Immigrations records are a list of names of people who immigrated and became citizens of a new country. Usually, these were written on a ship’s passenger list at the port where they arrived.
Immigration and emigration are similar in that they both involve traveling from one place to another, but there is one major difference between the two. “Immigration” is when you arrive in a country, while “emigration” is when you depart from a country.
For example, let’s say you are a U.S. citizen and you travel to a European country. As you leave your home country, you’d be called an “emigrant”. But, as you arrive in that European nation, you’d be called an “immigrant”.
The content in immigration records may vary depending on when the record was created, what country it was recorded in, and the mode of transportation. That said, there are some general pieces of information you’d likely find across different records:
Any passenger list before 1820 includes:
Immigration records between the early 1800s and late 1800s (referred to as a list of custom passengers) included:
From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the information on the list expanded to include the following:
And in the early 1900s, the list included the following details:
For other countries, the contents of the immigration records may vary. But generally, they include the following:
You can find immigration records at the National Archives or file a request through the United States government’s Freedom of Information Act. This is most useful if you’re trying to find immigrant ancestors in the U.S via immigration records, naturalization records, visas, alien files, enemy alien records, and other documents.
Though, it’s important to note that only some records have been digitized and made available online. Most records are still only available in paper or microfilm format.
There are also online genealogical records from both the United States and other countries. However, most of these records require you to know the year your immigrant ancestor arrived in the country and where exactly they settled.
For U.S. citizens, the FOIA or the Freedom of Information Act allows people to access their immigration information in government records. Through this, you can obtain copies of your immigration records, including identifying documents of your ancestors such as birth certificates and proof of original residency.
To request this information, you have to file a G-639 Form by yourself or through a lawyer. This form ensures that you get accurate information and relevant immigration records. After that, you need to fill up a request for a FOIA stating the purpose of your request.
You can use immigration records to learn the name of your immigrant ancestor, their birthplace, and other interesting information about your family. Here’s how:
Once you learn the name of your ancestor’s place of birth, search local records for any information about them. Maybe they were in the local news, or perhaps they were from a prominent family in the area.
After that, make sure the information you have is accurate. There were a lot of people with similar first names and last names, so you have to do your due diligence here.
Double-check your information by asking your relatives about any information they might have about your ancestor, such as their hobbies or specific physical features. If available, you can match family photos of them to pictures contained in immigration records.
When there’s a knowledge gap or a lot of information to sift through, it’s very likely that you’ll encounter challenges during your genealogy work. It’s normal to experience setbacks while reconnecting with your immigrant ancestry, and you can get around many of these by being persistent and creative in your search.
When you hit a roadblock, try looking for unconventional clues, such as the name of the ship your ancestor boarded or any family members you may not have known about. Then, attack your search from a new angle and reconnect the dots later.