The American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), located on the campus of Hebrew College, 160 Herrick Road, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, has among its holdings collection I-96, entitled “Hebrew Immigrant Aid Association Boston Individual Arrival Cards, 1882-1929”. This collection consists of about 24,000 five inch by eight inch cards, documenting the arrival of Jewish immigrants, both individuals and family groups.
The Arrival Records
More than a dozen different pre-printed and free-form formats were used, essentially similar in the information requested, although few cards are completely filled in. Most of the records have names, age, date, ship name, recent permanent address, and destination. The destination usually includes a relative’s name and address. Other items that may be entered are male/female, married/single, occupation, literacy, money brought, health status, social state, arrival port, and place of birth. Some cards have added notations concerning immigrant admittance, deportation, and health and financial issues, especially those cards identified as “Record of Special Inquiry Case”. Occasionally a card will have follow-up information added to its back. About 80% of the cards are typed, 20% are handwritten.
Despite the date range in the title of the collection, 1882–1929, the earliest cards date from the 1850’s, and the latest from 1956. The cards dated prior to the establishment of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) Boston in 1903-04 represent about 14% of the total, and have information limited to name, date and ship. There are fewer than ten cards for the entire period 1892–1903, and only ten percent of the arrivals come from the years after 1921 when quota legislation, the Great Depression and WWII all contributed to reduced immigration activity. For some reason, 56% of the cards carry dates of 1913, 1914 or 1921.
There is ample evidence within the records that the cards were not contemporaneous with the actual arrival. Many cards were filled in well after the fact; some as many as 35 years later.
Not all the arrivals came to Boston by ship, nor did all arrivals get to Boston itself. Ships are identified as landing in other ports, including Portland ME, Providence RI, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and as far away as Seattle and San Francisco. A record for a Providence arrival with a New York City destination was found, noting a HIAS worker’s immediate assistance in obtaining a direct train ticket indicating that Boston HIAS had a presence at other New England ports.
About the Database
This database is an index to the microfilmed copies of these records located at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is not an index to each arrival card. Its purpose is to supply sufficient information to identify arrivals of interest for further research.
Information listed in the database includes:
- Where from (last permanent residence or birthplace)
- Other family members' given names and ages
- FHL microfilm number
- Sequential arrival number
- The database has assigned an artificial "sequential number" to each arrival within a microfilm reel. This number allows a researcher to estimate how far into the reel to go when looking up the full record at the microfilm machine. This feature is especially useful when the record is out of alphabetical order, or is contained in a file box that was microfilmed out of sequence. Even then, to find a record of interest may require a good deal of back-and-forth scanning on the microfilm.
What Next if You Find a Record
If you find a record of interest in the index and want more information:
- Repeat the search for any additional names appearing in your record. The same destination name may also be indexed on another arrival card, often with another spelling.
- View the image of the original card itself on microfilm. The card may contain additional information. The microfilms may be viewed at the AJHS at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY; or at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah; or may be ordered for viewing at any local LDS Family History Center.
- View the passenger manifest for the ship:
16 Dec 2020: Additional records created though database improvements.