Trace the Story of Your Immigrant Ancestors
We introduced something new to RootsTech in 2019: the Power Hour! These 1-hour presentations started at 8:00 a.m., and three genealogists came together to teach on a common topic in short 20-minute presentations.
One of the Power Hour options on Saturday was presented by Susan R Miller, D. Joshua Taylor, and Frederick Wertz of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. These three industry professionals discussed 3 steps to follow to help trace the story of your immigrant ancestors.
First up, D. Joshua Taylor discussed the importance of determining immigration methods, dates, and points of entry. The first thing Taylor mentions is that it is important to consider different waves of immigration that happened. Further, understanding the reason(s) your ancestors immigrated to the United States, including political reasons, religious reasons, prosperity, employment, and forced or involuntary immigration. Taylor also suggests that you pay attention to communities and patterns in the United States; these can help give you clues as to where your ancestors went. Finally, Taylor encourages listeners to consider the limitations and realities of researching these immigrants. Some challenges include scarcity of records, accessibility, cultural differences, language and handwriting, pre-existing notions, and traditions. Some of the realities he suggests you pay attention to are stops they may have made along the way, chain migration, spellings and surnames, and context.
Next up we heard from Ashley Lish. Lish’s presentation was all about using passenger lists and customs records. These records can help you discover the path your ancestor took, especially early on in the history of the United States, because there were few barriers to immigration. It is important for researchers to understand what records were kept, who made them, where they are currently kept, and where you can access them. Lish also explains that it is important to understand the history of the ports of entry—and don’t be afraid to use wildcards in your search query.
Wrapping up this Power Hour session, Frederick Wertz discussed naturalization records and other resources. Wertz begins by explaining that these types of records can be valuable resources to help you understand the pathway your ancestor took after arriving. Naturalization is a 2-step process that is taken to become a citizen of the United States. This would have been a big deal to your ancestors. This process has evolved greatly over time and is a 2-part process involving multiple rounds of paperwork. Wertz encourages listeners to not get tied to one date, and to make sure to look at both federal and state censuses.