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The Boston HIAS Database, 1882-1929

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Boston — Individual Arrival Cards
Compiled by David Rosen

The Jewish Heritage Center at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, in Boston 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.

In 2002, the Family History Library microfilmed the 21 boxes of arrival cards onto nine reels of microfilm.  The title is: "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Card File I-96, 1882-1929".   The nine microfilm reels are:

First Card – Last Card # of
FHL Microfilm #
Aaronowitz, Julius – Botkewitz, Jacob   1,699#2,318,189
Botkewitz, Jacob – Fingerman, Chaye 2,064#2,318,389
Fingerman, Chaye – Grubstein, Taube 2,086#2,318,390
Grubstein, Taube – Kushnir, Chaika 2,064#2,318,391 *
Kushnir, Chaika – Markman, Louis 1,987#2,318,392 **
Markman, Louis – Rabinovitz, Zipora 2,103#2,318,509
Rabinovitz, Zipora – Shatora, Marion I. 1,933#2,318,510
Shatora, Marion I. – Weiner, Chaim 1,942#2,318,511
Weiner, Chaim – Zywotoski, Zersh 1,027#2,318,512

* Surnames Korn–Kushnir were microfilmed out of sequence and appears on reel #2,318,391.
** Surnames Katlikowski–Korman were microfilmed out of sequence and appears on reel #2,318,392.

The original records are available at the Jewish Heritage Center, 101 Newbury Street, Boston, Massachusetts.
Microfilms may be viewed at American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY; and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The microfilm images are available for online viewing at the website.

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 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.

Although most of the people with identified destinations were going to New England locations, about 20% were headed for the large cities of the East Coast and the Midwest, half of these to New York City or Brooklyn.  Another 5% or so were destined for places large and small all over the USA and Canada.

With such a large number of cards, there are examples to contradict nearly every assumption that might be made about what the records contain.  For example, the assumption that the cards record only persons needing HIAS aid appears to be contradicted by finding US citizens living in Boston and arriving with sufficient funds to get home; it is unlikely that they needed help from HIAS.   Arrivals named E. Murphy, Huntington Scott and Thurston Humbert may not even have been Jewish.

Although the microfilmed cards are substantially in alphabetical order, the alphabetization is far from perfect.  There is a Goldman filed among the Goldsteins, and a Fleishman in with the Fishers.  There are two five card groups for the arrival of families named Stone, but the groups are 85 card apart in the microfilm, with Steins and Steinbergs following the first group of Stones, rather that preceding it.  A number of cards are wildly out of order, probably due to misfiling, but also due to the reversal of first names with last names, or to family members with different surnames traveling together.  Two entire boxes of cards with more than 800 arrivals each were microfilmed out of sequence, exchanging places in reels #2,318,391 and #2,318,392.

The Database

This database is an index to the microfilms, not an index to each arrival card.   Its purpose is to supply sufficient information to identify arrivals of interest for further research.  There are a total of 16,811 entries indexed, including both individual and family arrivals.  Families are indexed in the database once.   Families may be documented using separate arrival cards for each family member with the cards clipped or stapled together, or may have all its members listed on a single card.  Counting all family members, there are a total of 29,284 individual names in this database.

Some cards are microfilmed more than once, some names have alternate spellings filed in more than one place, and some arrivals have more extensive information, requiring more than one data entry.   Special Inquiry Cases can add a second card to the same arrival, often with differing details.

Each record in the database has the following information:  Surname, given names, age, date, ship, where from, destination, other family members' first names and ages, microfilm number, and a sequential arrival number.

  • Name: The passenger's surname and given name(s).

  • Age: The passenger's age, in years.

  • Arrived: The date given on the card and usually, but not always, coincides with the date the ship docked.   Date format is YYYY-MM-DD, except where the date given is ambiguous, e.g., 5/13.

  • Ship: The ship names, as entered on the card, often abbreviated, misspelled or mistyped, e.g., New Amsterdam, N. Amsterdam, N. Amster, N. Amst, N Am. and N.A. are all the same steamer.

  • Where From: The “where from” field draws from “last permanent residence” and sometimes from “place of birth”.  One or the other may be present on the card.

  • Destination: contains the person(s) and place(s) where the immigrant is headed.  The surnames listed in this field are also indexed and are searchable.

  • Accompanying Family: Names and ages of family members traveling together but with different surnames, e.g., aunt traveling with niece.  These names are also indexed and are searchable.

  • Microfilm: The microfilm number at the Family History Library (FHL) where the record is to be found; one of the nine microfilms in the table above.  The record itself may not be in the expected alphabetical order.

  • Sequence #: 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.

Accuracy of Names and Places

As with many other immigration records derived from handwritten sources, the accuracy of names and places leaves a lot to be desired.  Clerks wrote what they heard and later, HIAS typists typed what they thought they saw, making numerous typographical errors in the process.  For example, Rochel was seen as Fochel, Cincinnati was heard as Cincinaty, Cohen was seen as Cohem, Ash Street was seen as Alm Street, and Brooklyn was misplaced in New Jersey.   There are innumerable examples of such misinterpretations within the records.

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.  Microfilms may be viewed at American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY; and at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The microfilm images are available for online viewing at the website.

  • View the passenger manifest for the ship.  The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and Family History Library have the Boston passenger arrival lists on microfilm.  [FHL microfilm ordering numbers].

  • If you make a useful find, please e-mail me, David Rosen, at

Other Items of Interest Found Among the Records

(1) A brief list of persons released on March 10, 1921 was found in reel #2,318,391, among the KAPLAN names.   Not all these people have arrival cards:

KAPLAN, David Mosjek -- SS Saxonia
GOLD, Chaje -- SS Coronia
HERSHFIELD, Rachel SS Coronia
HERSHFIELD, Benzion -- SS Coronia
HOROWITZ, Saul -- SS Manchuria
FENSTER, Szlaime -- SS Saxonia
FENSTER, Szmuel -- SS Saxonia
SHTUSKA, Beila -- SS Saxonia
SHTUSKA, Shuste -- SS Saxonia

(2) Fifty-five arrivals were destined to 40 Lowell Street, fifty-four to 351 Harrison Avenue and thirty-two to 84 Salem Street in Boston.  Contemporary Boston city directories identify railroad ticket agencies owned by Harris A. SLOBODKIN, Joseph I. ALTMAN, and Isaac B. REINHERZ, respectively, to be located at these three addresses.  Tickets for additional travel may have been held there in the immigrant’s name.

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