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Where are the Passenger Lists?

On occasion, we have fielded questions from our patrons on the extent of our collections, and more specifically, on the completeness of our collections.

The GG Archives was founded on the private ephemera collection of Paul Gjenvick, who began collecting maritime and immigration materials in the early 1990s. Acquisitions were made through ephemera dealers who published catalogs regularly and mailed them out every few months.

Collage of Ocean Liner Ephemera Catalogs from the 1990s.

Collage of Ocean Liner Ephemera Catalogs from the 1990s.

Passenger Lists

While the passenger lists have typically moved into the public domain, they are definitely not free to collect. Collecting the souvenir passenger lists published by the various transatlantic steamship companies is neither easy nor inexpensive. Our average cost of acquisition for each passenger list is roughly $25.

Let's see what the cost of acquiring passenger lists just the Cunard Line from the 1880s through 1954.

Let's say there were conservatively 20 ships making 24 voyages each year. And each journey, they often printed at least two passenger lists, one for first, and another for second Class -- 48 per year per ship. That amounts to roughly 960 passenger lists for each year for 75 years.

If you could even locate souvenir passenger lists for every voyage during the 75 years, it would require a staggering investment of $1,800,000 just for the Cunard Line. You would quickly run into the tens of millions trying to acquire passenger lists for every transatlantic passenger voyage undertaken during the 75 years our organization covers.

Next, you would need to scan in tens of thousands of passenger lists, transcribe them, create images for the website, upload. Depending on how fast you wanted to accomplish this, the task would require tens of thousands of manhours to complete, not to mention the cost of equipment, disk drives, backups, etc.

Reality kicks in quickly, and our mission has never been to collect every passenger list, but rather a sampling of passenger lists that people could view and learn something that isn't available from the government passenger manifests used by Ancestry.com and others.

Perhaps you should ask yourself the next time you are about to contact us to find out where you can locate a missing passenger list: "how much would you spend of your own money to acquire every possible document about the voyage you are researching?" I suspect all of you would say less than $25.

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