Race boxes at ports of entry

How passenger manifests racialized aliens arriving in the US (and Canada)

By William Wetherall

Drafted 9 September 2009
First posted 1 December 2009
Last updated 10 August 2014

Immigration control   Passports and other certifications of affiliation, status, and authorization at ports of entry
1911 Race or People guidebook (United States) Aino Japanese Korean
Alien passenger manifest guidelines United States Canada

Immigration control

The United States required racial classifications on passenger manifests, and in 1911 the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C. published Dictionary of Races or Peoples. Compiled by the Immigration Commission for the purpose of facilitating such classifications, the guide was written not for the "ethnologist" but for the "student of immigration" who wants "an approximately correct statement as to the ethnical status of immigrant races or peoples, their languages, numbers, and the countries from which they come" (Introductory, page 3).

The introduction speaks of the "five grand divisions" -- "the Caucasian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Malay, and American, or, as familiarly called, the white, black, yellow, brown, and red races" -- "made upon physical or somatological grounds, while the subdivisions of these into a multitude of smaller 'races' is made largely on a linguistic basis" (Introductory, page 3).


1911 Race or People Guidebook (United States)

INS officials in the United States used the Dictionary of Races or Peoples, prepared in 1911, until the early 1950s.

The following transcription of the cover of the first edition of the guidebook is based on scans at The Internet Archive. A copy is also posted at UM Digital Library Production Service (UMDL) [University of Michigan].

61st Congress
3d Session


No. 662



Presented by Mr. DILLINGHAM
December 5, 1910. -- Referred to the Committee on Immigration
and ordered to be printed, with illustrations


The 1911 guidebook had hundreds of classifications, including the following, in alphabetical order. I have shown the page number of the start of entry in [brackets].

AFRICAN (black). (See Negro.) [page 13]

AINO. [page 13]


  . . . they are not considered legally as immigrants upon coming to the United States.

  Not counted among immigrants upon arriving in the United States.



JAPANESE. [page 85]
  The people of Japan.

  The people of the Korean peninsula.



The full AINO entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (page 13, left).

AINO.   A primitive Caucasian-like People in Japan, now numbering less than 20,000. (See Japanese, Cau- casian, and Mongolian.)



The full JAPANESE entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (pages 85-86).

JAPANESE.   The people of Japan.
With the exception of the "Arctic
group" the Japanese and Koreans
form the easternmost group of the
great Sibiric branch, which, with the
Sinitic branch (Chinese, etc.), consti-
tutes the Mongolian race (see these
terms). As was said in the article on
Chinese, the Japanese and Koreans
stand much nearer than the Chinese,
especially in language, to the Finns,
[page 85 right / page 86 left]
Lapps, Magyars, and Turks of Eu-
rope, who are the westernmost de-
scendants of the Mongolian race. The
languages of all these peoples belong to
the agglutinative family, while Chinese
is monosyllabic.

  Although many people may mistake
a Japanese face for Chinese, the Mon-
golian traits are much less pronounced.
The skin is much less yellow, the eyes
less oblique. The hair, however, is
true Mongolian, black and round in
section, and the nose is small. These
physical differences no doubt indicate
that the Japanese are of mixed origin.
In the south there is probably a later
Malay admixture. In some respects
their early culture resembles that of
the Philippines of to-day. Then there
is an undoubted white strain in Japan.
The Ainos, the earliest inhabitants of
Japan, are one of the most truly Cau-
casian-like people in appearance in
eastern Asia. They have dwindled
away to less than 20,000 under the
pressure of the Mongolian invasion
from the mainland, but they have left
their impress upon the Japanese race.
The "fine" type of the aristocracy, the
Japanese ideal, as distinct from the
"coarse" type recognized by students
of the Japanese of to-day, is perhaps
due to the Aino.

  The social characteristics and impor-
tance of the Japanese people are well
known from recent history. It is gen-
erally well understood that Chris-
tianity makes very slow progress.
Shintoism, a mixture of nature and
ancestor worship, and Buddhism are
the prevailing religions. The Japanese
now number about 48,000,000. Only
about 150,000 live outside of Japan.
Since the Russian-Japanese war there
are probably 40,000 or 50,000 Japanese
resident in Korea. Some 10,000 are
found in British lands. From 1890 to
1910, inclusive, 148,729 Japanese were
admitted to the United States. Under
the so-called passport provision of the
[page 86 left / page 86 right]
United States immigration law of
1907, and by agreement with Japan,
Japanese laborers are not excluded
from the country. During the twelve-
year period referred to 77,777 Japa-
anese immigrants were destined to
Hawaii, 32,273 to California, 25,912 to
Washington, and 4,485 to Oregon.



The full KOREAN entry in the 1911 edition of Dictionary of Races or Peoples is as follows (pages 87-88).

KOREAN.   The people of the Korean
Peninsula. They and the Japanese
(see) form a distinct physical group,
and are linguistically more nearly re-
lated to European Mongolians than
they are to the neighboring Chinese
(see). Under the new leadership of
the Japanese they may be expected to
make rapid progress. They number
about 10,000,000. From 1899 to 1910,
[page 87 right / page 88 left]
7,790 Koreans came to the United
States, but at the present time Korean
immigrants are practically excluded
from the country.


Alien passenger manifest guidelines



United States

The United States set the example for the fairly small number of countries that sought to racialize people at their ports of entry. Other countries that did so generally adopted the classification rules used by the United States, but with some variations.

Sources of information

The following overview of the history of the overseeing of immigration in the United States is based on various guides related to Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) section [/research/guide-fed-records/groups/085.html] of The National Archives, a US government website managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The transcriptions of the text on alien passenger manifests and instructions related to nationality and race were partly based on information obtained from various genealogy websites which have posted transcriptions of selected manifests for their users -- and partly based on images of actual passenger manifest documents posted in the Immigration Records (Ship Passenger Arrival Records) section [/genealogy/immigration/] of the website of The National Achieves website.

Availability of alien passenger manifests

The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 makes most federal records related to immigration and naturalization available to the public, subject to restrictions by the the Privacy Act of 1974. In principle, passenger manifests are accessible, and NARA now facilitates individuals seeking to confirm records of arrival of immigrant ancestors on America's shores.

The general public interest in early passenger manifests at ports of entry to the United States is thus mostly genealogical. My interest in the manifests, though, concerns how arriving aliens were described by nationality and race.

Overseeing immigration

Naturalization and immigration matters were handled by various departments of the US government since 1797. Such matters were usually overseen by a single department, which acted as the competent agency, meaning the agency with was primarily responsible for implementing and enforcing related laws. However, other departments were delegated administrative tasks to facilitate implementation and enforcement.

Aliens applying for visas and other permits at US consulates get the impression that the Department of State controls immigration. At one time it was the competent department, but for more than a century it has acted only as an overseas agent for other departments.

Such division of labor is common in other countries, including Japan. Japanese consulates, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, process applications for visas and other permits to enter Japan. But relevant laws and regulations -- meaning the processing and issuance rules -- are under the Ministry of Justice. And the visas issued by consulates are provisional -- i.e., meaningless -- until they are recognized and approved at a port of entry in Japan by an immigration officer, who reviews the alien's qualifications for the provisional permit, and has the authority to refuse admission to Japan, or to change the type of visa or other permit and attached conditions.

Department of State

Secretary of State (1819-1864)
Commissioner of Immigration (1864-1868)
Secretary of State (1868-1874)

Department of the Treasury

Secretary of the Treasury (1869-1891)
Office of the Superintendent of Immigration (1891-1895)
Bureau of Immigration (1895-1903)

Department of Commerce and Labor

Bureau of Immigration (1903-1906)
Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (1906-1913)

Department of Labor

Bureau of Immigration (1913-1933)
Bureau of Naturalization (1913-1933)

To be continued.