5 Tips That’ll Help You Find Your Immigrant Ancestors

For a majority of us here in America, our ancestors were immigrants and even toda, their stories are both fascinating and inspiring.

But very often, we need genealogical records to piece together the details of their immigration process, and these records aren’t easy to locate or interpret once found.


Here are a few tips that can help you find your immigrant ancestors when you’re working on your family tree.


Work Backwards from The Point After Immigration

When trying to piece together your immigrant ancestor’s life, don’t start out by researching  their birthplace or country of origin right away. That’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.


Instead, determine the period of immigration and try to narrow it down to the exact date of their arrival and then work backwards from there.

Start with Census Records

Census records are the most obvious place to start, and with good reason. They’d give you essential details like where your ancestors were born, and some may even have details about their naturalization. For example, the Federal Census in 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 all ask whether each household member is naturalized or not.


So, start by looking at federal and state census records.  Remember that state census enumerations were usually done on an off year – such as 5 years after a federal census – so you have a chance of capturing someone who arrived between censuses.

Keep in Mind That Naturalization Had Two Steps

The naturalization process in the US looks very different today, but even back in the day, it had two steps. The immigrant was first required to declare their intention to become a citizen formally, and then after a waiting period, they had to officially apply for citizenship.


These two steps may have been done years apart, but there could be relevant documents and records from both. Make sure your research covers it all.  Two important points – 1) There is no centralized federal repository for naturalization documentation, so make sure you search locally as well, and 2) The various steps in the naturalization process could be conducted anywhere – so the records may be spread out among various jurisdictions.

Don’t Make Silly Assumptions

Many people wrongly believe the urban myth that their ancestors’ names were changed at Ellis Island –  but this is just misinformation.


Even if the name was changed, it’s very unlikely that the name change happened at Ellis Island. It was most probably changed at the port of exit by your ancestors themselves. For instance, many difficult German surnames were changed to make them sound more American


Proofs of name changes can be found in naturalization records after 1906—so make sure to check them to be sure.  There is a section on the last page of the Oath of Allegiance document that provides for request for a name change, so be sure to check this section when you’re reviewing the documentation.

Remember There Were Multiple Ports

Most people don’t realize that all immigrants didn’t arrive in New York. There were several other active ports in Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Baltimore that saw a lot of immigrant arrivals.


So, if you can’t find your immigrants in the records for the New York Port, check other ports as well. And keep in mind, census records can mention the wrong ports too.



If you still can’t find your immigrant ancestors, let us help you out.


At DavisDNA And Family Research, we offer traditional genealogy services and  help you with genetic genealogy and DNA analysis and integration..


Get in touch with us to learn more.