Researching Your Lebanese or Syrian Ancestry

by Sandra Hasser Bennett Two Women With Waterjars

It is estimated that there were between one and two million Americans of Arab descent living in the United States in 1980. Most were descended from Lebanese or Syrian Christians who began arriving during the 1870s. As a direct result of political upheaval in the Middle East, many thousands more arrived during the last two decades of the Twentieth Century.

This six-part series will concentrate on the earlier immigrants. I will leave to others the task of reporting on the new arrivals - with the admonition that they should start now to gather information, while their primary sources still live.

Very little genealogical research has been published about early Lebanese/Syrian immigrants to the United States. I will attempt to give some background, and guide beginning researchers to information and records that will further their knowledge of this special and unique heritage.

Because immigrants from Lebanon and Syria only began arriving in the United States in the 1870s, their descendants probably will not gain membership in the Daughters (or Sons) of the American Revolution through their Middle Eastern Ancestors. The plus side is that, because of their relatively recent arrival, the historical, cultural and family information so dear to the hearts of all genealogists is close by -- perhaps as near as a grandfather's home.

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Sandra Hasser Bennett has developed and taught genealogy courses for adults and lectured on family history to high school history classes. She also writes book and manuscript reviews for the "International Migration Review". Sandra and her brother obtained a grant to conduct an oral history of their own Lebanese/Syrian community, the results of which were deposited with the Smithsonian Museum of American History's Naff Collection.

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