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Tip 15: Researching in European Emigrant Records

by Raymond S. Wright III, Ph.D., AG
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Research Overseas Without Leaving Home
Before you jet off to your family's country of origin, find out what you can do to research your overseas roots without a passport. This tip goes over how to search for European records in your local Family History Center and three ways to get in touch with archivists in your ancestral homeland.
Where did emigrants to America come from? The largest source was Europe. The most common places of embarkation were ports on the North Sea, Baltic Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea. There are a few border cities, like Strasbourg, France, that served as conduits to ports. Port authorities and customs officials at border crossing stations maintained records of emigrants traveling through their jurisdictions. City officials and inn keepers also kept records of emigrants. Where are these records today and how can researchers use them?

Microfilmed copies of some passenger departure lists are available at LDS family history centers. The largest collections are from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway; and France. To find emigrant records from a specific country, researchers need only use the Family History Library Catalog-Locality Search. A search under the name of the port city at which ancestors embarked will show whether or not the Family History Library has microfilmed passenger departure lists or other port records naming emigrants. Passenger lists are described under the catalog topic Emigration/Immigration.

Often lists of departing emigrants are also kept by local police. If the Family History Library has filmed these records they will appear under the name of the port city and under the topic Police Records. If no records appear in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the port city, researchers should search under the name of the capital city for the province or state in which the port is located.

If historians cannot find the emigrant records they seek in the Family History Library Catalog, they should turn to archives in port cities and in the capital cities of the provinces and states in which the ports are located. Letters to archivists with questions about passenger lists and other records created by local authorities to track emigrants will reveal that there are significant collections of such records in many European countries. But how do genealogists find the addresses of archives in other countries than their own? Three approaches can be used.

The simplest is to call the embassy of the country from which ancestors emigrated. They will be able to provide addresses of archives or of offices that can deal with the researchers questions.

The second approach is to visit a local library and ask the reference librarian if the latest edition of the book The World of Learning is available there. The World of Learning lists the addresses of universities, libraries, historical societies, and archives for most of the countries of the world. Although city archives and some provincial or state archives may not be listed, the addresses of the national archives will be found in this volume. Family historians can write to the national archives to find the address of the specific archive with records they need.

The third approach utilizes local LDS family history centers. The Family History Library has a large collection of archival inventories and directories to archives from many countries. A Family History Library Catalog locality search under the name of the country where ancestors originated and under the topic Archives — Directories or Archives — Inventories will produce list of books with the needed information. These books can be sought in other libraries with the help of the interlibrary loan librarian at any public or college library.

About the Author
Raymond S. Wright III is a professor at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah), where he has taught courses in family history and genealogy since 1990. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Utah. An Accredited Genealogist of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wright was manager of library operations there from 1979-1990. During his employment, Wright did numerous research assignments in archives and libraries in the United States and many foreign countries. He is a specialist on genealogical records in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Wright has served twice as chairman of the American Library Association's Genealogy Committee. He is also author of The Genealogist's Handbook: Modern Methods for Researching Family History.

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Previous Research Tip: Searching for Ancestors in U.S. Passenger Lists
Next Research Tip: European Censuses
How-To Article: European Migration and Your Family Origins

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