Southern California Genealogical Society

Back to Basics: There's a Clue Somewhere!
By Barbara McKinlay

New genealogists are usually faced with the daunting task of tracing immigrant ancestors who came from many different places. Myown search led me to Scotland, England, Ireland, Nova Scotia, Denmark and St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.

Once the search through your own family records is complete, I think it helps to read about the area from which these people have come. That often helps to tell you why the people have chosen to come to America, and may give you a clue as to why they settled in a certain area.

With that done, you are ready to start your research. The sources are almost unlimited. A good starting point is the section in "The Source" (Eakle and Cerny) titled "Tracking Immigrant Origins."

There are some wonderful published lists, also. “Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (Filby and Meyer) is easy to use and is a many-volume index listing the printed sources from which the information has been taken. Two others are “Germans to America” and “The Famine Immigrants Series.”

Added to this are large ethnic collections:
1) LDS Family History Center, Salt Lake City
2) Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Philadelphia
3) Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, St. Paul
4) Center for Migration Studies, N.Y. Staten Island.

And never forget about the possibility of find that elusive ancestor in the newly available lists from Ellis Island and Castle Garden or

People coming to America were not unknown. There are many lists documenting their arrival, such as passenger lists, customs lists, oaths of allegiance, alien registration lists, etc. The problem lies in locating the right one.

Emigrants tended to band together in communities. In public and private libraries, wonderful ethnic collections of newspapers, church records and cultural and fraternal societies can be found. Those societies existed to help people with jobs, housing, insurance and other information. And, many kept excellent records.

Passenger lists can be tedious to search, but may be necessary. Many have been published or are available on microfilm. If you don’t know the name of the ship, but do know the year and the area the person comes from, a good source is the "Morton Allan Director of European Steamship Arrivals; N.Y. 1890-1930; Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore 1904-1926."

Passport records can be helpful, too, both from the country of origin and from the United States. Don’t forget that some of those people went back home permanently, or just for a visit. They ached to see their homeland and saved every penny for the passage. From 1791-1925, these records are located at the National Archives and have also been filmed by the Family History Center. Later applications are held by the Passport Office, Department of State, 1425 K Street, NW, Washington D.C. 20520. For the latter, you must have written permission or a death certificate to get the information.

A common mistake researchers make is to think a trip to the country of origin will solve all the genealogy problems. Not so. Locate every scrap of information here before you dream of crossing the ocean. Put yourself in the place of the immigrant. Somewhere, you will find bits and pieces of information.

Put your inspector's badge on, and have the thrill of hunting down that mysterious missing ancestor.

© Barbara McKinlay. Used with permission.

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