So, emigration is when you LEAVE a place; immigration is when you ARRIVE in a place. There are several good sites for immigration records. NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) is the government entity responsible for immigration documents (passenger lists, naturalization papers) as well as other government records (such as those in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and military records.) Unfortunately, you must know pretty much everything about the event before you can purchase a copy from them. This is where other sites come in handy, like the free FamilySearch.org for finding indexes of naturalization records, or EllisIsland.org, a free site containing more than 25 million arrival records and over 900 ships of passage in the Ellis Island Archives available to everyone (registration is required and you have to come up with a long/tricky password, so write it down!)
Immigrants who arrived here prior to the opening of Ellis Island, may have their records on a site called CastleGarden.org, an educational project of The Battery Conservancy.
This free site offers access to an extraordinary database of information on 11 million immigrants from 1820 through 1892, the year Ellis Island opened. More than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestors to this early immigration period.[from the Castle Garden website.]
My Irish immigrants who fled southern Eire during the poverty-filled aftermath of the Irish Potato Famine were the Kiley and Connolly families. Of the 11 Connolly siblings, 8 came to America in the mid 1800s. One brother, Thomas, (my great-grandfather) met and married Ellen Kiley (pictured above). Thomas and Ellen (well, probably mostly Ellen…) had a nice Irish lass picked out for their son, Francis, but he happened to fall head-over-heels in love with a French-Canadian named Beatrice and there was no denying love! For a time, Francis and Bea lived with Thomas and Ellen when they first started out their lives together. Bea worked long hard hours at a local shoestring factory, walking back and forth the 5 miles each day. She’d arrive home, ask about dinner, and be greeted by Ellen with “Sure wish it’s in the pantry. Cold potatoes. They were fried up once!”
(I would have thought they’d had enough of potatoes by then…)