Major Settlements, Immigration, and Naturalization
| Using Immigration Records
This article is part of a series.
|Overview of Immigration Research|
|Immigration Research Approaches|
|Major Settlements, Immigration, and Naturalization|
|American Sources for Documenting Immigrants|
|Using the Ellis Island Database|
|Foreign Sources for Immigration Records|
|List of Useful Immigration References|
1562: French Huguenots established a colony on Parris Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, but abandoned it within two years.
1565: The earliest Hispanic settlers within the area of the United States settled Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565.
1598: Hispanics settled in New Mexico.
1607: Jamestown, Virginia, was founded by English colonists.
1614: The first major Dutch settlement was founded near Albany, New York.
1619: The first black slaves arrived at Jamestown.
1620: The Mayflower, carrying Pilgrims, arrived in Massachusetts.
1623: New Netherland (Hudson River Valley) was settled as a trading post by the Dutch West India Company.
1629–40: The Puritans migrated to New England.
1634: Lord Baltimore founded Maryland as a refuge for English Catholics.
1642: The outbreak of civil war in England brought a decrease in Puritan migration.
1648: The treaty ending the Thirty Years’ War stipulated that only the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed religions would be tolerated in Germany henceforth. Religious intolerance motivated large numbers of Germans belonging to small sects, such as Baptist Brethren (Dunkers), to leave for America.
1649: Passage of Maryland Toleration Act opened the door to any professing trinitarian Christianity.
1654: North America’s first Jewish immigrants fled Portuguese persecution in Brazil, arriving at New Amsterdam.
1660: Acting on mercantilist doctrine that the wealth of a country depends on the number of its inhabitants, Charles II officially discouraged emigration from England.
1670: English courtiers settled the Carolinas.
1681: Quakers founded Pennsylvania based on William Penn’s “holy experiment” in universal philanthropy and brotherhood.
1683: The first German settlers (Mennonites) arrived in Pennsylvania.
1685: Huguenots fleeing religious intolerance in France and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV settled in South Carolina.
1697: The slave trade monopoly of the Royal African Company ended and the slave trade expanded rapidly, especially among New Englanders.
1707: A new era of Scottish migration began as a result of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Scots settled in colonial seaports. Lowland artisans and laborers left Glasgow to become indentured servants in tobacco colonies and New York.
1709: In the wake of devastation caused by wars of Louis XIV, German Palatines settled in the Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania.
1717: The English Parliament legalized transportation to American colonies as punishment; contractors began regular shipments from jails, mostly to Virginia and Maryland.
1718: Discontent with the land system: absentee landlords, high rents, and short leases in the homeland motivated large numbers of Scotch-Irish to emigrate. Most settled first in New England, then in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
1730: Germans and Scotch Irish from Pennsylvania colonized Virginia valley and the Carolina back country.
1732: James Oglethorpe settled Georgia as a buffer against Spanish and French attack, as a producer of raw silk, and as a haven for imprisoned debtors.
1740: The English Parliament enacted the Naturalization Act, which conferred British citizenship on alien colonial immigrants in an attempt to encourage Jewish immigration.
1745: Scottish rebels were transported to America after a Jacobite attempt to put Stuarts back on the throne failed.
1755: French Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia on suspicion of disloyalty. The survivors settled in Louisiana.
1771–73: Severe crop failure and depression in the Ulster linen trade brought a new influx of Scotch-Irish to the American colonies.
1775: The outbreak of hostilities in American colonies caused the British government to suspend emigration.
1783: The revolutionary war ended with the Treaty of Paris. Immigration to America resumed, with especially large numbers of Scotch-Irish.
1789: The outbreak of the French Revolution prompted the emigration of aristocrats and royalist sympathizers.
1790: The first federal activity in an area previously under the control of the individual colonies: An act of 26 March
1790 attempted to establish a uniform rule for naturalization by setting the residence requirement at two years. Children of naturalized citizens were considered to be citizens (1 Stat. 103).
1791: After a slave revolt in Santo Domingo, 10,000 to 20,000 French exiles took refuge in the United States, principally in towns on the Atlantic seaboard.
1793: As a result of the French Revolution, Girondists and Jacobins threatened by guillotine fled to the United States.
1795: Provisions of a naturalization act of 29 January 1795 included the following: free white persons of good moral character; five-year residency with one year in state; declaration of intention had to be filed three years prior to filing of the petition.(1 Stat. 414).
1798: An unsuccessful Irish rebellion sent rebels to the United States. Distressed artisans, yeoman farmers, and agricultural laborers affected by bad harvests and low prices joined the rebels in emigrating. U.S. Alien and Sedition Acts gave the president powers to seize and expel resident aliens suspected of engaging in subversive activities.
Naturalization requirements were changed to require fourteen years’ residency; the declaration of intention was to be filed five years before citizenship ( 1 Stat. 566).
Aliens considered to be dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States were to be removed; registration officials were required to send their reports to the courts. (1 Stat. 570).
1802: Residency requirements of the 1795 act were reasserted; children of naturalized citizens were considered to be citizens (2 Stat. 153).
1803: War between England and France resumed. As a result, transatlantic trade was interrupted and emigration from continental Europe became practically impossible.
Irish emigration was curtailed by the British Passenger Act, which limited the numbers to be carried by emigrant ships.
1804: The widows and children of aliens who died prior to filing final papers were granted citizenship.
1807: Congress prohibited the importing of black slaves into the country. Individual states previously prohibited importation of slaves: Delaware in 1776; Virginia, 1778; Maryland, 1783; South Carolina, 1787; North Carolina, 1794; Georgia, 1798. South Carolina reopened importation of slaves in 1803.
1812: The War of 1812 between Britain and the United States brought immigration to a halt.
1814: The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent.
1815: The first great wave of immigration to the United States brings 5 million immigrants between 1815 and 1860.
1818: Liverpool became the most-used port of departure for Irish and British immigrants, as well as considerable numbers of Germans and other Europeans as the Black Ball Line of sailing packets began regular Liverpool-New York service.
1819: The first significant federal legislation relating to immigration: passenger lists to be given to the collector of customs; reporting of immigration to the United States on a regular basis; specific sustenance rules for passengers of ships leaving U.S. ports for Europe (3 Stat. 489).
1820: The U.S. population was at 9,638,453. One hundred and fifty-one thousand new immigrants arrived in 1820 alone.
The government of Prussia attempted to halt emigration by making it a crime to urge anyone to emigrate.
1824: Alien minors could be naturalized upon reaching twenty-one years of age if they had lived in the United States for five years, and the residency period between filing a declaration and a petition (final papers) was shortened to two years (4 Stat. 69).
1825: Great Britain officially recognized the view that England was overpopulated and repealed laws prohibiting emigration.
The first group of Norwegian immigrants arrives from their overpopulated homeland.
1830: Public land in Illinois was allotted by Congress to Polish revolutionary refugees.
1837: Financial panic. Nativists claimed that immigration lowered wage levels, contributed to the decline of the apprenticeship system, and generally depressed the condition of labor.
1840: The Cunard Line began passenger transportation between Europe and the United States, opening the steamship era.
1845: The Native American party, precursor of the nativist, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party, was founded.
1846: Crop failures in Europe. Mortgage foreclosures sent tens of thousands of dispossessed to United States.
1846–47: Irish of all classes emigrated to the United States as a result of the potato famine.
1848: Failure of German revolution resulted in the emigration of political refugees to America.
1855: Castle Garden immigration receiving station opened in New York City to accommodate mass immigration. Alien women married to U.S. citizens became U.S. citizens by marriage. (10 Stat. 604). The law was repealed in 1922.
1856: The Know-Nothing movement was defeated in the presidential election. An Albany convention to promote Irish rural colonization in the United States was strongly opposed by Eastern bishops and thus unsuccessful.
1860: New York became “the largest Irish city in the world.” Of its 805,651 residents, 203,760 were Irish-born.
1861–65: The Civil War caused a significant drop in the number of foreigners entering the United States. Large numbers of immigrants serve on both sides during the Civil War.
1862: Aliens who received honorable discharges from the U.S. Army were not required to file declarations prior to filing petitions for naturalization (12 Stat. 597).
The Homestead Act encouraged naturalization by granting citizens title to 160 acres, provided that the land was tilled for five years.
1864: Congress centralized control of immigration with a commissioner under the secretary of state. In an attempt to meet the labor crisis caused by the Civil War, Congress legalized the importation of contract laborers.
1875: The first direct federal regulation of immigration was established by prohibiting entry of prostitutes and convicts. Residency permits were required of Asians (18 Stat. 477).
1880: The U.S. population was 50,155,783. More than 5.2 million immigrants entered the country between 1880 and 1890.
1882: The Chinese exclusion law was established, curbing Chinese immigration. A general immigration law of the same year excluded persons convicted of political offenses, “lunatics,” “idiots,” and persons likely to become public charges. A head tax of fifty cents was placed on each immigrant.
A sharp rise in Jewish emigration to the United States was prompted by the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Russia.
1883: In an effort to alleviate a labor shortage caused by the freeing of slaves, the Southern Immigration Association was founded to promote immigration to the South.
1885: Contract laborers were denied admission to United States by the Foran Act. However, skilled laborers, artists, actors, lecturers, and domestic servants were not barred. Individuals in the United States were not to be prevented from assisting the immigration of relatives and personal friends.
1886: The Statue of Liberty was dedicated.
1888: The first act since 1798 providing for the expulsion of aliens became law.
1890: New York had the distinction of being home to as many Germans as Hamburg, Germany.
1891: The Bureau of Immigration was established under the Treasury Department to federally administer all immigration laws (except the Chinese Exclusion Act). Congress added health qualifications to immigration restrictions. Classes of persons denied the right to immigrate to the United States included the insane, paupers, persons with contagious diseases, persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors of moral turpitude, and polygamists (26 Stat. 1084). Pogroms in Russia caused large numbers of Jews to immigrate to the United States.
1892: Ellis Island replaced Castle Garden as the reception center for immigrants. Immigration of Chinese to the United States was prohibited for ten years; Chinese illegally in the United States could be removed (27 Stat. 25).
1893: Chinese legally in the United States were required to apply to collectors of internal revenue for certificates of residence or be removed (28 Stat. 7).
Immigration Act of 1893 created Boards of Special Inquiry to examine excluded immigrants at ports of entry, and provided for appeals of the Board decisions.
1894: The Immigration Restriction League was organized to lead the restrictionist movement for the next twenty-five years. The league emphasized the distinction between “old” (northern and western European) and “new” (southern and eastern European) immigrants.
Aliens who received honorable discharges from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps were not required to file declarations prior to filing petitions for naturalization (28 Stat. 124).
1894–96: To escape Moslem massacres, Armenian Christians began emigrating to the United States.
1897: President Cleveland vetoed literacy tests for immigrants.
1900: The U.S. Population at 75,994,575. More than 3,687,000 immigrants were admitted in the previous ten years.
1903: Extensive codification of existing immigration law. Added to the exclusion list were polygamists and political radicals (anarchists or persons believing in the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or any government, or in the assassination of public officials—a result of President McKinley’s assassination by an anarchist).
1905: As a protest against the influx of Asian laborers, the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was formed by organized labor.
1906: The Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was established. The purpose of the act of 29 June 1906 (32 Stat. 596) was to provide for a uniform rule for the naturalization of aliens throughout the United States. The law, effective 27 September 1906, was designed to provide “dignity, uniformity, and regularity” to the naturalization procedure. It established procedural safeguards and called for specific and uniform information regarding applicants and recipients of citizenship status. Rule Nine of the code required that all blank forms and records be obtained from and controlled by the Bureau of Immigration, “Those alone being official forms. No other forms shall be used.” Knowledge of English became a basic requirement for citizenship.
1907: Between 1907 and 1922, U.S. law (34 Stat.1228) dictated that American citizen women who married alien husbands lost their U.S. citizenship and could not regain their citizenship until their husband naturalized. While it was the exception rather than the rule, some women, especially single adults , found it necessary or desirable to become naturalized citizens themselves.
An increased head tax on immigrants was enacted. People with physical or mental defects or tuberculosis and children unaccompanied by parents were added to the exclusion list. Japanese immigration was restricted.
1907–8: A Japanese government agreement to deny passports to laborers going directly from Japan to the United States failed to satisfy West Coast exclusionists.
1910: The Mexican Revolution sent thousands to the United States seeking employment.
1913: The Alien Land Law passed by California effectively barred Japanese, as “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” from owning agricultural land in the state.
1914–18: World War I halted a period of mass migration to the United States.
1917: To the exclusion list were added illiterates, persons of “psychopathic inferiority,” men and women entering for immoral purposes, alcoholics, stowaways, and vagrants.
The Jones Act made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens and eligible for the draft.
1919: Anti-foreign prejudice was transferred from German Americans to alien revolutionaries and radicals in the Big Red Scare. Thousands of aliens were seized in the Palmer raids, and hundreds were deported.
1921: The first quantitative immigration law set temporary annual quotas according to nationality. The emergency immigration quotas heavily favored natives of northern and western Europe and all but closed the door to southern and eastern Europeans. An immediate drop in immigration followed.
1922: The Cable Act of 1922 made women’s citizenship independent of marriage, so she no longer gained citizenship by marriage. Hence the provision to ease naturalization for women married to citizens. Alien wives of U.S. citizens were allowed to file for citizenship after one year of residency (42 Stat. 1022).
1923: A strong anti-immigrant movement spearheaded by the Ku Klux Klan reached peak strength.
1924: The National Origins Act, the first permanent immigration quota law, established a discriminatory quota system, non-quota status, and a consular control system.
The Border Patrol was established (49 Stat. 153).
1929: The stock market crash and economic crisis prompted demands for further immigration reductions and as a result, the Hoover administration ordered rigorous enforcement of a prohibition against the admission of persons liable to be public charges.
1930: The U.S. population was 123,203,000. Only 528,000 new immigrants arrived in the previous decade, the lowest number since the 1830s.
1933: As Hitler’s anti-Semitic campaign began, Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany emigrated.
1934: Filipino immigration was restricted to an annual quota of fifty by the Philippine Independence Act.
1936: American women who had lost their citizenship because they married aliens were allowed to regain citizenship by taking oaths of allegiance to the United States (49 Stat. 1917).
1939: World War II began.
1940: The Alien Registration Act, also known as the Smith Act, called for registration and fingerprinting of all aliens age 14 and older within or entering the U.S (54 Stat. 1137). Approximately 5.5 million aliens were registered.
1941: Immigrant groups supported the united war effort as the United States entered World War II.
1942: Japanese Americans were evacuated from their homes and moved to detention camps.
Through the Bracero Program, Mexican laborers were strongly encouraged to come to the United States to ease the shortage of farm workers brought on by World War II.
1943: Legislation provided for the importation of agricultural workers from North, South, and Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean—the basis of the “Bracero Program.”
The Chinese exclusion laws were repealed.
1945: Thousands of Puerto Ricans emigrated to escape poverty. Many settled in New York.
1946: The War Brides Act facilitated the immigration of foreign-born wives, fiancé(e)s, husbands, and children of U.S. armed forces personnel.
1948: The Displaced Persons Act, the first U.S. policy for admitting persons fleeing persecution, allowed 400,000 refugees to enter the United States during a four-year period.
1950: The Internal Security Act increased grounds for exclusion and deportation of subversives were enacted. All aliens were required to report their addresses annually.
1952: The Immigration and Naturalization Act brought into one comprehensive statute the multiple laws which governed immigration and naturalization to date: reaffirmed the national origins quota system; limited immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere while leaving the Western Hemisphere unrestricted; established preferences for skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens; tightened security and screening standards and procedures; and lowered the age requirement for naturalization to eighteen years (66 Stat. 163). The McCarren-Walter Immigration and Naturalization Act extended token immigration quotas to Asian countries.
1953–56: The Refugee Relief Act admitted more than 200,000 refugees beyond existing quotas.
Visas were granted to some 5,000 Hungarians after the 1956 revolt. President Eisenhower invited 30,000 more to come on a parole basis.
1954: Ellis Island closed.
1957: Special legislation admitted Hungarian refugees.
1959: Castro’s successful revolution in Cuba began the emigration of refugees.
1960: The United States paroled Cuban refugees.
1962: The United States granted special permission for the admission of refugees from Hong Kong.
1965: Congress amended the immigration law (effective 1968): The National Origins Quota System was abolished, but the principle of numerical restriction by establishing 170,000 hemispheric and 20,000 per-country ceilings and a seven-category preference system (favoring close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, those with needed occupational skills, and refugees) for the Eastern Hemisphere and a separate 120,000 ceiling for the Western Hemisphere was maintained (79 Stat. 911).
The Cuban refugee airlift program admitted Cubans to the United States under special quotas for the next eight years.
1970: The Immigration Act of 1965 was amended by President Nixon, further liberalizing admission to the United States.
1972: Congress passed the Ethnic Heritage Studies Bill, encouraging bilingual education and programs pertaining to ethnic culture.
1976: The 20,000-per-country immigration ceilings and the system of preference system for Western Hemisphere countries was applied, and separate hemispheric ceilings were maintained.
1978: The separate ceilings for Eastern and Western Hemisphere immigration were combined into one worldwide limit of 290,000.
1979: Congress appropriated more than $334 million for the rescue and resettlement of Vietnamese “boat people.”
1980: The Refugee Act removed refugees as a preference category and established clear criteria and procedures for their admission, reducing the worldwide ceiling for immigrants from 290,000 to 270,000.
The so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of Cuban refugees came to the United States.
1986: Comprehensive immigration legislation legalized aliens who had resided in the United States in an unlawful status since 1 January 1982; established sanctions prohibiting employers from hiring, recruiting, or referring for a fee aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the United States; created a new classification of temporary agricultural worker and provided for the legalization of certain such workers; and established a visa waiver pilot program allowing the admission of certain non-immigrants without visas.
Separate legislation (Marriage Fraud Amendment) stipulated that aliens deriving their immigrant status based on a marriage of less than two years apply within ninety days after their second-year anniversary to remove conditional status.
1989: Allowed for the adjustment from temporary to permanent status of certain non-immigrants who were employed in the United States as registered nurses for at least three years and met established certification standards.
1990: Comprehensive immigration legislation increased total immigration; created separate admission categories for family-sponsored, employment-based, and diversity immigrants; revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation; authorized the attorney general to grant temporary protected status revised and established new non-immigrant admission categories; revised naturalization authority and requirements; and revised enforcement activities. Perhaps most important for genealogical purposes, the 1990 law transferred the exclusive jurisdiction to naturalize aliens from the Federal and State courts to the Attorney General. As a result, after 1992 (and after two centuries), courts no longer naturalized nor did they create or keep naturalization records.
1991: The Armed Forces Immigration Adjustment Act granted special immigrant status to certain types of aliens who had honorably served in the Armed Forces of the United States for at least twelve years.
1992: The Soviet Scientists Immigration Act permitted permanent resident status to a maximum of 750 scientists, excluding spouses and children, from the independent states of the former Soviet Union and the Baltic states.
1993: The North American Free-Trade Agreement Implementation Act allowed temporary entry on a reciprocal basis between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It also established procedures for the temporary entry into the United States of Canadian and Mexican citizen professional business persons to render services for remuneration.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act authorized establishment of a criminal alien tracking center, revised deportation procedures for certain criminal aliens who are not permanent residents, provided for expeditious deportation for denied asylum applicants, provided for improved border management through an increase in resources, and strengthened penalties for passport and visa offenses.
1996: Measures were established to control U.S. borders, protect legal workers through worksite enforcement, and remove criminal and other deportable aliens. As a result, many improvements were made in border control including an increase in border personnel, equipment, and technology.
1999: An amendment of the Immigration and Nationality Act was made to provide that an adopted alien less than eighteen years old may be considered a child under such act if adopted with or after a sibling who is a child under such Act.
2000: A modification was made of the provisions governing acquisition of citizenship by children born outside of the United States.
Naturalization became easier for immigrants who served with special guerrilla units or irregular forces in Laos.
A child born outside the United States automatically becomes a citizen of the United States when certain conditions are fulfilled, such as when at least one parent of the child is a citizen of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, or when the child is under the age of eighteen years old.
A waiver was provided of the oath of renunciation and allegiance for naturalization of aliens having certain disabilities.
2002: Unmarried sons and daughters of certain Vietnamese refugees are extended eligibility for refugee status.
2003: An additional five-year extension was granted to the Special Immigrant Religious Worker Program. On March 1, 2003, services formerly provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).
2004: An amendment of the Immigration and Nationality Act aimed to improve the process for verifying an individual’s eligibility for employment.
- Donald J. Bogue, The Population of the United States: Historical Trends and Future Projections (New York: The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc., 1985); Mary Kupies Cayton, Elliott J. Gorn, and Peter W. Williams, eds., Encyclopedia of American Social History, 3 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1993); INS Fact Book: Summary of Recent Immigration Data (U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service Statistics Division, July 1993); Stephanie Bernardo Johns, The Ethnic Almanac (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981); John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants (New York: Harper and Row, 1964); George Thomas Kurian, Datapedia of the United States 1790–2000: America Year by Year (Lanham, Md.: Bernan Press, 1994).
Smith, Marian L. “An Overview of INS History” Originally published in A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government, ed. George T. Kurian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. http://uscis.gov/graphics/aboutus /history/articles/OVIEW.htm.