This second lesson in pre-1820 immigration studies focuses on compiled records. Several unknowledgeable family historians scorn compiled works because they are secondary sources, some are undocumented, and several are poorly researched. We hope you will not take that stance. Each book, as well as article, needs to be evaluated on its own merits and should not be lauded or scorned simply because it is a compiled source.
In addition, during this time period it would be nearly impossible to find the original immigration records. As we discussed in the previous lesson, there are virtually no actual passenger lists surviving from the pre-1820 time period. Indeed, in most cases, no list was even kept. On the other hand, the genealogical interest in the residents, and especially the immigrants, of the British colonies for this time period is unequaled in other places or time periods. Although only about one million immigrants arrived during this time period (less than 2% of all immigrants to North America), each of those immigrants has significantly more descendants (on average), then those who arrived at a later time period.
Because of that interest, many individuals have focused their efforts and publications on discussions of immigrants. Where such sources have been compiled by knowledgeable and experienced researchers, they provide excellent, documented help to the family historian.
At first, such interest usually focused on a single immigrant, and his (seldom her) descendants. This lead to the creation of thousands of individual family history books, especially popular at the beginning of the 20th century, but still popular at the end of that century. Other compilations focus on groups of immigrants who settled a specific area, while some work from the old country, discussing groups who left a foreign area for the new world.
What are Compiled Records?
Compiled records consist of records assembled together around a particular surname, subject, or location in various formats. This lesson will cover several forms of specific compiled records covering the topic of colonial immigrant origins. These will include:
When these compiled records include sources and/or they outline clues used to come to various conclusions, they can save a researcher much time and energy.Family HistoriesFamily histories are book-length discussions of a family's genealogical connections. Generally they are one of two types. Most early family histories traced the male (surname line) descendants of a specific person (often an immigrant). In recent years, an increasing number have discussed the ancestry of a specific person (often the author/compiler). In either case, immigrant ancestors are a significant part of these publications, for they either begin with one, or trace back to several immigrants.An estimated 90,000 published, book-style family histories exist for North American families, at least half dealing with immigrants. Many, of course, are not colonial era immigrants, but if you descend from a very early immigrant, particularly from the 17th century in the northern states, there is an excellent chance that a published account (book or periodical article) of his descendants exists. At the beginning of that account will be information gathered by the author relative to the immigrant's origin in the old country. It may, or may not, identify his town of origin, but it will at least provide clues, and is the best single source of such information for many colonial immigrants.Some compiled works focus specifically on immigrant ancestors of American families. Two representative titles were privately published by John Brooks Threlfall (in Madison, Wisconsin):
- Family histories
- Genealogical dictionaries
- Research collections
- Emigrant group publications
- Fifty Great Migration Colonists to New England and Their Origins (1990)
- Twenty-six Great Migration Colonists to New England and Their Origins (1993
Published family histories can be found in most major genealogical research libraries. One very useful source identifies the most significant genealogical literature for certain early immigrants: those who arrived by 1657 and had descendants in the male (surname) line.
Meredith B. Colket, Jr.'s Founders of Early American Families: Emigrants from Europe, 1607-1657 (Rev. ed. Cleveland: Founders and Patriots of America, 1985) is a very useful compendium which names most of these early immigrants, while also identifying what published sources are available for further research. This source includes upwards of 4,000 early settlers. Each entry includes the surname and given name (with spelling variations, residence in the colonies with dates, death date and place, and a published source of further information on the immigrant and some of his descendants.) Where known, Colket includes the birth date, origin in England or Europe, and immigration information.
Genealogical Dictionaries (also called compendia) focus on the genealogical connections of a group of persons, often in the same locality, or of the same ethnic group. Typically they include a few paragraphs or pages on each family within its scope, and may discuss several hundred families.
As nations of immigrants, there are places in the United States and Canada that were heavily settled by people from other countries. Many of these areas have been the subject of dictionaries or compendia that explore the first two or three generations of these settlers. While only some of these sources identify the towns the immigrants left, all of them discuss the lives of the immigrants and provide some of the important clues necessary to identify them in foreign records.
One of the earliest genealogical dictionaries summarizes known information about immigrants to New England. James Savage's A Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England Showing Three Generations of Those Who Came Before May, 1692... (4 vols. Reprint, 1860, 1862, 1873, 1884, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994) provides capsulated information about hundreds of early New England immigrants, sometimes identifying relationships in England that help prove places of origin.
Similar dictionaries are available for nearly every New England state, such as Charles Henry Pope's The Pioneers of Massachusetts, 1620-1650 (1900 reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965). Unlike Savage's dictionary, this source does not attempt to link several generations together. Rather it provides a brief paragraph about those known to have settled the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies by 1650.
Other colonial areas besides New England have been the subject of detailed discussion of immigrants. For example, Amandus Johnson includes a lengthy appendix in volume two of The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638-1664 (1911, reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969) which identifies the officers, soldiers, servants, and settlers of the New Sweden colony during 1638 through 1656. This details the ships used, names of passengers, dates of arrival, male inhabitants in 1643-44 as well as a list of surviving settlers from 1648.
While the information on the families in these, and dozens of other early sources has often been superseded by more recent works, these sources still provide a good overview of early research about the families covered.
However, the concept of genealogical dictionaries is still popular, and some of the best recent ones are compiled with excellent scholarship, and a focus on immigrant groups. An excellent example of meticulous research to reconstruct an accurate list of passengers is George E. McCracken, The Welcome Claimants Proved, Disproved and Doubtful with an Account of Some of Their Descendants (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970). In this work, McCracken took some twenty or more versions of the passenger list for this early Pennsylvania-bound ship and carefully analyzed the names in contemporary sources to determine who really were among the first settlers.
Another excellent compiled source, praised for its documentation and careful compilation, is Henry Z. Jones, The Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710 (2 vols. Universal City, Ca.: by the author, 1985). Jones, working with original records in New York and Germany identifies all of the immigrants who arrived in this first of major German groups to come to America. He then defines their family in New York and, for about sixty percent of them, identifies the town and family relations in Germany they left behind.
Early Germans also settled in Virginia, and many researchers have contributed towards an understanding of their origins in the old country. One useful example is the series of twelve brief monographs (booklets) by Johni Cerny and Gary J. Zimmerman, Before Germanna: The Origins and Ancestry of Those Affiliated with the Second Germanna Colony of Virginia (Bountiful, Utah: American Genealogical Lending Library, 1990). This series discusses each of the major founding families of this colony, exploring their ancestry in Germany and their descendants in the colonies.
The most comprehensive collection, for its scope, coverage, and thoroughness is Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 (Boston: New England Historic and Genealogical Society, 1995). This three-volume genealogical dictionary fully discusses about 900 heads of households who settled in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies through 1633. Anderson has explored every available source, both compiled and original in all of the early towns, as well as the colonial records. The discussion of each family runs from just two pages to ten or more and includes the immigrants documented activities in the colonies, his estate, children, associated, and of course vital information, including, where proven, his origin in England. Also of note is that his research is continuing into arrivals after 1633.
Most users will see this effort as just a tremendous genealogical compendium, forgetting that the very people he discusses were indeed the first immigrants to New England. It is, however, an excellent example of the variety of compiled sources dealing with various immigrant groups. While few other sources attain the excellence and scope of Anderson's work, there are many other similar sources that will greatly assist your research about an immigrant as well as his origin.
Often a researcher learns much about an immigrant, and his or her family, but the amount of information does not justify a book. Sometimes they have simply learned more than was published in an earlier family history. Diligent researchers want to share their findings so others do not have to make the same searches. In such situations, the researchers often write an article for a genealogical journal.
Several major genealogical journals routinely include articles about the origins of colonial immigrants. The American Genealogist is one of the preeminent colonial American journals. Immigrants are often also discussed in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and the New England Historical and Genealogical Register among others. One of the best ways to seek these kinds of articles is to consult the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) available at most libraries. In that index, select the surname search and type in the surname of the immigrant. Narrow your search with his given name.
Collections of Other Researchers
Of course, not all previous research has been published in an easy-to-find manner. Many persons never published their findings, but may have found an immigrant's origin. Such information may be difficult to find, but not impossible. Try these steps for acquiring information collected by other researchers:
- Begin by inquiring at the state historical society where the immigrant lived. Ask if there are any manuscript collections of genealogical research about the early families. Often a professional or amateur genealogist donated their files to the local society upon retirement (or their family did so after their death). For example, the state historical societies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have dozens of collections by prominent genealogists of earlier years. The Gerberich collection in Pennsylvania is almost solely about the German families who settled that state during the Colonial era.
- Search the Family History Library Catalog on-line . Type in the name of the state, and search under the category "genealogy." The collection mentioned previously, like so many of these historical societies, is available on microfilm through the Family History Library. These records are usually able to be loaned to a nearby Family History Center.
- Search the Internet for repositories in the states your ancestor lived. Then contact your local public library to see if they have interlibrary loan capabilities to order microfilmed materials.
The same excellent care and documentation evident in new compilations about immigrant groups has begun to appear in discussing groups of emigrants, particularly those Germans who settled Pennsylvania in the 18th Century.
Leading this effort has been Annette K. Burgert with several brief pamphlets regarding the origins of certain German emigrants, as well as several definitive volumes discussing, in great detail, the origins and families of several hundred emigrants. Her first two volumes, Eighteenth Century Emigrants from German-Speaking Lands to North America [Publications of the Pennsylvania German Society, Vols. 16 and 19] (Breinigsville, Pa.: The Pennsylvania German Society, 1983, 1985) cover The Northern Kraichgau (Volume 1) and The Western Palatinate (Volume 2) and document at least 1,100 emigrants with detailed discussions of their families, both in Germany and in North America.
While these volumes detail families from areas of heavy German emigration, a later volume covers a less popular area. Eighteenth Century Emigrants from the Northern Alsace to America (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1992) covers only a portion of modern France from which at least 628 persons emigrated, still providing the depth of information and documentation all researchers seek. Burgert co-authored a similar volume with Henry Z. Jones, Westerwald to America: Some 18th Century German Immigrants (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1989) which documents 265 emigrant families or individuals from one region in southern Germany who settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
The further back in time your immigrant came, the more likely that others have done significant research about him. Your task is to locate that information. While previous researchers will not always have identified the home town of the immigrant, they may have. Whatever they have learned will make your research that much easier.
1. Locate one of the sources provided in this lesson.
2. Evaluate the clues provided in that source.
3. Consider whether any of these sources could lead to greater success in your own research.