U. S. Immigration Records: Finding the Town of Origin
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Finding the Town of Origin[edit | edit source]
In order to research your family in their "old" country, it is essential that you have identified the place where they came from. You must know the city, town, or parish that they came from.
Important Tips[edit | edit source]
You must also know enough about the ancestor to positively identify him in the records. Dates (even if they are approximate), places, and familial connections are key to helping you decide if a person you find, who has the same name as your ancestor, really is your ancestor.
- Do you know the name of his/her parents?
- Do you know his/her birth, marriage, or death date or can you calculate an approximate range of years to search for his/her birth, marriage, or death?
- Do you know the name of the spouse? Did they marry before or after coming to the United States?
- Do you know the names of any of his/her siblings?
- Do you know the names of any children born in before the family emigrated?
Documents in the Home[edit | edit source]
Often the document you need to pinpoint the place of origin of your ancestor is already found at home. These might include the following:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates or licenses
- Death certificates
- Funeral cards
- Family Bible
- Naturalization papers
- Citizenship papers
- Military service records
Emigration Questions to Ask Relatives[edit | edit source]
Find the oldest living relatives that you can and ask them:
- What do you know about our immigrant ancestor? (open-ended)
- Have you ever heard mention of towns where the family lived in their former country?
- Do you have contact with any relatives in your ancestors' former country?
- Do you have contact with other branches in the United States?
- Did he travel with other family members?
- Do you know when _________________ arrived and which port city?
- Did _______________ever become a citizen?
- Did_________________fight in World War I or II?
- When they first came, were there already family members here who they joined?
- Did_______________ever mention their parents who either came with them or remained behind?
- Were they Catholic or Protestant?
- Do you have any old letters or postcards sent from your family's former country?
- Do you have any pictures of family members who remained behind in the country of origin?
Search Genealogies Compiled by Others[edit | edit source]
- Collecting Previous Research by Others Part Two: Online Family Tree Collections
- Collecting Previous Research by Others Part Three: Digitized Books
- Collecting Previous Research by Others Part Four: FamilySearch Wiki Tools
Records to Search Created in the United States[edit | edit source]
Census Records[edit | edit source]
- Search census records, available for the United States, Canada, England, and other countries. Censuses are often taken every ten years.
- Try to locate your ancestor in every census during which he or she was alive. This information provides a good framework for further research.
- The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list.
- Censuses can be accessed online. Links to both free and subscription websites are found at United States Census Online Genealogy Records.
- State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online state censuses.
Example: This 1900 census gives the month and year of birth, the birthplace of the listed person and his mother and father, the year he immigrated, and how many years he has lived in the U.S. "Na" means that he is a naturalized citizen.
Vital Records[edit | edit source]
Vital records, or civil birth, marriage, and death records document important events in an ancestor’s life. Many states have posted statewide indexes on the Internet. Understand that any birth, marriage, or death certificate gives information about other people besides the primary person it is about
- 1. It is important to remember that a birth certificate for a child might tell it's parents' birthplaces.
- 2. Marriage certificates might name birth dates and places of the bride and groom. They might also give the names and birth places of the parents of the bride and groom.
- 3. Death certificates are very important. Birth and marriage certificates might not have kept by a state during the earlier years of your ancestor's life. There is a greater chance that your ancestor died after detailed record-keeping began. Death certificates frequently state birth date and place. They also state the names of parents and their birth places.
There are wiki articles giving details on how to find vital records of each state.
- You can select the state of interest and the record (birth, marriage, or death) from How-To Articles.
- Many records may be online. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State, for online vital record databases.
Example: This marriage record gives the birthplace in France of the bride, the names of her parents, and the birthplace in France of her mother. You can estimate her year of birth by subtracting her age from the marriage date.
Cemetery Records[edit | edit source]
- Websites such as FindAGrave and Billion Graves are making it easier to get information from headstones, which frequently give birth dates, and occasionally give birth places.
- Each state has additional collections of cemetery records. See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to other online cemetery records
Example: This FindAGrave entry gives the birthdate and the birthplace in France.
Example: This funeral home record gives the birthdate and the birthplace in France.
Obituaries[edit | edit source]
Obituaries are an excellent source of biographical information about immigrants. In addition to names and death dates, you can learn about surviving family members, church affiliations, spouses, parents, occupations, burial places, and hometowns in the old country. Even if a place of origin is not given, an obituary may provide additional research clues, such as the date or ship of immigration or traveling companions. Much of this information cannot be found in other sources. For many immigrants, an obituary is the only “biographical sketch” ever written about them.
- See U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State for links to online obituary collections.
- If the town of death is known, Google newspapers in that town and contact them to see if they kept archives of their obituaries.
- U.S. Obituary Collection, 1930-2017
- U.S. Online Genealogy Records by State
Example: In this typical U.S. Obituary Collection record, the birth place, parents' names, and siblings' names are listed.
Social Security[edit | edit source]
- The application for the Social Security card may also contain a town of birth. These records are available for deceased individuals who died after 1935 when Social Security began.
- The Social Security Applications and Claims Index does not cover every application--it has sort of an eclectic mix of what got included. If you find your ancestor in the Social Security Death Index but not in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, you can send away for a copy of the application.
Military Records[edit | edit source]
Draft records for World War I and II ask for birth place, which can be listed as just Luxembourg or in greater detail.
- U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Index and images.
- U.S. WW I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 Indexes and images. ($)
- U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, ($), index and images
- United States, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 Images with partial index.
- U.S., Alien Draft Registrations, Selected States, 1940-1946,($), index and images.
Example: This World War I Draft Registration gives the birthdate and the birthplace in France.
Example: This World War II Draft Registration gives the birthdate and the birthplace in France.'
Passenger Arrival Lists[edit | edit source]
Passenger lists, especially in the 20th century, may list birth place, last residence in mother country, and name and residence of a close relative in the mother country. Study the records of fellow passengers, as frequently relatives and neighbors traveled together. United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records is a comprehensive list of passenger arrival databases that you can search right now from your computer. There are many, many databases. The following search strategy will make your search more efficient.
Suggested Search Strategy[edit | edit source]
- Check the partner website indexes, as these cover many, many databases at once. The FamilySearch Historical Records databases is free to search with a free registered account. The other websites are subscription-based but can be searched for free at a Family History Center near you. Try to search each partner site because their search engines can often bring up slightly different results.
- If it is difficult for you to get access to the subscription databases, next try Additional Nationwide Collections Not Included in Partner Sites. These websites have a lot of overlap with the subscription websites.
- Search a nationality, religious, or political group collection that applies to your ancestor.
- Search the state collection for the first state where your ancestor lived.
Example: This passenger list gives the name and age of each passenger, their birth place, last residence in the home country, information on next of kin in the home country, and information on any relative they are joining in the U.S.
Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]
- Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place.
- Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. Many pre-1900 records only list “Luxembourg” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely.
- The process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later.
- Beginning in 1906, naturalization records became more detailed, as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government.
- More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, is found at Beginning Research in United States Naturalization Records and United States Naturalization and Citizenship Online Genealogy Records.
Example: This petition for naturalization (citizenship) gives the birthdate and birthplace in France of both the petitioner and her husband. It gives their marriage date and place and the birthdates and birthplaces of their children. It tells the port, the date and the name of the ship for when she entered the U.S. plus the names she entered under. It gives her last residence in France.
Passport Applications[edit | edit source]
Passport Records Online[edit | edit source]
- 1795-1925 - United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925 at FamilySearch — index and images
- 1795-1925 - U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 Index and images, at Ancestry ($)
Alien Registration[edit | edit source]
- Alien Registration Form: If your ancestor lived in the United States between 1 August 1940 and 31 March 1944. Search the index online, by entering the person's name and the term A-File. If you find a catalog entry for the person, then order the full file.
Offices to Contact[edit | edit source]
National Archives and Records Administration[edit | edit source]
- The National Archives (NARA) has immigration records for arrivals to the United States from foreign ports between approximately 1820 and 1982. The records are arranged by Port of Arrival (See Part 5).
- Order copies of passenger arrival records with NATF Form 81.
- You may do research in immigration records in person at the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.
- Some National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regional facilities have selected immigration records; call to verify their availability or check the online Microfilm Catalog.
- Most Baltimore passenger lists are on microfilm at the Maryland Historical Society and the Baltimore City Archives.
- Libraries with large genealogical collections, such as the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Allen County Piblic Library also have selected NARA microfilm publications.
U.S. Citizenship and and Immigration Services Genealogy Program[edit | edit source]
The USCIS Genealogy Program is a fee-for-service program that provides researchers with timely access to historical immigration and naturalization records of deceased immigrants. If the immigrant was born less than 100 years ago, you will also need to provide proof of his/her death.
Immigration Records Available[edit | edit source]
- A-Files: Immigrant Files, (A-Files) are the individual alien case files, which became the official file for all immigration records created or consolidated since April 1, 1944.
- Alien Registration Forms (AR-2s): Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2) are copies of approximately 5.5 million Alien Registration Forms completed by all aliens age 14 and older, residing in or entering the United States between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944.
- Registry Files: Registry Files are records, which document the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found.
- Visa Files: Visa Files are original arrival records of immigrants admitted for permanent residence under provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.
Requesting a Record[edit | edit source]
- Web Request Page allows you to request a records, pay fees, and upload supporting documents.
- Record Requests Frequently Asked Questions
References[edit | edit source]
- "Genealogy", at USCIS, https://www.uscis.gov/records/genealogy, accessed 26 March 2021.