Read about the travels of a group of people, the success of a business venture and more — and discover details that might shed some light on your family story.
Until the day he died at age 95, my father insisted that he came to America when he was three years old. He also insisted his ship arrived at and he was processed through Ellis Island. I searched and searched for a passenger list that agreed with his assertions but I kept coming up cold. Finally, when I searched beyond Ellis Island, I learned why…
New York’s Emigrant Savings Bank, founded in 1850, collected personal details about account holders that can help your research today. Read
Ever wonder why so many people in your ancestor’s neighborhood hail from the same homeland? It’s called chain migration. Read
Ellis Island wasn’t the only port in the sea. Learn why you should check other locations too. Read
Get a quick overview of American immigration and the America where your ancestor arrived. Read
Connect with other people searching for their immigration story on our Immigration and Emigration message board.
A spelling variation doesn’t mean you’ve found the wrong person: immigrants often Americanized their names either before or after naturalizing. Some indexes note alternate names, too, so look carefully.
While you won’t learn your ancestor’s eye color here, these details will help you request the record from an archive.
Where your ancestor’s naturalization took place — key in locating the original naturalization file.
Add these details to your searches at Ancestry.com to help you locate your ancestors in other record collections. Also, your ancestors may have belonged to a group, lodge or church in their U.S. town associated with their homeland or nationality.
Naturalization indexes typically include the date of naturalization, and will sometimes also include date of birth and the date the immigrant arrived in the U.S.
Invaluable in locating a passenger list, but remember that an ancestor may have traveled to and from America more than once, so look at all possibilities.
Friends, neighbors, cousins, coworkers, in-laws and other acquaintances may have witnessed your ancestor’s naturalization. Research these names to see if they’re related in some way or share ties to a church, neighborhood or occupation; also try these names when you can’t find your own ancestor in the census — they could be living nearby.
“To the day he died at age 95, my father insisted that he came to America through Ellis Island at the age of 3. Constant searches for his record there came up cold … until I joined Ancestry.com and opened up the search to other ports, too. Lo and behold, I found my Dad, his slightly older brother and sister and their parents arriving in Baltimore. As I continue tracing family lines that I discovered thanks to this Baltimore landing, I’m forever in awe at how my ancestors drew upon courage and a hope for a better life in America for them and their future generations!”
— Jerry Cohen
Lake Oswego, OR
Founded in 1850, the Emigrant Savings Bank was established by members of the Irish Emigrant Society following the huge wave of Irish immigration that resulted from the Irish potato famine. While most depositors were of Irish descent, this wasn’t a requirement. To identify account holders, the bank asked for personal details that are pure gold to family historians. You’ll find them in four kinds of records:
Test books (1850-68) record the depositor’s name, account number, occupation, residence and remarks — which can include names of other family members, immigration information or even birth or residence information in Ireland.
Changes made to an account were recorded in Transfer, Signature, and Test Books (1850-83). These could include a new signature, address, or account holder. You might also discover occupation, birth year, birthplace, and family relations.
Deposit-Account Ledger entries contain an account history.
Index Books include name and account number.
Details not found in your direct ancestor's account may show up in a sibling's account so check for family members too. Also look for sponsors, neighbors and other people who regularly appear in records with or near your ancestors.
Say you’re a new immigrant. Would you feel more comfortable in a huge city among strangers or in a community surrounded by people who looked like you, spoke like you, even came from the same hometown?
Germans began arriving in New York in great numbers in the mid-19th century. The ’48ers — German immigrants who came in 1848 — helped lay the infrastructure for a German community by setting up newspapers, schools, businesses, and shops. In the 1840s and ’50s so many German immigrants settled a portion of New York’s Lower East Side that people called it Kleindeutschland — Little Germany.
It’s no surprise that ethnic enclaves sprang up in the United States as immigrants made their way to foreign shores. Germans, Irish, Italians, and Jews established communities in New York. Russians, Poles, and Swedes claimed blocks in Chicago. Hungarians gathered in Cleveland and Czechs in towns in Texas. Chinatowns formed in the West as Asian immigrants banded together for protection and to form a nucleus for future political influence.
To see whether your ancestor lived in a “Greektown” or “Little Italy,” take a look at census records, which have included questions about nativity since 1850. Passenger lists can provide clues, too. Did your great-grandparents sail with people from the same village or making for the same final destination?
Ethnic enclaves can hold “what next?” clues for family historians. Since residents often came from similar regions of a country, neighboring families may have been friends, neighbors, or even relatives back in the homeland, too. If you have trouble tracing a family forward in America or backward to the old country, consider looking at the neighbors, where they came from, where they went, and who they were. They may hold the clue to your own family’s whereabouts.
Even if the family story points to an arrival at Ellis Island, it still pays to search for your family’s immigrants at all American ports and border crossings. Family members may have arrived on different ships, through different ports, and may have even sailed to America more than once (after, for example, a visit to the homeland to bring back the rest of the family or because of a job that took the ancestor overseas). Searching the entire Immigration & Emigration collection at Ancestry.com will help you find all of an ancestor’s comings and goings.
Your ancestors took everything they could carry, including a little bit of their past. Now with AncestryDNA, you can open completely new avenues of research and uncover a time in your past that’s just beyond the records and paper trails. Find out where your ancestors lived, maybe discover a new ethnicity or connect to new relatives. A distant cousin could lead you to new clues, missing information and new answers.
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