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Immigrant Passenger Records

Have you ever wondered how to start a search for your ancestor's immigration records? We are fortunate that we live in this wonderful technological age where many of these records are online, some are on CD-ROMs and all are available with a trip to the n


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Sheila Jensen Tate
Word Count: 830 (approx.)
Labels: Census  Immigration 
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Have you ever wondered how to start a search for your ancestor's immigration records? We are fortunate that we live in this wonderful technological age where many of these records are online, some are on CD-ROMs and all are available with a trip to the nearest LDS Family History Center.

To start your search, exhaust all of your "live" sources. Ask questions of your elderly relatives! Anything they tell you can be a clue. Try and find out if the immigrant came alone or with family. Ask when the first child was born in the USA. Write everything down to be reviewed later.

"I remember Aunt Mary saying they came through Ellis Island"; that tells you that the family arrived after 1892 and unless they came after 1924, the record is probably online at the Ellis Island site.

"Aunt Mary said that Jane was the first child born in New York in 1905"; that tells you that the family arrived before 1905 and by checking the 1910 census you can find an immigration year for her parents and possibly other siblings of Jane. Censuses are available online and on microfilm from your local LDS Family History Center and sometimes at large university libraries. Censuses are also available on CD-ROMs.

The later censuses also tell us if our ancestor was a naturalized citizen. If the census says "NA" or "pending" when asked about citizenship, there are records that might help with immigration information. NA meant they were a naturalized citizen and completed all the paper work and requirements to become citizens. Pending meant they had submitted an application for citizenship. Both of these records are available through the National Archives and sometimes from State Archives. They often have immigration information. AL on a census meant they were still "aliens" and had not yet applied for citizenship. In that case there are no citizenship records to help you.

If your ancestors were farmers, they possibly homesteaded property. Many homestead records have immigration information listed. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres of land free to any head of family or person over 21 years of age. The claimant had to be a citizen of the United States or had to have filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen and they could not currently own more than 160 acres. They also had to reside on the land for five years and improve it. Other Acts regarding land acquisition included The Timber Culture Act of 1873, that encouraged homesteading and the planting of trees in the west, and The Desert Land Act of 1877 designed to encourage settlements of the arid and semi-arid regions of the west, specifically in Arizona, California, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Land records can be found at the Bureau of Land Management Records website and with appropriate numbers found there, the homestead record copies can be ordered.

I personally have found many references to immigration dates, arrival ports, and even names of ships in obituaries. So if you know the date of death of your immigrant ancestor, look in the local newspaper's archive and see if there is an obituary. Obituaries are a source under utilized and often contain very helpful genealogical information.

If you don't narrow your search to a specific year, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. From 1820 to 1996 the immigrants from Europe totaled 36,410,452. The immigrants from Asia during the same time period totaled 8,000,844. There are many rolls of microfilm for every year of arrival, and from every port of arrival.

Researchers make the mistake of thinking that knowing from where their ancestor sailed is important; truthfully, the most important information you can find is where they arrived, then the date they arrived. The microfilmed copies of passenger lists are filed first according to port of arrival and then by date. When looking through the appropriate microfilm for the arrival port and approximate date of arrival, you can then limit your search to the port of departure of your choice. careful, many passengers sailed from ports in a different country than their residence.

When someone gets interested in searching for their roots one of the first questions for which they seek an answer is "where are my ancestors from"? Most of us have been told sometime in our childhood that we are Danish, or the family is from Poland, or we are German, but most of the time that is the extent of what we know. Immigrant passenger lists are a possible way of finding a hometown or birthplace of an ancestor, plus you have the added pleasure of "seeing" your ancestor's name on a manifest, the first official record of their American Dream.

Helpful URLs:

Census (pay for view site) (pay for view site)

Bureau of Land Management Records website

Location of your local LDS Family History Center

Immigrant passenger list microfilm numbers

Immigrant passenger lists (pay for view site) (pay for view site)

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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