vessels be delivered to the local Collector of
Customs, copies transmitted to the Secretary of State, and the information reported to
b. Set specific sustenance rules for passengers of ships leaving U.S. ports for Europe.
c. Somewhat restricted the number of passengers on all vessels either coming to or leaving the
“…By act of Feb. 22, 1847, Minot’s Statutes at Large of United States, p. 127, it is provided as follows: That if the master of any vessel owned in whole or in part by a citizen of the United States of America, or by a citizen of any foreign country, shall take on board, such vessel, at any foreign port or place, a greater number of passengers than in the following proportion, to the space occupied by them and appropriated for their use, and unoccupied by stores, or other goods, not being the personal luggage of such passengers, that is to say, on the lower deck or platform one passenger for every fourteen clear superficial feet of deck, if such vessel is not to pass within the tropics during such voyage; but if such vessel is to pass within the tropics during such voyage, then one passenger, for every twenty such clear superficial feet of deck, and on the poop deck (if any) one passenger for every thirty such superficial feet in all cases, with intent to bring such passengers to the United States of America, and shall leave such port or place with the same or any other number thereof, within the jurisdiction of the United States aforesaid, or if any such master of vessel shall take on board of his vessel, at any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States aforesaid, any greater number of passengers than the proportions aforesaid admit, with intent to carry the same to any foreign port or place, every such master shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof before any circuit or district court of the United States aforesaid, shall, for each passenger taken on board beyond the above proportions, be fined in the sum of fifty dollars, and may also be imprisoned for any term not exceeding one year: Provided, That this act shall not be construed to permit any ship or vessel to carry more than two passengers to five tons of such ship or vessel.
3.-Sec. 2. That if the passengers so taken on board of such vessel, and brought into or transported from the United States aforesaid, shall exceed the number limited by the last section to the number of twenty in the whole, such vessel shall be forfeited to the United States aforesaid, and be prosecuted and distributed as forfeitures are under the act to regulate duties on imports and tonnage.
4.-Sec. 3. That if any such vessel as aforesaid shall have more than two tiers of berths, or in case, in such vessel, the interval between the floor and the deck or platform beneath shall not be at least six inches, and the berths well constructed, or in case the dimensions of such berths shall not be at least six feet in length, and at least eighteen inches in width, for each passenger as aforesaid, then the master of said vessel, and the owners thereof, severally, shall forfeit and pay the sum of five dollars for each and every passenger on board of said vessel on such voyage, to be recovered by the United States aforesaid, in any circuit or district court of the. United States where such vessel may arrive, or from which she sails.
5.-Sec. 4. That, for the purposes of this act, it shall in all cases be computed that two children, each being under the age of eight years, shall be equal to one passenger, and that children under the age of one year shall not be included in the computation of the number of passengers.
6.-Sec. 5. That the amount of the several penalties imposed by this act shall be liens on the vessel or vessels violating its provisions; and such vessel may be libelled and sold therefor in the district court of the United States aforesaid in which such vessel shall arrive.
9. By act of March 2, 1847, Minot’s Statutes at Large of United States, p. 149, it is enacted, That so much of said act as authorizes shippers to estimate two children of eight years of age and under as one passenger, in the assignment of room, is hereby repealed.
10. The act of May 17, 1848, Minot’s Statute at Large of United States, p. 220, further provides, That all vessels, whether of the United States or any other country, having sufficient capacity according to law for fifty or more passengers, (other than cabin passengers,) shall, when employed in transporting such passengers between the United States and Europe, have on the upper deck, for the use of such passengers, a house over the passageway leading to the apartment allotted to such passengers below deck, firmly secured to the deck, or combings, of the hatch, with two doors, the sills of which shall be at least one foot above the deck, so constructed that one door or window in such house may, at all times, be left open for ventilation; and all vessels so employed, and having the capacity to carry one hundred and fifty such passengers, or more, shall have two such houses; and the stairs or ladder leading down to the aforesaid apartment shall be furnished with a handrail of wood or strong rope: Provided, nevertheless, Booby hatches may, be substituted for such houses in vessels having three permanent decks.
11.-Sec. 2. That every such vessel so employed, and having the legal capacity for more than one hundred such passengers, shall have at least two ventilators to purify the apartment or apartments occupied by such passengers; one of which shall be inserted in the after part of the apartment or apartments, and the other shall be placed in the forward portion of the apartment or apartments, and one of them shall have an exhausting cap to carry off the foul air, and the other a receiving cap to carry down the fresh air which said ventilators shall have a capacity proportioned to the size of the apartment or apartments to be purified; namely, if the apartment or apartments will lawfully authorize the reception of two hundred such passengers, the capacity of such ventilators shall each of them be equal to a tube of twelve inches diameter in the clear, and in proportion for larger or smaller apartments; and all said ventilators shall rise at least four feet six inches above the upper deck of any such vessel, and be of the most approved form and construction: Provided, That if it shall appear from the report to be made and approved., as provided in the seventh section of this act that such vessel is equally well ventilated by any other means, such other means of ventilation shall be deemed, and held to be, a compliance with the provisions of this section.
12.-Sec. 3. That every vessel carrying more than fifty such passengers shall have for their use on deck, housed and conveniently arranged, at least one camboose or cooking range, the dimensions of which shall be equal to four feet long and one foot six inches wide for every two hundred passengers; and provisions shall be made, in the manner aforesaid in this ratio for a greater or less number of passengers: Provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall take away the right to make such arrangements for cooking between decks, if that shall be deemed desirable.
13.-Sec. 4. That all vessels employed as aforesaid shall have on board, for the use of such passengers, at the time of leaving the last port whence such vessel shall sail, well secured under deck, for each passenger, at least fifteen pounds of good navy bread, ten pounds of rice, ten pounds of oatmeal, ten pounds of wheat flour, ten pounds of peas and beans, thirty- five pounds of potatoes, one pint of vinegar, sixty gallons of fresh water, ten pounds of salted pork, free of bone, all to be of good quality, and a sufficient supply of fuel for cooking; but at places where either rice, oatmeal, wheat flour or peas and beans cannot be procured, of good quality and on reasonable terms, the quantity of either or any of the other last- named articles may be increased and substituted therefor; and in case potatoes cannot be procured on reasonable terms, one pound of either of said articles maybe substituted in lieu of five pounds of potatoes; and the captains of such vessels, shall deliver to each passenger at least one-tenth part, of the aforesaid provisions weekly, commencing on the day of sailing, and daily at least three quarts of water, and sufficient fuel for cooking; and if the passengers on board of any such vessel in which the provisions, fuel and water herein required shall not have been provided as aforesaid, shall at any time be put on short allowance during, any voyage, the master or owner of any such vessel shall pay to each and every passenger who shall have been put on short allowance the sum of three dollars for each and every day they may have been on such short allowance, to be recovered in the circuit or district court of the United States; Provided, nevertheless, and nothing herein contained shall prevent any passenger, with the consent of the captain, from furnishing for himself the articles of food herein specified; and, if, put on board in good order, it shall fully satisfy the provisions of this act so far as regards food, and provided further, That any passenger may also, with the consent of the captain, furnish for himself an equivalent for the articles of food required in other and different articles: and if, without waste or neglect on the part of the passenger, or inevitable accident, they prove insufficient, and the captain shall furnish comfortable food to such passengers during the residue of the voyage, this, in regard to food, shall also be a compliance with the terms of this act.
14.-Sec. 5. That the captain of any such vessel so employed is hereby authorized to maintain good discipline, and such habits of cleanliness among such passengers, as will tend to the preservation and promotion of health,; and to that end, he shall cause such regulations as he may adopt for this purpose to be posted up, before sailing, on board such vessel, in a place accessible to such passengers, and stall keep the same so posted up during the voyage; and it is hereby made the duty of said captain to cause the apartment occupied by such passengers to be kept, at all times, in a clean healthy state, and the owners of every such vessel so employed are required to construct the decks, and all parts of said apartment, so that it can be thoroughly cleansed; and they shall also provide a safe, convenient privy or water closet for the exclusive use of every one hundred such passengers. And when the weather is such that said passengers cannot be mustered on deck with their bedding, it shall be the duty of the captain of every such vessel to cause the deck occupied by such passengers to be cleaned [cleansed] with chloride of lime, or some other equally efficient disinfecting agent, and also at such other times as said captain may deem necessary.
15.-Sec. 6 That the master and owner or owners of any such vessel so employed, which shall not be provided with the house or houses over the passageways, as prescribed in the first section of this act; or with ventilators, as proscribed in the second section of this act; or with the cambooses or cooking ranges, with the houses over them, as prescribed in the third section of this act; shall severally forfeit and pay to the United States the sum of two hundred dollars for each and every violation of, or neglect to conform to, the provisions of each of said sections; and fifty dollars for each and every neglect or violation of any of the provisions of the fifth section of this act; to be recovered by suit in any circuit or district court of the United States, within the jurisdiction of which the said vessel may arrive, or from. which it may be about to depart, or at any place within the jurisdiction of such courts, wherever the owner or owners, or captain of such vessel, may be found.
16.-Sec. 7. That the collector of the customs, at any port in the United States at which any vessel so employed shall arrive, or from which any such vessel shall be about to depart, shall appoint and direct one of the inspectors of the customs for such port to examine such vessel, and report in writing to such collector whether the provisions of the first, second, third and fifth sections of this act have been complied with in respect to such vessel; and if such report shall state such compliance, and be approved by such collector, it shall be deemed and held as conclusive evidence thereof.
17.-Sec. 8. That the first section of the act entitled, “An act to regulate the carrying of passengers in merchant vessels,” approved February twenty-second, eighteen hundred and forty-seven, be so amended that, when the height or distance between the decks of the vessels referred to in the said section shall be less than six feet, and not less than five feet, there shall be allowed to each passenger sixteen clear superficial feet on the deck, instead of fourteen, as prescribed in said section; and if the height or distance between the decks shall be less than five feet, there shall be allowed to each passenger twenty-two clear superficial feet on the deck; and if the master of any such vessel shall take on board his vessel, in any port of the United States, a greater number of passengers than is allowed by this section, with the intent specified in said first section of the act of eighteen hundred and forty-seven, or if the master of any such vessel shall take on board at a foreign port, and bring within the jurisdiction of the United, States, a greater number of passengers than is allowed by this section, said master shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished in the manner provided for the punishment of persons convicted of a violation of the act aforesaid; and in computing the number of passengers on board such vessels, all children under the age of one year, at the time of embarkation, shall be excluded from such computation.
18.-Sec. 9. That this act shall take effect, in respect to such vessels sailing from ports in the United States, in thirty days from the time of its approval; and in respect to every such vessel sailing from ports in Europe, in sixty days after such approval; and it is hereby made the duty of the secretary of state to give notice, in the ports of Europe, of this act, in such manner as he may deem proper.
19.-Sec. 10. That so much of the first section of the act entitled “An act regulating passenger ships and vessels,” approved March second, eighteen hundred and nineteen, or any other act that limits the number of passengers. to two for every five tons, is hereby repealed.
20. By act of March 3, 1849, Minot’s Statutes at Large of United States, p. 399, it is enacted, That all vessels bound from any port in the United States to any port or place in the Pacific Ocean, or on its tributaries, or from any such port or place to any port in the, United States on the Atlantic, or its tributaries, shall be subject to the provisions of all the laws now in force relating to the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels, sailing to and from foreign countries, and the regulation thereof; except the fourth section of the “Act to provide for the ventilation of passenger vessels, and for other purposes,” approved May seventeenth, eighteen hundred and forty-eight, relating to provisions, water, and fuel; but the owners and masters of all such vessels shall in all cases furnish to each passenger the daily supply of water therein mentioned, and they shall furnish for themselves, a sufficient supply of, good and wholesome food; and in case they shall fail so to do, or shall provide unwholesome or unsuitable provisions, they shall be subject to the penalty provided in said fourth section in case the passengers are put on short allowance of water or provisions.
21.-Sec. 2. That the act, entitled “An act to regulate the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels,” approved February twenty-second, eighteen hundred and forty-seven, shall be so amended as that a vessel passing into or through the tropics shall be allowed to carry the same number of passengers as vessels that do not enter the tropics,
22. By act of January 31, 1848, Minot’s Statutes at Large of United States, p. 210, it is enacted, That, from and after the passage of this act, all and every vessel and vessels which shall or may be employed by the American Colonization Society, or by the Maryland State Colonization Society, to transport, and which shall actually transport, from any port or ports in the United States to any colony or colonies on the west coast of Africa, colored emigrants to reside there, shall be, and the same are hereby, excepted out of and exempted from the operation of the act entitled “An act to regulate the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels,” passed twenty-second February, eighteen hundred and forty-seven; and of the act. entitled “An act to amend an act entitled ‘An act to regulate the carriage of passengers in merchant vessels, and to determine the time,’ when said act shall take effect,”‘ passed, second March, eighteen hundred and forty-seven.
23. No deduction is to be made, in estimating, the number of passengers in a vessel, for children or persons not paying. Gilp. R. 334. For his rights and duties, vide Common Carriers”.
Sources=Sources | 16777216;bouvier()
A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.