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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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Key Sources

In this intermediate course, we will explore the key sources useful to find the origins of immigrants who arrived before about 1900. Of course, some of those immigrants may appear in the sources we discussed in the introductory course, but now we are beginning more difficult cases. Indeed, the further back in time the immigrant arrived, the more difficult it is to locate his or her origins in the home country.

Remember, as we study these various sources, they may also well apply to immigrants who came during different time periods. We are simply discussing the various records in the immigration time period where these sources are most helpful.

During this intermediate course, we will discuss three different immigration time periods and, within those three time periods, we will discuss six or seven different groups of records for each period.

  • The first period we will cover deals with immigrants who arrived after the U.S. Civil War (between about 1865 and 1900). These will be called "Post Civil War Immigrant Sources."

  • Later lessons will cover immigrants who arrived between 1820 and the Civil War. These will be called "Sources for Immigrant Origins, 1820-1860."

  • The final phase in this course will discuss sources for pre-1820 immigrants. These will be called "Sources for Tracing Colonial Immigrants."

portrait With an understanding of the methodology and sources taught in the introductory and intermediate courses, you will be ready for Course 4: Tracing Immigrant Origins Part III, Sources from the Country of Origin.

As we learned in the introductory course, we always try to locate an immigrant's origin using records in the U.S. However, for some difficult problems, we need to consider foreign sources which document the home town. This can be a particularly difficult approach but, when done well, can be rewarding.

For now, let's focus on what we can learn from sources in the U.S. and Canada. Even if we don't learn the specific town from which an individual emigrated in these sources, they will provide crucial information for our advanced studies.

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