Family Tree Friday: Landing reports of alien immigrants, 1798-1828

Posted by

When I started this series of blog posts on immigration records, I mentioned that the Federal government began documenting alien arrivals in 1820, in fulfillment of the requirements of the Steerage Act of 1819.  So, can you still find any information in federal records about alien arrivals PRIOR to 1820?  As a matter of fact, you can…under limited circumstances!  In NARA’s general passenger arrival series, there are records for the port of Philadelphia dating back to 1800, and for New Orleans dating to 1813.  These were manifests collected by the port officials and most likely turned over to U.S. Customs when that federal agency began documenting alien arrivals under the Steerage Act.  A much lesser known source, however, are landing reports of aliens maintained in federal court records.

Landing report for John Leonard Glaser of Hamburg, Germany, November 20, 1805 (M1639).
Landing report for John Leonard Glaser of Hamburg, Germany, November 20, 1805 (M1639).

Landing reports were created for all persons who were aliens and desired naturalization.  These individuals were required to report to the clerk of the nearest federal district court to answer questions regarding: name, race, place of birth, age, nationality, date and place of arrival in the United States, and the reason for immigrating.  On microfilm, NARA has landing reports from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for the years 1798-1828 (National Archives microfilm publication M1639).  Although they document aliens residing primarily in Philadelphia, the records provide useful immigration data for various ports of entry, including: New York; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore; and New Bedford, Massachusetts.  The example posted here shows John Leonard Glaser of Hamburg, Germany came to the United States through the port of New York on November 20, 1805, and that he was born in Hamburg on May 31, 1786.

The original volumes in this series are indexed, and can also be located in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) under ARC ID 279082.  Even more useful, the records are digitized in ARC under the following IDs: Volume 1, 1798-1807 (ARC ID 279083); Volume 2, 1807-1815 (ARC ID 279084); and Volume 3, 1815-1828 (ARC ID 279085).  If your immigrant ancestor came to the United States before 1820 and you are having trouble finding them, be sure to check out this resource online!


    1. Hi Denise,

      If you click on the hyperlinks to the ARC ids mentioned in the blog, they will take you to digitized copies of the original landing reports. All of the digital images are readily available for anyone to see in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) on NARA’s web site. And of course, the original records, as well as many other court records, are located at NARA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives in Philadelphia. As I also mentioned in the blog, the original landing reports have been reproduced in microfilm publication M1639, which is also available to view at several NARA locations, including Philadelphia and the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

      – John

  1. Hi John, I am noticing the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for the years 1798-1828. Can you tell me, did for example the Southern District of New York keep similar records? And if so, have they survived and where might we find them? Our interest is refugees from the French colony of Saint-Domingue arriving between 1793 to 1812 who arrived in the port of New York and likely remained in New York (rather than moving to Philadelphia.) Thank you.

Comments are closed.