Anyone with ancestors who entered the United States between 1500 and 1900 may find Passenger and Immigration Lists (PILI), 1500-1900 to be a useful database.
For those whose family members came to America through ports other than New York City's Ellis Island (operating for immigration from 1892-1924), it allows for easier searching of thousands of source records organized in a concisely coded manner by P.William Filby, former British cryptographer, and former Director of the Maryland Historical Society. Originally published in 1981 with 500,000 records, the index currently contains more than five million records of immigrants to the United States derived from the original published volume and thirty-three supplements. Annually updated, the index solves part of the massive immigrant hunt by giving codes for sources, the majority of which appear as annotated entries on the MyHeritage.com site.
How is it organized? Entries for the database show the person being researched listed as: last name, first name, age at arrival, year and place of arrival, code for finding the source where the entry for the index came from, and page within the source for that individual. For many entries, PILI sources are listed after the source code giving instant bibliographical information for finding the original record. The records contained within this index start at 1500 with entries going to ports in Virginia, the West Indies, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Venezuela, to 1900 with more than 12,000 entries and as many locations.
Where did the information come from? [link url="http://www.gale.cengage.com/servlet/BrowseSeriesServlet?region=9&imprint=000&cf=ps&titleCode=PIL&edition="title="Gale Publishing" class=""], part of Cengage Learning, a leading publishing house with imprints such as Scribner's Sons, publishes many works in the humanities field, with emphasis on historical works.
How is it useful? Behind PILI is an urgent need for documentation of immigration to the Americas. While there was slight government regulation of passengers and people going to the New World, finding just the right place for the right record is difficult at best and impossible at worst. The point behind this database is making finding such records, especially and including their naturalizations, easier to do. While the index is updated annually with further findings, the index brings a researcher back to the original, otherwise-illusive sources that help to establish where the family comes from before their implantation in the New World.
Next steps After searching for and finding the ancestor in PILI, write down the source information for that person. There may be an annotation available to search via WorldCat.org, which will show you where the closest copy of the book in question is available. Also check for the respective book on Google Books or Google Scholar. These resources should lead to the book, and from there, the listed page should lead to further information on the person in question, be it a ships' record etc.