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Wednesday, 05 November 2008
Searching for Early Immigrants
Posted by Diane
. I always get discouraged when I read about immigration records, because my ancestors came over sometime before 1790. I’ve checked all the books at my library, and a few have my family’s last name, but none of the first names match my ancestor’s. Is there any other place to look? A
. The government didn’t began requiring ships to keep passenger lists until 1820, so before then, few immigration records exist. Here are some sources you can check:
- Philadelphia passengers from 1729-1808, listed online, with the originals on microfilm at the Pennsylvania state archives.
- Though not passenger lists, records of an ancestor’s court case could provide plenty of immigration information. Colonial court records often are in state archives; you also may find some microfilmed by the Family History Library (FHL). Run a place search of the online catalog on your ancestor’s county or town. Visit your local branch Family History Center to rent FHL microfilm.
- During the British Colonial period, non-English immigrants had to apply for citizenship, often by signing oaths of allegiance upon arrival. Look for these, too, at state archives and on FHL microfilm.
- Newspapers in port cities such as Philadelphia and Boston may mention arriving ships. The subscription service GenealogyBank has many Colonial-era papers; historical societies in those towns also are likely to have papers on microfilm. You can use the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site to identify newspaper titles to look for.
- The Great Migration project, hosted by NewEnglandAncestors.org, publishes a Web site, book series and newsletter with information about early immigrants. A 1620-to-1640 surname index is free; most of the information is by subscription.
Keep in mind that ancestors' names aren't always recorded as we think they should be. Your immigrant relative may have been recorded under his middle name or a nickname rather than his first name; or the name you know him as may be the middle name.
Continue researching your ancestor in whatever records you can find, even those unrelated to his immigration. If a resource helps you pinpoint his place of origin, you can start researching his life in his ancestral homeland—and then maybe you’ll learn when he departed.Learn about other resources that may provide early immigration information on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
and in the July 2007 Family Tree Magazine
Wednesday, 05 November 2008 16:20:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Posted by Diane
What advice can you offer on genealogy in Belgium? My husband’s family came from there, and I would like to know where I can go to find information—no one even knows when or how the family got from Belgium to the United States. All I’ve found so far is it was in the late 1800s.
Based on the problem you’ve described, it sounds as though you really should be focusing on researching the family in the United States rather than Belgium. In order to cross the pond, you first have to pinpoint the Belgian immigrant.
So first, you’ll have to learn who the immigrant was, when he came to America, and the specific town he came from. To do that, you’ll need to thoroughly trace each generation of the family in America, starting with your husband.
You might try asking your husband’s relatives if they know any family stories that might provide additional clues, or if they have any family papers that could contain leads—a naturalization record or a family Bible, for example.
A good next step would be searching federal census records for each generation of your husband’s family: Beginning in 1850, censuses list each person’s place of birth. So if a family member did in fact immigrate during the late 1800s, census records should indicate that. Later censuses even tell you parents’ birthplaces.
If your husband’s ancestor became a citizen in the late 19th or early 20th century, his naturalization documents will likely tell you the town where he last lived in Belgium. Obituaries often provide clues, too.
Your best bet is to check every source you can about each previous generation, as you never know where a lead is going to turn up. That includes records about the siblings of your husband’s ancestors: Maybe your husband’s forebear didn’t apply for citizenship, for example, but his brother did. (See our feature on naturalization records in the May 2008
I’d also recommend you look to Belgian genealogy organizations and networks, such as the Belgian Roots Project
, for help. Since immigrants tended to settle in the same places as their countrymen and leave their homeland for the same reasons, these groups could provide historical and social context to help guide your search. You may also be able to connect with cousins through these organizations’ queries and databases. Browse our online Belgian Toolkit
to find more resources and Web sites.
By following all these leads, you should be able to find clues to your husband’s Belgian ancestry—just don’t try to cross the pond prematurely.
Belgian roots | immigration | international research | naturalization
Wednesday, 30 January 2008 17:51:55 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Thursday, 08 November 2007
Posted by Allison
Both of my grandfathers were born in Spain and left in the late 1800s or early 1900s. I know where and when they were born, but would like to find a ship’s manifest of their journey from Spain to Cuba, and information on earlier generations. I visited a Web site you recommended in the September 2007
issue (“Record Highs and Lows”), but it’s in Spanish—with no English version—so I couldn’t use it. Is there another way to research Spanish immigrant relatives? A Web site that’s helpful to us Americanos
You’ve run into one of the key challenges of research in the old country: the language barrier. Although some countries have Web sites with information in English, most of their resources—and more important, their records—naturally are going to be in the native tongue.
That doesn’t mean you have to become fluent in Spanish to trace your overseas roots. But you will want to brush up on some basics, especially family history-related terms. Many foreign genealogical records are formulaic enough that you usually can decipher them with knowledge of key words such as birth, marriage, death, mother, father, etc., and a translation dictionary. For starters, try the Family History Library’s (FHL) helpful Spanish Genealogical Word List
And of course, the Internet isn’t the only place to look for records of your Spanish ancestors. The FHL has microfilmed numerous Spanish documents. Find ones relevant to your family tree by searching the online catalog
for the town, municipality or province where your ancestors lived and the port they emigrated from. Knowing where your grandfathers were born gives you a head start on tracing earlier generations—you already know where to focus your search.
You also can write to archives and record offices in Spain for records. See our how-to guide to researching in Spain and Portugal (in the June 2004 Family Tree Magazine
) for guidance on where to write, and consult the FHL’s Spanish Letter-Writing Guide
for help composing your correspondence in Spanish (you’re more likely to get a response that way).
Some other resources you might find helpful: GenForum’s Spain message board
, where you can pick the brains of other genealogists researching there, and books
by Hispanic genealogy expert George R. Ryskamp. The Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research has a good list of Web links
to explore. Consider joining a Hispanic genealogical society in your area to take advantage of its resources and members’ knowledge.
Hispanic roots | immigration | international research
Thursday, 08 November 2007 17:59:47 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Monday, 22 October 2007
Shipwrecked Passenger Lists
Posted by Diane
I can't find a passenger list for the 1738 voyage of the Princess Augusta
, which sailed from Rotterdam, Holland, and wrecked in December of that year on Block Island, RI. What happens to passenger lists of ships that never reach their final destination?A
Passenger lists weren’t common until after 1820, when the United States passed a law requiring them, so it's likely one didn’t exist in the first place. After 1820, lists were created at the port of departure as passengers obtained tickets. The lists traveled with the captain to the arrival port, where immigration officials matched up names on the list with passengers coming off the boat. If the ship went under, the list probably did, too. (For help finding other records of pre-1820 passengers, see the July 2007 Family Tree Magazine
and the Web Extra
You may be able to learn something about who was on the Princess Augusta
, though. The wreck is the basis for John Greenleaf Whittier's poem called The Palatine
(so-called because the ship carried many people from the Palatinate region), published in The Atlantic Monthly
According to a Boston-based news site
, surviving Princess Augusta
crew members testified in a deposition that during the voyage, “provisions were scarce, half the crew had died, and others were hobbled by the extreme cold.” After the ship ran aground in a snowstorm, its captain, Andrew Brook, encouraged those on board to take what they could.
The deposition was reprinted in 1939 by E.L. Freeman Co. The short book is called Depositions of officers of the Palatine ship "Princess Augusta": wrecked on Block Island, 27th December, 1738 and which was apparently the "Palatine" of Whittier's poem
. You can find it at large libraries (try to borrow it through interlibrary loan of yours doesn’t have it).
You also may find more information in articles such as "The Emigration Season of 1738—Year of the Destroying Angels,"
in The Report, A Journal of German-American History
, volume 40 (1986), from the Society of the History of the Germans in Maryland
grew out of the incident. According to one, Block Island residents nursed rescued passengers back to health; the second says islanders lured the ship onto the shoals with false lights for the purpose of pillaging it, then set it afire. Supposedly, apparitions of a burning Princess Augusta haunt the island today.
Monday, 22 October 2007 15:06:13 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Friday, 21 September 2007
Convicts and Indentured Servitude
Posted by Diane
My fifth-great-grandfather Nathaniel Tenpenny was convicted of a crime in England in 1764 and sentenced to seven years of indentured servitude in America. He was transported aboard the Tryal
the same year. He’s in the 1790 Rowan County, NC, census with his family, but I haven’t been able to find out their names or anything else about him.A
An indentured servant was “bound” to a property owner in exchange for passage to America. Many people indentured themselves. Your ancestor was part of a popular criminal justice trend in England: Punishment by "transportation," or exile to work in America (after the Revolutionary War, Australia became the primary destination).
After England passed the Transportation Act in 1718, courts there sent approximately 60,000 convicts—called "the King's passengers"—to America.
It sounds like you found the information on Nathaniel Tenpenny’s conviction
for stealing tools online at The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London, 1674 to 1834
. That site has accounts of more than 100,000 trials at London's central criminal court.
Look for your ancestor’s name in two books by Peter Wilson Coldham:The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775
and Emigrants in Chains, 1607-1776.
Both are $45 from Clearfield Co. You may learn the port where his ship arrived and other details, giving you a starting point.
There’s a good chance your ancestor served his sentence in Maryland or Virginia. According to a 2004 NPR report
, 90 percent of the King’s Passengers served their sentences in Maryland and Virginia.
Laws governed indentured servitude (servants who tried to run away or became pregnant, for example, might have their contracts extended), so look for
contracts and other documents among court records
where your ancestor served. If you learn whom he
was indentured to, check the local historical society and university
archives for collections of personal papers—they may mention
To narrow Nathaniel's place of service, research him backward from his most recent known location—North Carolina in the 1790 census. Look for Colonial censuses, land and tax records. Presumably Nathaniel would've been released in the early 1770s. Could he have returned to England temporarily? Stayed in America and fought in the Revolutionary War?
Look for his will, too, which would likely give the names of his children and wife. For additional resources, see the Colonial research article in the February 2006 Family Tree Magazine
To learn more about prisoners and indentured servants, explore these sites:
black sheep ancestors | court records | immigration
Friday, 21 September 2007 21:31:50 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Immigrants Who Didn't Arrive at Ellis Island
Posted by Diane
Q My grandfather Anthony Borges was an immigrant from the island Sao Jorge in the Azores [Portugal], and I’m looking for records of his arrival in America. I’ve tried Ellis Island and found nothing. (Posted by Mumsy on the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum.)
A Ellis Island is the best-known US immigration port, so many people assume their ancestors arrived there.
Don't stop your search at Ellis Island. Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco also were major immigration ports, but immigrants could arrive in just about any coastal city.
You didn’t say what year your grandfather came to America. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954. And the passenger database you searched covers only arrivals from 1892 to 1924 (you can find this information in the site's search tips).
Sometimes database creators had a hard time reading the original records, so passengers’ names might be misspelled. If you're sure your grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, search for alternate spellings, or use Stephen P. Morse’s Ellis Island One-Step search form.
If you know your ancestor’s port, you can find his passenger record on microfilm at the National Archives and Records Administration, the Family History Library and most large public libraries.
What if you don’t know the port? You can narrow the possibilities by researching his life in the United States. You also may get lucky with a searchable immigration database. The subscription site Ancestry.com has one; a version called Ancestry Library Edition is free at many libraries.
My quick Ancestry.com search returned a Canadian border-crossing record (below) for an Anthony Borges born in 1904 in St. Marie in the Azores. This man arrived first in Canada and traveled to Niagara Fall, NY, on Sept. 7, 1933.
This was the first of many matches for people named Antonio Borges, so if the man in this record isn't your grandfather, try an Ancestry.com search.
Tuesday, 14 August 2007 20:25:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Friday, 25 May 2007
It's Only Natural
Posted by Allison
Several branches of my family came to United States in the 1860s from Sweden and Germany and England—before Ellis Island. Were these people automatically made citizens or did they have to apply for naturalization? Where would one go to learn of this procedure?A
Any immigrant coming to the United States in the mid-1800s would have had to be naturalized to become a citizen. The process was twofold: First, the newcomer would have filed a declaration of intent for citizenship (referred to as “first papers”). After fulfilling the five-year residency requirement, he could then file his petition for naturalization. He had to sign these “final papers”—so if you can find that petition, you’ll have the added treat of seeing your ancestor’s John Hancock.
When male immigrants were naturalized, their children also automatically received citizenship. Between 1855 and 1922, their wives did, too.
The federal government standardized the naturalization process (including the paperwork) in 1906. Since your ancestors arrived before that, they could've filed for citizenship in any court—they might even have started the process in one location, then completed it in another. To cover all your bases, you’ll need to hunt for records at the local, county and state levels.
Start with a place search of the Family History Library catalog
for locations where your ancestors might have petitioned, and look under the naturalization heading to identify records available on microfilm. Next, check archives at all three levels. Some archives and other official stewards of naturalization records have posted indexes and documents online: See Joe Beine’s state-by-state directory of links
is also helpful.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services has copies of all post-1906 naturalization records. To request those, download and fill out form G-639
and mail it to US Citizenship and Immigration Serivces FOIA/PA, 111 Massachusetts Ave.,
Washington, DC 20529 (be sure to write “Freedom of Information Act Request” on the envelope).
Naturalization records can be a gateway to finding your ancestor’s passenger arrival list, as they often tell port and date of immigration (though the earlier the records, generally the less detail they contain). In fact, that’s how I confirmed the family story of my great-grandfather Henry Essel’s 1888 arrival through Philadelphia, enabling me to locate the ship manifest recording him and his family.
You can learn more about the naturalization process in They Became Americans
by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry, $19.95) and The Family Tree Guide To Finding Your Ellis Island Ancestors
by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (Family Tree Books, $19.99). For Carmack’s 10-step guide to tracing immigrant ancestors, see our Yearbook 2003
issue. Library and Archives Canada
provides information on Canadian naturalizations.
immigration | naturalization
Friday, 25 May 2007 23:06:48 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)