Congratulations! You've made it through the first four courses on tracing your immigrant origins. You are now ready to tackle the most difficult of American origins: Those who arrived before the keeping of regular passenger lists.
What is The Colonial Period?
Colonial immigration encompasses the entire colonial history of the United States, as well as the early federal period (sometimes called Jacksonian America), up to 1820. At this time, the sources and strategies are essentially similar for the future United States as well as Canada. After all, for most of this period, both areas were primarily British colonial possessions.
Although St. Augustine, Florida, was settled by the Spanish in 1565, most people date the beginning of immigration to British North America with the founding of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. During the next decade, a few Dutch began arriving at the future site of New York City. However, immigration was slow and poorly organized until the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620. A few ships arrived during the next decade, but the arrival of Winthrop's fleet at Boston in 1630 truly signaled the first major immigration wave, often called the "Great Migration."
Between 1607 and 1820 early European immigration was basically British (England, Scotland, Ulster Ireland, Southern Ireland, Wales) and German. However, there was little immigration between the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and 1815, due to wars on both sides of the ocean. Hence, most of the immigration during this period took place during the colonial period.
What Groups Came During This Time Period?
Interestingly, the largest actual number of immigrants were the forced immigrants from Africa, accounting for approximately 40% of the colonial immigrants to the future United States. Based on one of the careful reviews of current demographic studies by immigration historians, the approximate number of immigrants before 1790 came from:
African-American Colonial Immigration
Between 1790 and 1820, between a quarter and a third of a million additional immigrants arrived in the United States, but with a decreasing percentage of African slaves. The vast majority continued to come from Great Britain.
However, these different ethnic groups had come at different time periods and had considerably different birth and death rates (African slaves dying the youngest, and leaving the fewest descendants). Therefore, their contribution to America's ethnicity varied greatly throughout the colonies. And if the truth were told, their history is just beginning to be written.
Elizabeth Donnan published, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America, in four volumes between
1930 and 1935. It was originally intended to be in three volumes, but the materials collected for the American colonies was so massive it required a fourth volume. Still so much had to be left out of that series, another book entitled Virginia Slave-Trade Statistics 1698-1775 published by the Virginia State Library in Richmond in 1984 resulted to cover Virginia. The information provided contains a description of the ship, when it was built, when it was registered, who owned it, how many Blacks or Indian slaves were aboard, the port of entry and where and when the bond was given. From the 1700s on the information contained the number of dead or drawn back slaves and where they came from.
Although actual names are not given, the clues provided in these sources coupled with property, tax, court, and later census records can help in tracing colonial African Americans.
Affects on Immigration and Naturalization
Studies of the 1790 United States census have determined the approximate ethnic mix at that date. Clearly the British countries predominated, accounting for about two-thirds of the total population in the new country:
Distribution of these national groups, however, differed from state to state in ways that impact genealogical research during the colonial period. Immigration and naturalization policies, settlement and occupational patterns, and even cultural traditions are affected by the concentration of national groups.
Even with the close contact between French Canada and Vermont, during the colonial period, less than 1 percent of the Vermont population was French in 1790. This ratio would change in the nineteenth century as Canadians entered the United States to work. The area which became Ohio in 1803 was over 50 percent French; and only one-third of Pennsylvania was actually German.
Nature of Early Immigration Lists
Prior to 1820, the federal government of the United States made no effort to require lists of immigrants arriving in the country. Indeed, before the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) there was no federal government to make such a request. Hence control of immigration was left to the original colonies.
Inasmuch as these were British colonies, and close to 80% of the white immigrants before 1790 came from British countries, there was no need to record these arrivals. According to Michael Tepper in American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to the Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. 1988), "Even for ships carrying the original colonists--the so-called first comers, first purchasers, first planters, etc. -there are few actual lists of passengers, certainly few that are undisputed."
In light of this situation, it is fortunate that any colonial immigrants were recorded. In fact, a large majority of immigrant families have been documented, but, as Tepper points out about the original settlers, they "are largely recorded--where they are recorded at all--in ancillary records and documents (1988, 16)."
The focus of these lessons for this time period will be these "ancillary records." These are a great boon to colonial immigration studies. These supplementary or indirect records allow identification of at least some members of an immigrant's family (usually the head) for upwards of 70 to 80% of the colonial, white immigrants.
The Method for Locating Theses Ancillary Records
The vast majority of auxiliary records have been published over the past few decades in numerous resources. In addition, virtually all of them are indexed in William Filby's Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (Detroit: Gale Research, 1981- ). This index guides you to many resources of which we mention only a few at this time.
Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (PILI)
This monumental, on going source will eventually index virtually all published lists that document immigration to the United States and Canada. Fortunately, it has a same broad scope in identifying sources to index. Today, there are more than 3 million entries in the index, drawn from more than 2,800 sources.
The index began with three volumes published in 1981 as a master index of about 500,000 immigrants in 300 published sources. Each year one or more annual supplemental volume(s) add between 120,000 and 140,000 new index entries from about 100 or more different sources. Since each annual volume is a separate index, A through Z, the publisher issues a cumulated supplement every five years so researchers do not have to check each annual volume. Thus there are cumulated supplements for 1982 to 1985, 1986 to 1990, and 1991 to 1995. All major genealogical libraries subscribe to the index, but many may not have the cumulated supplements.
Methodology for Using This Index
Note that this source indexes published lists up to 1900 and beyond. However, its best use is for colonial American immigration since all known extant colonial immigration sources have been published. Only about 800,000 identifiable (white, European) immigrants came to North America before 1820, and many of them were women and children who do not appear on most substitute lists.
Therefore, most of the names in the Index are from published sources listing post-1820 immigrants. Individual names from periodical articles and other sources are well indexed.
Because this is a "master index" which references hundreds of different sources, not every entry will be equally useful. Sometimes the source being indexed is incomplete or inaccurate. Other times the source may be obscure and hard to obtain. In some cases, the same name will appear multiple times in the index because the immigrant is noted in several sources.
Another problem is the sheer volume of names. Often, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index will include several persons of the same name. It is the researchers task to determine which, if any, is the immigrant they are seeking.
As excellent as this index is, it does not include every immigrant, even those in published sources. Here are some reasons why you may not find your ancestor in Filby's Index:
- The immigrant may not be listed in a published source.
- The ancestor you are seeking may not be the immigrant.
- Many females and children were not listed in pre-1820 lists.
- The published source with your immigrant has not yet been indexed.
- Some published sources with hundreds of thousands of names may never be included in Filby's Index (such as Germans to America).
- The immigrant's name may be spelled differently than the way you are searching.
Pennsylvania German Pioneers
Because of the great interest in, and availability of, the colonial Pennsylvania lists, some discussion is warranted here.
Sources for Immigrant Identification
A significant, and classic, publication, indeed the largest single collection of colonial passenger arrival lists, is Ralph Beaver Strassburger and William John Hinke's transcription of Pennsylvania German Pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808 (3 vols. Norristown, Pa.: Pennsylvania German Society, 1934). It has been reprinted several times, usually just the first and third volumes, most often by Genealogical Publishing Company (Baltimore). However, in 1992, Picton Press (Rockport, Maine) reprinted all three volumes, including the rare volume two, which includes the signatures of most of the German heads of families who arrived in Philadelphia. They also included two lists not found for the 1934 printing.
So significant is this list, that virtually all Pennsylvania-German immigration research revolves around this book. Indeed, both American and German publications dealing with Pennsylvania Germans refer to families within these volumes by page number. The numbered ship lists are often used when others compile ship indexes to their own works. The introduction (in volume one) is an excellent discussion of the German immigration into Pennsylvania and nature of the lists used for this collection.
During the colonial years, up to three lists were made of the heads of families for each shipload disembarking in Philadelphia. One was the Captain's list, made on board and based on the ship's manifest. The second list was an Oath of Allegiance to the King of Great Britain, signed by all males over 16 years of age who were taken, as a group, to a magistrate's office in the city of Philadelphia. The third list, signed at the courthouse, again by males over 16 years of age, was an oath of fidelity and abjuration. The published version includes copies of all three lists, where they have survived, allowing comparisons of spellings, handwriting, and sequencing of names (friends and relatives would usually be listed near each other). Since only males over 16 are named in these lists, the editors estimate that the 29,800 names represent upwards of 70,000 German immigrants, more than two-thirds of the total German arrivals prior to the Revolutionary War. Thus, only about two out of five passengers are recorded on the signed lists.
The lists include information as to the name of each ship, its captain, ports of departure and arrival and the date of arrival. The list of names then follows, in exactly the order as found on the original lists. Earlier editions of some of these lists were published by Rupp (1876) and Egle (1890), including some additional material, but the transcripts by Strassburger and Hinke are considered much more accurate and complete.
Methodology for Identifying Pennsylvania German Pioneers
The original order of the names on the lists is important. The first signatures are often the leaders, for the Palatines (immigrants from the Rhine River Valley of Germany - the Palatinate) came in groups. The names themselves are significant, for they may represent a whole church group or a group of related families. For these reasons, copy the whole passenger list where the ancestor appears and study the names carefully. The list can be a check for identifying the correct ancestor in church registers, census lists, news announcements, and other records.
While not every settler in a given location was an immigrant, many of them were during the colonial era. Indeed, one of the major factors influencing immigrants to come to America was the availability of land. Many came for the land and, therefore, became the first settlers in many areas. So another source for identifying immigrants are lists of early settlers.
Sources for Identifying
Most lists of early settler seem to be based on land grants of one kind or another. In some southern states these settler lists come from headrights, which is documentation of having transported a certain number of persons to settle on, and improve, various tracts of land.
Colonial immigration to Virginia is of great interest to the millions of descendants of the early settlers, but can really only be documented in the early land records. As George Greer indicated in 1912 in Early Virginia Immigrants, 1623-1666 (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., reprint 1982, page 3.
"The records of the Land Office in Richmond remain the only source from which these names (of immigrants) can now be obtained. As the records stand, it is simply impossible, without the most extensive and expensive research, to obtain names of persons who came to Virginia, unless they themselves were patentees of land; and the great majority of immigrants to the colony do not appear as patentees."
Land records are the basis for Gust Skordas' The Early Settlers of Maryland: An Index to the Names of Immigrants Compiled from Records of Land Patents, 1633-1680, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968, repr 1986). This alphabetical index of more than 25,000 settlers identifies virtually all of the immigrants who remained in Maryland (as opposed to those who landed there and then moved on to other colonies). The list provides the immigrant's full name, approximate date of immigration, their residence, the basis for the claim for land, and a reference to the source of the information.
Methodology for Identifying Early Settlers
In New England, early settlers are sometimes determined from the lists of freemen, men granted full rights within a town to own land and hold office. While not every freeman was an immigrant, a large number were, especially in towns known to be settled by recent immigrants. Thus, to be effective lists of immigrants, settler lists need to pertain to the first settlement of a locality known to have attracted immigrants during the early history of North America.
- Bailyn, Bernard. Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.
- Baird, Charles W. Huguenot Emigration to America. 2 vols. 1885. Reprint (2 vols. in 1) Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991.
- Coldham, Peter W. Emigrants in Chains: A Social History of Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-conformists, Vagabonds, Beggars and other Undesirables, 1607-1776. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
- Cressy, David. Coming Over: Migration and Communication Between England and New England in the Seventeenth Century. New York, Pantheon Books, 1972.
- Diffenderffer, Frank R. The German Immigration Into Pennsylvania Through the Port of Philadelphia from 1700 to 1775, and the Redemptioners. 1900, Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988.
- Hansen, Marcus Lee. The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860. Rev. ed. Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1940. Reprint, New York: Harper and Row, 1961.
This lesson has covered the background, overview and nature of the records that will be covered during this colonial period. Also the methods for locating supplemental records surrounding immigration and naturalization was introduced in the format of Filby's Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. You were also introduced to some basic resources involved in a study of this early time period. In the next lesson, we will expound on more sources and methodology for locating your ancestors who immigrated prior to 1802.