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 Tracing Immigrant Origins

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This second lesson in pre-1820 immigration studies focuses on compiled records. Several unknowledgeable family historians scorn compiled works because they are secondary sources, some are undocumented, and several are poorly researched. We hope you will not take that stance. Each book, as well as article, needs to be evaluated on its own merits and should not be lauded or scorned simply because it is a compiled source.

In addition, during this time period it would be nearly impossible to find the original immigration records. As we discussed in the previous lesson, there are virtually no actual passenger lists surviving from the pre-1820 time period. Indeed, in most cases, no list was even kept. On the other hand, the genealogical interest in the residents, and especially the immigrants, of the British colonies for this time period is unequaled in other places or time periods. Although only about one million immigrants arrived during this time period (less than 2% of all immigrants to North America), each of those immigrants has significantly more descendants (on average), then those who arrived at a later time period.

Because of that interest, many individuals have focused their efforts and publications on discussions of immigrants. Where such sources have been compiled by knowledgeable and experienced researchers, they provide excellent, documented help to the family historian.

At first, such interest usually focused on a single immigrant, and his (seldom her) descendants. This lead to the creation of thousands of individual family history books, especially popular at the beginning of the 20th century, but still popular at the end of that century. Other compilations focus on groups of immigrants who settled a specific area, while some work from the old country, discussing groups who left a foreign area for the new world.

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