Immigration and naturalization records--regardless of when they were created--tell the story of your ancestor making that momentous decision to immigrate, travel, or become a citizen of a different country. Like many types of records, earlier immigration records typically don't contain as much detail as their more contemporary counterparts, but they still contain pieces of your ancestor's story. Examine them in the context of the time in which your ancestor lived and learn about traveling conditions to fill in more of the story. Twentieth century immigration records can be very rich in detail, including the names and addresses of other family members, in both the old country and new. Look at every detail in the documents and you'll see the story unfold. As it does, you'll probably find new clues to further your research. Some of the details you may find in immigration records include place of birth or last residence in their country of origin, names of other relatives, immigration details, occupation, and in some cases, photographs.
The records in this collection document the journey of your immigrant ancestor and their steps towards becoming a citizen of their new country.
They include passenger arrival records, naturalization records, border crossings, emigration records, passports, convict transportation records. The collection includes immigration records from the U.S. and several other countries from around the world.
- Search for your ancestors by name, narrowing the search with their age, dates of arrival, ports of departure or arrival, or country of origin.
- Keep in mind that your immigrant ancestor may not have used the English version of his or her given name and that the surname may also have ethnic variants. This is most likely to be the case in records created when he first immigrated (e.g., passenger arrivals). Learn the ethnic equivalents and try searches in the immigrant’s native language.
- Learn about pronunciation in your immigrant ancestor’s native language. In some cases clerks may have recorded the name as they heard it.
- Try searching for other variations of your ancestor’s name in case it was spelled incorrectly. Wildcards can be used to search for name variants. Click here to learn more about wildcards.
- When you find an immigration document, it’s important to look at the original image, which may contain information such as the name and address of the immigrant’s nearest relative, their intended destination in their new country, or names of other relatives traveling with them. If you find a record in an index collection or a transcription that is not linked to the actual record, follow the link to "Learn more about this database" to find out how to order the original record.
- Be sure to note and research the names of witnesses and fellow passengers from the same place in immigration records. They were often relatives, employers, or friends from the immigrant’s previous home. Tracing these individuals in census, directory, or immigration records may help you learn about your ancestor’s life before and after they arrived in their new country.
- If your immigrant ancestor in the U.S. was alive after 1900, locate them in the 1900, 1910, 1920, or 1930 census and look for immigration and naturalization details that can help narrow your search.