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Our Immigrant Ancestors

Tracing Immigrant Origins: Search Strategies

What You Need to Know About Laws and Records

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     Almost everyone has had a desire to know from where his or her ancestors emigrated.  If you are looking at this page you probably established the basic goal of finding your “Old World” country or countries of origin.  Once this discovery is made you will most likely begin to track your ancestors back in time and place.  Many times we are drawn so deeply into the story it is difficult to stop searching because there are always more relationships to be proved and details of the ancestral locations to be added to your knowledge base. 

     There is no single record source that can be counted on the provide your with the information you will require to locate your ancestral home.  Rather there are a multitude of records that may, depending on the time period and ethnic nature of the family, provide the necessary information.  As such we have put this web page together for you to utilize as a resource assist in tracking down viable information regarding your immigrant ancestor such as, when he or she emigrated from the “Old Country”, as well as when and where they arrived in the “New World”.

     Finding an immigrant ancestor's place of origin is the key to finding earlier generations of the family. It provides access to many family history resources in that home area. Once you know a former place of residence or a birthplace, you may be able to add more generations to your pedigree. Learning about your family's history and experiences can be a source of enjoyment and education for you and your family.

     Tracing immigrant origins can be one of the hardest parts of family history research. Even if you know which country your family came from, it can still be hard to identify a specific hometown or birthplace.


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Our Immigrant Ancestors

The LINKS below will take you to complete listings with corresponding information, about sources and citations of  OUR ANCESTORS identified as an immigrant from the Old World to America.


IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS - Bozarth; Peiffer; Quigley; Rhubart; and allied families

IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS - Moreland; McVicker; Pinnell; Scruggs; and allied families

IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS - Dellinger; Knecht; Pfeffer; Silar; and allied families


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Tracing Immigrant Origins
Search Strategies for
Tracing Immigrant Origins


Source: Family Search

Step 1:  Identify What You Know about the Immigrant

To successfully determine an immigrant's place of origin, you need to learn some minimum facts about him or her. This will help you select record types to search and identify the immigrant in those records. Additional information can also be helpful.  Before trying to find an immigrant's place of origin, be sure you have learned as much of the following as possible:

·         The immigrant's name. Find both the given names and surname (last name), including middle names (such as Johann Friedrich Wolfgang Sticht). Try to learn the name used in the country of origin and any variations of it.

·         A date. A birth date is most preferable, but if you cannot find one, use a marriage, confirmation, baptismal, or military release date, or another date of an event that happened in the country of origin. Try to find an entire date (day, month, and year), but you may be able to identify the immigrant with an approximate year.

·         A place. Learn as much as you can about where the immigrant came from, such as the province, county, or region. Knowing as specific a place as possible helps you distinguish between the immigrant and others of the same name. Eventually, you will have to learn the specific town where the immigrant came from. Use this outline to learn this information.

·         A relative. Learning the name of a relative of the immigrant, such as the father, helps you identify your ancestor in country-of-origin records. If you cannot learn the father's name, try to learn the name of the mother, spouse, brother, sister, or other close relative (such as an aunt or uncle).

·         Additional Information. While minimum identification helps you recognize your ancestor in country-of-origin records, additional information could provide clues to the place of origin or confirm that you have found the right family. If possible, learn the following about the immigrant:

·         Other family members. Learn about both parents, his or her spouse, all brothers and sisters, and any children. This information helps you identify him or her in native records. Also, you may discover the place of origin by finding a relative's place of origin.

·         Friends and neighbors. Many immigrants traveled in groups or settled among friends from their native lands. Searching for friends or neighbors might reveal an immigrant's place of origin.

·         Family stories and traditions. While many family traditions are exaggerated (such as those about stowaways), they may include accurate facts. Such things as the area of the country he or she came from, the industry in the native district, occupations, nearby towns, rivers, mountains, or other features could provide clues to the place of origin.

·         Religion. Religious groups in many countries create records. By learning the immigrant's religion, you can further identify him or her, determine others he or she may have traveled with, limit your searches to the records most likely to contain useful information, and gain clues to the region where he or she lived. For example, a Protestant Irishman most likely came from northern Ireland, not central or southern Ireland.

Step 2:  Decide What You Want to Learn

Select an immigrant you want to learn about. Choose one for whom you have minimum identification. It helps to know where the immigrant lived in the country of arrival and any names used there (such as a woman's married name).

Choose one of the goals discussed below. Then use the appropriate “Records Selection Table” to select records that might contain that information.

Primary Goal.  The primary goal is to find the immigrant's place of origin. With the place of origin you can begin using records from the hometown to extend the immigrant's ancestry or pursue other research goals. If you do not yet have enough information to find the place of origin, choose one of the secondary goals below.

Secondary Goals. Other information about an immigrant is often helpful when searching for a place of origin. Even records that say nothing about the place of origin may give clues leading to records that name the hometown. One clue can lead to another until you find a record showing the town of origin. Possible secondary goals include:

·       Date of immigration. An immigration date leads to passenger lists and other records. With the immigration date, you can also figure out when the immigrant first appears in other records in the new country, when he was released from the military in the old country, or when he or she applied for citizenship.

·       Place of departure. Knowing where an immigrant left from may help you find departure lists and indexes, the ship's name, and newspaper and police lists.

·       Place of arrival. Immigrants often stayed in the port of arrival for months or years before moving on. In such cases, you can search naturalization, church, and vital records in that location.

·       Ship's name and related data. The name of the ship a person traveled on will help you use passenger lists or find the names of other immigrants in the group.

·       Names of other immigrants in the group. Immigrants often traveled in groups or with relatives. They often settled close to people they knew in the old country. If you cannot find a person's place of origin, learn about relatives, neighbors, fellow passengers, or a minister who may have immigrated from the same hometown.

·       Immigrant's original country or region. Sometimes knowing the country or region a person left from lets you begin searching the records of that area. It may also imply the place of departure.

·       Immigrant's name before immigrating. This helps identify a person in country-of-origin records. Sometimes the name, or part of one, is a clue to the immigrant's original country or region.

Step 3:  Select the Records to Search

This outline can help you evaluate the content, availability, ease of use, time period covered, and reliability of records. It can also indicate if your ancestor is likely to be listed. For information on a specific country, see the appropriate national research outline.   It is almost always best to first search the sources in the country where the immigrant finally settled. Do not switch to records from the country-of-origin too soon in your search. You will most likely find the immigrant's birthplace or hometown in country-of-arrival records, which are usually easier to use.  The genealogical and historical records needed to determine an immigrant's place of origin fall into two categories: 

Compiled Records. Someone else may have already researched the immigrant. This is especially true if the person immigrated before about 1800. Compiled records include:

·       Printed family histories and genealogies.

·       Family information published in periodicals and newsletters.

·       Biographies.

·       Local histories.

·       Manuscript collections of family information.

·       Databases of family information (such as FamilySearch™ and the Family Group Records Collections).

·       Hereditary and lineage society records.

* Many records containing previous research are described in the “Biography,” “Genealogy,” “History,” “Periodicals,” and “Societies” sections of part two and part three. Use such sources carefully because the information is secondary and may contain some inaccuracies.

Original Records. After searching compiled records, search the existing records of:

·         Each place where the immigrant lived.

·         The complete time period when he or she lived there.

·         All jurisdictions that may have kept records about him or her (town, church, county, state, and federal).

Most record types described in this outline are original records, such as “Church Records,” “Emigration and Immigration,” “Naturalization,” or “Vital Records.”


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What you need to know about laws and records

What You Need to Know About
 Immigration, Naturalization Laws and Records

The History of Immigration in the U.S. – This webpage features information and links to Timelines, trends and stories about the history of immigration in the United States.

Timeline and Overview of Naturalization RequirementsThis webpage can be of great assistance in understanding when residency U.S. residency requirements changed.  It also provides excellent information about who would be eligible to become naturalized as well as the status of the wives and children of fathers and husbands. 

Alien Registration Records - Alien registration records are an excellent source of family history information on U.S. immigrants who never became naturalized citizens. Learn more about the genealogical value of alien registration records, how to determine if an alien registration record exists for your ancestor, and how to obtain a copy of your ancestor's alien registration record.

Timeline of Immigration Laws – Family Tree Magazine has put together a chart that provides any researcher with a quick and easy way to check on the progression of U.S. immigration laws.

U.S. Naturalization Acts – Specific and comprehensive information about the most important naturalization laws enacted by the U.S. Congress between 1790 and 1906.



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Web resources



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This search engine may

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information to assist with

your research about this topic.

The following are links to websites that may provide you with specific genealogical information to help you to find out more about the immigration and/or naturalization of your ancestor(s).

General Resource Websites

·      Immigration Emigration & Naturalization Research in Genealogy

·      Immigration & Travel - ($)

·      Imigration & Naturalization – Cyndi’s List

·      Immigration & Naturalization Project (USGENWEB)

·      US Citizenship and Immigration Services

Records Resource Websites

·      Immigration & Naturalization Records- Search Genealogy

·      Emigration & Immigration Records & Links

·      Immigration & Travel - ($)

·      Naturalization Records –

·      Naturalization Records (NARA)

·      Research In Immigration & Naturalization Records

·      Immigration Records/ Naturalization Records- Ancestors

·      US Citizenship & Immigration Services - Genealogy ($)

Ship, Passenger, Crew Lists

·        Ships Passenger Lists (The Olive Tree)

·        Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild

·        List Of Ships To Philadelphia, PA 1727-1808

·        Resources for Finding Passenger Arrival Records at the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana

·        Ellis Island - FREE Port of NY Passenger Records Search

·       Pennsylvania German Pioneers (ProGenealogists)

·       What Passenger Lists Are Online?

·       Immigration & Travel - ($)

·       New Orleans Public Library Immigration Records Guide

·       Castle Garden; America’s First Immigration Center

·        A collection of upwards of thirty thousand names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French and other immigrants in Pennsylvania from 1727 to 1776.  This book by I. Daniel Rupp was published in 1876 and contains 554 pages.  The reader is provided with  a statement of the names of ships, when they sailed, and the date of their arrival at Philadelphia, chronologically arranged, together with the necessary historical and other notes, also, an appendix containing lists of more than one thousand German and French names in New York prior to 1712.  Each voyage was recorded separately and so searching required looking separately on approximately 320 different lists. At Neil Elvick's Family History Web Site most of the names have been combined into a single Alphabetized Master List so that names could be searched more efficiently.


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Our Genealogy 
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This Link Button will take you to our library of genealogy reference books.  Here you will find

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reference books about this subject as well as other books that can assist you with your research.

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-- This webpage was last updated on --

01 July 2012

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