Immigration & Naturalization


When did you ancestors come to this country? Was it during the Colonial period or during the Potato Famine? Why did they come; for religious or political reasons, to avoid military conscription? Were they indentured servants, convicted felons, slaves, political prisoners? Whatever the reason, you have a good opportunity to find where they came from, the departure point, the port of arrival, and who else was on the passenger ship list. There was no law before 1820 that ships passenger lists should be kept but some records do exist. Records of ships' manifests exist from 1820-1959 but not all of these manifests are indexed by name. Some records have been published while the majority is unindexed in the National Archives. For some years and ports, the National Archives has soundexed the passenger ship lists.  Soundex is an index by sound of name, i.e., all variations of MOORE, MOOR, MORE, MOUR, etc. are grouped together.

By the end of the nineteenth century, more than seventy percent of all immigrants into the United States were coming from central, eastern, and southern Europe. If your ancestor came into this country during this time period, you may find them in the Ellis Island records. There is a searchable database of over twenty-two million names of immigrants, passengers, and crewmembers that came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York from 1892 to 1924. See: www.ellisislandrecords.org.

Remember the first rule of genealogy? Start with yourself and work backwards in time. This rule applies when searching for immigration records. It is advisable to find the naturalization record first. The information on the naturalization records may lead you to the date of arrival and name of the ship. Most often a person naturalized in the town they settled some time after arrival. Naturalization was a two step process, the declaration of intention or "first papers" and then some years later, the petition for citizenship or "final papers."  They could start the process in one town, move on to another, and file the final papers in a third town. Papers could be filed in any court. The “first papers” often contain more information than the “final papers.”

The census will help determine if your ancestor was naturalized. See the 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920 or 1930 census records which have citizenship questions. From 1900 on, the year of immigration is on the census record. In 1920, the census taker asked for the year of naturalization.

Help Me!  Find my ancestor on a passenger ship list.

Help Me!  Find when my ancestor was naturalized.

Help Me!  Discover my ancestor’s country and city of origin.

Help Me!  Obtain the naturalization record for my ancestor.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.