Immigration and Naturalization Records Lesson


Immigration and Naturalization Records

Almost all of our ancestors were immigrants at one time or another. If we don't already know where our ancestors came from, it can sometimes be very difficult to locate them in another country in order to continue our search 'across the ocean'. In order to locate an immigrants place of birth, you should first try and find everything you can on him on this side of the ocean. These records would include:

  • Marriage and Death Records
  • Military Records
  • Census Records
  • Cemetery Records
  • Church and School Records
  • Family and County Histories

These records can sometimes give valuable hints as to a persons origin. One of the most valuable resources is the 1900 and subsequent census. The 1900 census is the first census in which they asked a person is they were a naturalized citizen or not and how long they had been in the United States. By locating them in the census you will find out approximately when to look for them in the immigration list or passenger lists.

Another place to start would be the naturalization lists for the county or counties in which the ancestor lived. Women usually did not bother to become naturalized, although many did. Men did in order to qualify for the vote and to purchase land. They were eligible for naturalization after living in the country for five years and in the state where they had applied for 1 year. Naturalization records or indexes can be found in the county clerk's office for the county in which they lived. If they lived in several different counties within a state, you might have to search several counties.

Naturalization records will normally tell you the following:

  • Full and legal name of the applicant
  • The date they applied for naturalization or gave declaration of intent
  • The country from which they came or the country to which they owed allegiance (NOTE: This is not always the same. Many times people may have lived in Scheswig-Holstien, owed allegiance one year to Germany, the next year to Denmark, depending on which country won the current war!)
  • May also give the date of entry into the country.
  • Might give current address
  • Might have applied the same day as a relative, brother, or sister.

Once you've pretty much established when they came to the United States or have a general idea, you can search the passenger lists for evidence of their passage to the United States. Almost every public library has some immigration and passenger lists. For instance, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Public Library (and other notated libraries) have the following:

  • Passenger & Immigration Lists Volumes 1 & 2 from Boston, PA, and NY
  • Passenger & Immigration Lists Supplements 1982 and 1985
  • Philadelphia Naturalization Records
  • The Famine Immigrants Jan 1846-Dec 1851
  • 1600-1825 Ships Passengers Lists
  • Lists of Swiss Immigrants to US in 18th Century
  • 1697-1707 Liverpool Immigrants to US
  • 1682-1692 English Immigrants to US
  • Czech Immigrant Passenger Lists
  • Germans to America
  • Transportation of Irish Convicts to Australia
  • The Complete Book of Immigrants (3 Vols) 1600-1739 (Rock Island Public Library, Rock Island, Ill)

Contact your local library and find out what they have available.

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