Country, town, or parish of foreign birth
Finding an ancestor's country and city of origin can be one of the most rewarding parts of genealogical research. In addition to finding out where your ancestors came from, you may end up locating long-lost family overseas, giving you a closer connection to the rest of the world. Finding this information can be difficult, but not impossible in most cases.
An individual's place of foreign birth may be found on old letters or passports, or any of the documents listed below. Sometimes these documents will list only the country, and other times you can find the town and parish, especially on church records. The items in the list are ordered from most to least important. If you have the minimum information required to find one of these documents, select the name of that document. If you do not have the minimum information required, read the paragraph below this list.
To find an individual's place of foreign birth on a passenger list, you must at least know the individual's full name and the approximate date of arrival. However, the more information you know, the better. For example, if you know the individual's nationality or the port of arrival, you will be able to narrow down your search. Passenger arrival lists may be the best place to find the city and country of origin, because these records were made at the time of arrival into the United States.
To find an individual's place of foreign birth on a naturalization record, you must at least know the individual's full name, approximate date of birth, and maybe the town where the individual lived at the time of naturalization, depending on when it took place. Earlier records may be in the town courthouse.
To find an individual's place of foreign birth on a vital record, such as a marriage, death, or divorce certificate, you must at least know the individual's full name at the time of the event, the approximate year of the event, and the state or county of the event, depending on when the event took place.
To find an individual's place of foreign birth in a military pension record, you must at least know the veteran's name, the branch of service, such as Army, Navy, or Marine Corps, the state from which the veteran entered the service, and the war in which the veteran served. If the period of service was after 1916, you must also know entry and release dates, military ID number, Social Security number, whether an officer or enlisted, and date of birth.
Beginning in 1850, the census recorded each individual's birthplace. In addition, beginning in 1880, the census asks for the birthplace of each individual's father and mother. To find an individual's place of foreign birth in census records, you must at least know the individual's name, the state, and the county in which the individual lived when the census was taken. If you are using census records for 1870 or earlier, you can probably use an index that only requires the state and surname.
Obituaries often list an individual's birthplace. To find an obituary in a newspaper, you must at least know the individual's full name at time of death, the date of death, and the location of the death (or where the obituary was likely to have been published).
To find an individual's place of foreign birth in church records, such as certificates of removal, letters of transfer, letters of admission, and certificates of membership, you must at least know the individual's name, and the name of the church that your ancestor belonged to in the United States or the name of the clergyman of that church.
For background information on researching a specific ethnicity, see the topic International, ethnic, and religious organizations.
For a description of any of the records listed above, see the topic Genealogy dictionary.
To get help finding the minimum information required to locate any of the records listed above, select one of the following items:
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