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 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!