How did immigrants travel to get to Puerto Rico in the period from 1800-1870?

Where can I find information about the ships?

  • 1
    Welcome to G&FH.SE. Can you please clarify what exactly you are asking in the first part of your question as it sounds like two different questions as well as very broad. Would it be fair to refine it to something slightly narrower like "Where in France did most of the French immigrants coming to Puerto Rico originate from?".. then you can ask additional follow-up questions...
    – CRSouser
    May 14, 2015 at 18:51
  • 1
    Welcome to G&FH.SE! I've edited your question a bit to make it more readable -- if I have changed the meaning, please use the 'edit' feature or leave a comment to let us know. As you can see, both CRSouser and I read your question and understood it to mean two different things, so if you can tell us more, it will be easier to answer your question.
    – Jan Murphy
    May 14, 2015 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


When I am trying to learn more about a topic or place and trying to find records that might mention my family or my research subjects, I follow a checklist I made for myself:

  1. Learn what records might have been created in a particular time and place.
  2. Research which of those records might still exist, and which records are accessible to the public.
  3. Research what repositories might hold those records.
  4. Research which online repositories might hold those records.

When people left France and came to Puerto Rico, there could be records in France, in Puerto Rico, or at other places the ships went to along the way, so following the routes the ships took is a good way to start looking (and interesting, too).


The Wikipedia article French immigration to Puerto Rico tells us some of the historical context. One important waypoint in the time line is the the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815. In its article on French Immigration to Puerto Rico Wikipedia says:

The Spanish Crown decided that one of the ways to end the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico was to allow Europeans who were not of Spanish origin and who swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown to settle in the island.

Passenger lists often exist because someone passed a law requiring the ships' masters to record that information. What form the lists take depends on what the authorities wanted to know. If France wanted a record of people leaving France, records might exist there; if Spain wanted records of people moving to Puerto Rico, records might exist in Spain, or you could look for records in Puerto Rico. The records which the US Federal Government creates which are of historical interest are kept at the US National Archives (NARA); the records having to do with Puerto Rico are in the NYC Branch. Their Guide to Puerto Rican Records lists one group that may be of interest, Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico (Record Group 186) 1767-1880. One of the collections listed on that page is:

Microfilm copy of records concerning foreigners in Puerto Rico (Extranjeros in Puerto Rico), 1872-80 (19 rolls).

There is also a collection NARA publication T1170: Extranjeros (Foreigners) in Puerto Rico, 1815-1845, which you can browse online at FamilySearch: Puerto Rico, Records of Foreign Residents, 1815-1845.

NARA's description page also says that there was a fire in 1926 that gutted the Historical Archives in San Juan, so many of the records that were not kept by NARA were lost.

Finding Ships Records

Even if no one kept lists which tell us the passengers by name, or there were lists that have been destroyed, there are several ways to get clues about what transport was available at the time. Here are some resources:

  • The Ships List, a website with passenger lists, "immigration reports, newspaper records, shipwreck information, ship pictures, ship descriptions, shipping-line fleet lists and more".
  • ISTG, the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild "Includes sites to research emigration, immigration and naturalization, 100+ passenger list sites, ethnic research, libraries and archives, passenger ship types, descriptions and images, and additional worldwide maritime information available both on-line and off-line." Their page Puerto Rican Ports has links to information about some passengers who are departing from Puerto Rican ports, and some who arrived in American ports who were bound for Puerto Rico.

Historical newspapers are a particularly rich source of information for shipping data.

For any information you find about the ships from these two lists, use that as a basis for a new search -- you can search for the ship's name, the shipping company, the other port listed in a ship manifest, and so on. Use any clue that turns up as a hint to look for more information. You can see how others have used these ship lists in their research by searching for the other questions here on G&FH.SE with the tag .

Other resources:

  • The Olive Tree Genealogy website has a general article on ships passneger lists and one on French Immigration to USA & Canada which lists some departures from French ports
  • Joe Beine's German Roots website has many guides such as Ship Passenger Lists and Records Online. As I write this, I do not see a listing for France in his Online International Passenger Lists in the section on ship departures, nor a listing for arrivals at Puerto Rico, but his page Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records 1820-1940s includes Arrivals at U.S. ports from Europe, which you can use to find lists for ships who stopped in the U.S. on their way to Puerto Rico.
  • The FamilySearch Research Wiki's article on Puerto Rico has some information, but the sub-article on Emigration and Immigration is a stub with no content.
  • More general background information on the history of Puerto Rico can be found at the Puerto Rico page of the Caribbean GenWeb Project.
  • The Family History Library: Catalog Search results for Subject: Passenger Lists
  • The Family History Library: Catalog Search results for Places: Puerto Rico
  • RootsWeb has mailing lists PUERTORICO-L (for anyone with a genealogical interest in Puerto Rico), WEST-INDIES-L (for anyone with a genealogical interest in the island groups that form the West Indies including Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Leeward and Windward Islands), and TheShipsList-L (associated with the website The Ships List which was linked to earlier). You can browse or view the archives to see what has already been discussed (it's generally a good idea to do this before submitting a question to the lists).

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