Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tips from the Pros: Finding Immigrant Origins in the Old Country-A Dozen Possibilities, from Loretto D. Szucs

1. Death certificates of immigrants will often include the name of the town in which they were born in the “Old World,” and depending on the time and place, some marriage and birth records will give you the exact birthplaces of their parents.

2. Records pertaining to your ancestor’s relatives and even close friends may point to their mutual hometown or birthplace. Family members and friends who emigrated from the same place usually settled close to one another in their new homeland.

3. Gravestone inscriptions sometimes include the birthplace of an immigrant. If your ancestor’s grave did not include that clue, be sure to look at graves of relatives or close friends who may have come from the same place.

4. Obituaries frequently provide the exact town in which the subject was born or lived in their home country.

5. World War I Draft Records include birthplaces of adult males who were living in the U.S.–even if they were foreign born.

6. Naturalization records, particularly those filed after 1906, include birthplaces, and often also include birthplaces of spouses and children. Although naturalization records filed prior to 1906 generally do not include specific birthplaces, there are many exceptions, depending on where and when an alien filed for citizenship. In cases where an ancestor was not naturalized prior to WWII, alien registration papers (available through CSIS) also provide precise birthplace information.

8. Ethnic collections including published histories of specific nationalities and fraternal organizations, neighborhood collections in libraries, and foreign language newspapers may include hard-to-find biographical sketches. Special collections like Immigrant Savings Bank found at also include the exact birthplaces of individuals who had accounts in that bank. Irish, German, Polish, and other ethnic genealogical societies have collected and indexed unique collections of biographical materials.

8. Church Records often include the birthplaces of parents and those godparents and witnesses of marriages. Often entire congregations emigrated together from Europe and founded churches in their new homeland so by understanding the history of a particular church, it may be possible to determine the origins of the entire group.

9. Old letters, photographs, journals and diaries as well as old world souvenirs often contain clues to our ancestors’ past. If you are not fortunate enough to have inherited any of these items, it may be worth asking older relatives or cousins who may be willing to share information or copies of documents or photographs.

10. Old Newspapers have a lot more to offer than obituaries, consider wedding and engagement announcements as well as other events that may have earned immigrants a place in the social pages. Wedding Anniversaries, business accomplishments, visiting relatives, travel abroad, social gatherings, club news, awards and accident reports are also places to look for immigrant origins.

11. Probate and other records generated in the courts sometimes include the birthplaces and former homes of immigrants. Many unmarried immigrants bequeathed their belongings to relatives in the old country, thereby making it possible to determine home towns.

12. Online sources such as published local and families histories, family trees, and message boards are also worth searching for leads that will help you determine an immigrant’s homeland.

-Taken from

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