Finding your immigrant ancestor

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How Do I Begin?

Research your immigrant ancestor like you would any other ancestor you are tracing.

Write down what you know

Often, researchers have heard stories from their parents, grandparents, and other close relations giving some information on the ethnicity of the family. Write down any of those stories you may recollection. Think through holiday traditions you may have celebrated growing up. Some traditions may have their origins from the "Old Country". Some foods may have ethnic ties.

Search your home for clues

There may be a trunk in the attic full of important papers or a closet that may contain information on your immigrant ancestor. Maybe there are some compiled genealogies, journals, diaries, Family Bibles, or valuable documents such as passports, birth or baptism certificates or visas in the home that may lead to some clues.

Exhaust all possible resources here in the United States

When trying to find the roots of your immigrant ancestor, it is important that you exhaust all possible resources here in the United States. These resources include but are not limited to:

  • Newspapers, including ethnic newspapers
  • Obituaries
  • Vital records
  • U.S. Census records
  • Passenger lists
  • Court records
  • Church records
  • Family papers
  • Community histories

Cluster Research

When you are not successful in finding the specific birth place of your ancestor, look at the FAN club. This acronym refers to the friends, associates, and neighbors of your ancestor. Your ancestor did not live in a bubble. He or she will more than likely live in a neighborhood, attend church, go to school, participate in ethnic societies, and surround himself or herself with others who share the language and culture. There is a possibility that tracing individuals affiliated with your ancestor or ancestors' families may lead to clues to the birth place of your ancestor.

Chain Migration

It was quite common for one person to be sent to the United States. The first immigrant may settle, find a trade to earn some money, then send money home to bring the next family member over. More than likely, the first immigrant may have been enticed through correspondences or propaganda saying how wonder it was in the States.

DNA Testing

DNA testing, regardless of the company you test with, usually includes some ethnicity percentage of your DNA. This may provide some clues to your nationality.