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The biggest problem most family historians face is
not only learning the place their ancestors came from but then identifying
those immigrants in their home towns. Historians use key information
as identifiers to be certain they are discussing the same person in
various time periods in various locations. These are the same identifiers
you need to use for your immigrant ancestors.
For each of your immigrant ancestors you will need
to learn the following four facts:
First you need to know the name of the immigrant.
This may not be as simple as it sounds. Some families only have a
vague tradition about somebody who immigrated sometime in the past.
Clearly this won't do! Some immigrants changed their names or Anglicized
them when they came to this new English speaking country. Be sure
you learn the complete foreign version of your immigrant ancestor's
You need the date of an event that happened to your
immigrant ancestor in the old country. Birth dates are preferable,
but a marriage in a foreign country, or another event will suffice.
Try to determine as specific a date as possible, including the day,
month, and year, not just an approximate date.
You need to learn the name of a relative affiliated
(connected) with the ancestor in the old country. In some towns, many
people shared the same names and may even be born about the same time
period. Only when you know a specific relative's name will you know
you have found the same person in the homeland.
Lastly, you need the place of origin. Like the date,
this needs to be as specific as possible. Records in your ancestor's
countries were kept at a local level. There are virtually no nation-wide
indexes in foreign countries. This fourth fact is usually the most
difficult for family historians to obtain.
During the course of these lessons, much of our focus
will be on methods and sources for learning this elusive fourth fact.