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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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The past six lessons were the first of 20 projected lessons in this intermediate course on Tracing Immigrant Origins. The course focuses on using American records from before the 20th century in order to learn where an immigrant lived before coming to America. This means than in every lesson our goal is to discover the sources which have in the past contained the original home town or parish of a foreign-born individual.

Pre-Twentieth Century research is easily divided into three time periods:

  • After the Civil War (which we covered in the past six lessons)
  • From 1820 through the Civil War, 1865 (which is the focus for the next several lessons)
  • Pre-1820 research (where we will complete our intermediate course)

The sources and strategies for research vary, depending upon the time period when the immigrant came. Later immigrants (20th century) are recorded in many sources that were not kept in earlier years.

As we move back in time, researching an immigrant's origins becomes more difficult. Fewer records were kept, many records were lost, and those that were kept were not as complete as later records. For example, passenger lists, which began to be kept in the United States in 1820, usually did not show the passenger's towns of origin until the 1890s.

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