How Did Our Immigrant Ancestors Get Here?

HOW DID OUR IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS GET HERE?

Family historians look for an immigrant’s arrival record to establish when they put down roots in North America. But some immigrants are tougher to trace than others.

Here are three strategies to help:

1. Search multiple ports.
Many of us think of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. But that is not the only port to which immigrants came. If you can’t find your ancestor in the search section of the Ellis Island website, check the records of other ports. The free website Castlegarden.org has passenger lists of ships that came to the Castle Garden port in New York before Ellis Island opened. Ancestry.com (through a personal subscription), Ancestry Library Edition (log in with your Hayner library card), and Familysearch.org have databases of passenger lists at many other ports in the United States.

2. Check for companions.
Try searching for another family member—sibling, spouse, child—who may prove easier to trace. Then expand to cousins, coworkers, or neighbors within your ancestor's cluster community. This "back door" approach may lead to information about your own ancestor.

3. Seek alternative sources.
In some cases, your ancestor’s passenger list might not exist at all. Other records that may document immigration include church records, newspaper articles, town or county histories, naturalization papers, passport applications, alien registrations, border crossing records, and the 1900–1930 U.S. censuses. Search databases of these records on genealogy websites and on newspaper archive websites. Some books are compilations of old records, such as colonial Town Clerk and church records. We may spot immigrants in town and county histories, old settlers’ books, published family histories, church histories, and centennial books. We may be able to read digitized genealogical books on Archive.orgGoogle, or in the Catalog on Familysearch.org.

Staff at the Hayner Genealogy & Local History library can help you determine a search strategy for your immigrant ancestors.

p16614coll35 13531 full resize

Naturalization ceremonies, in McLean County courthouse, 1938, Rosea Kurta takes citizenship

Bowman, John S.; Naturalization ceremonies, Pantagraph Negatives Collection (Illinois Digital Archives), 2021-09-23, http://www.idaillinois.org/digital/collection/p16614coll35/id/13531

key icon