Finding the country and city of origin
Finding an ancestor's country and city of origin can be one of the most rewarding parts of genealogical research. In addition to finding out where your ancestors came from, you may end up locating long-lost family overseas, giving you a closer connection to the rest of the world. Finding this information can be difficult, but not impossible in most cases.
If you can't find information at home, perhaps on letters or passports, good places to find an individual's city and country of origin include passenger arrival lists, vital records, census records, military records, and naturalization records. Passenger arrival lists may be the best place to find the city and country of origin, because these records were made at the time of arrival into the United States.
After 1820, the U.S. required that all immigrants provide a certain amount of information about themselves before they entered the country. This information was recorded on passenger lists, and was normally collected on board the ship that they sailed on. Different lists had different types of information, but they usually included the country of origin, date of arrival, port of entry and port of exit.
Many passenger lists are available through National Archives, but you must at least know the individual's name and approximate date of arrival into the United States. Indexes to passenger lists can make finding your ancestors easier. Check your local public and genealogy libraries for passenger list indexes. Passenger lists and indexes are also available through larger libraries, such as the Family History Libraries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For more information, see the topic Country, town, or parish of foreign birth.