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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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Of course, not all records which mention immigrants identify the persons as immigrants, and only rarely do they actually mention the name of the immigrant's foreign home. However, as we have seen throughout these lessons, any information about an immigrant is an important piece of the puzzle that will help identify the ancestral home.

Not all the persons mentioned in these records were immigrants. Since civil records may include any persons who lived in a community, the later the records were made in the Colonial Era, the higher percentage of non-immigrants will appear in the records. This simply reflects the fact that, after a 100 years or more, most of the population was not immigrants, but rather the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of earlier immigrants.

Civil Affairs and Records in Colonial Life

Outside of the family, life in Colonial American revolved around the church and the community. At some times, and in some places, the church was the community. However, even early in North America, local government became secular, with its own officers, duties, responsibilities, and records (although it may have supported one specific denomination). Most families participated, to some degree, in certain civil aspects of the community. Young men served in the militia. Older men:

  • Bought and sold land
  • Paid taxes
  • Served on juries
  • Were called as witnesses in court actions
  • Took their neighbors to court
  • Were taken to court by their neighbors.

All of these events, and many others, were recorded by the civil authorities. At first the colony was the community. As each colony grew in population, it established counties, with local officers and judges. Immigrant ancestors were as likely as any other resident to appear in these records.

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