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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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Additional identification

Actually, any new information you learn about an immigrant is an additional identifier: from their occupation, to their internal migration patterns, to their children's names. All of these, and more, make our immigrant ancestor(s) unique individuals, each with a different story. However, our concern is learning where they came from in the old country, and there are some identification facts that simply are more helpful in this kind of research than others. Among other information, this includes:

  • Immigration information
  • Other family members
  • Religion
  • Friends and neighbors
  • Geographic clues

Immigration information

ShipWhile immigration records seldom, before the twentieth century, name the specific town where the immigrant lived, immigration information can be a crucial means of identifying the immigrant. With the date, arrival and departure ports, and possibly the ship's name, the researcher is able to locate more information about the immigrant, including possible relatives. In cases where the home town is never learned, knowing exactly when a person, or family, immigrated, allows you to search the departure records (when they exist) in the old country. And, these records almost always provide the town of origin.

Other immigration information includes naturalization status. Again, prior to the twentieth century, most naturalization records do not name specific towns in the old country, but they do document immigration. Further, in the form of the witnesses' names in those papers, they may identify relatives or friends of the family (see the next page). Just remember, usually only adult males were naturalized, and while a colony still belonged to the mother country, immigrants from that country did not need to be naturalized (thus British citizens were not naturalized in the future United States until after the Revolutionary War, and in Canada not until after Confederation).

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