c2013. Arlene H. Eakle, PhD, FUGA. http://arleneeakle.com
Using Immigration Records to Trace
Hard-to-Find Places of Foreign Birth
You must know the specific place of origin to search in Foreign countries. Begin with what you know and add to those facts as much as you can from American records first:
…if you lack birthplace or date of emigration from Europe, OR,
…if you don’t know parents’ names
1. Cemetery sources–tombstones, memorials, sextons’ books—original spelling of family surname often appears on the tombstone or in the Sexton’s Register
2. Century Farm and Early Settlers applications and certificates—check with state genealogical and historical societies
3. Old Settlers’ Association minutes and annual celebrations—often printed. Annual photographs were also taken with dress and cultural evidence
4. Military pensions–watch for statements in affidavits “known him 25 years…”
These American sources are often overlooked or bypassed. Bad idea.
Research by Association—A key research strategy
Evidence of identity and origin may be subtle rather than obvious.
…if the original spelling of your ancestor’s surname is unknown
…if you have a common surname
…if you have an American name and a tradition of being foreign
1. Affidavit in military records, court and claims records, old newspapers
2. Make a mini-census of people associated with your ancestor, add in points of contact for each one
3. Study ethnic neighborhoods where your ancestor settled first upon arrival in U.S.–watch closely for concentrations near ports, around churches in cities
4. Architecture and lay out of buildings
5. Special foods enjoyed on Holidays
6. Pet names and nicknames used by family members
Identify group migrations–
…Church-sponsored moves following a minister or other leaders
…Military mercenaries, watch for Irish transplants in Poland or France and
…Scottish soldiers serving in Sweden or Prussia, with name changes.
Using Mid-West Church Affiliations to Find the Right Church
Church affiliation is a primary reason for emigration, for loyalities in military and political conflicts, for choice of neighborhoods to settle in, for cemeteries to be buried in, and to explain the wording of wills and other property documents. Church affiliation in the U.S.can also identify the right church, in Europe, to search–and by law, the right province or kingdom. You see, the religion of the ruler dictated the religion of the subjects–by law. David H. Koss outlined a number of these affiliations summarized below. You will want to read his whole article: “Unscrambling the German American Churches,” Pages from the Past, #6, Columbus OH: Palatines to America, 1994. This is an update of an article originally published in The Palatine Immigrant, IX (Winter 1984). It is the best succinct treatment of the splits and mergers of German-American churches, with some historical background.
Church of the Brethren:
__River Brethren (dissatisfied Mennonites), Grantham College, PA
__Baptist Brethren (Dunkards, Tunkers),ElginILandAshlandOH
__United Brethren of Christ, united in 1946 with Methodist Church
Pietists (usually called German Baptists):
__Radical pietists (originally Reformed, belief close to Mennonites)
Emphasis on Bible Study, born again conversion experience, group worship through prayer meetings; very strict, scorned amusements
__Germans fromRussia(Congregationalist), Baptist Seminary,Sioux Falls,SD
__German Methodists,Baldwin-WallaceCollege, Beren OH
Published a collection of German newspapers, including German Christian Advocate and “The Apology.” Great obituaries. 1841-1899, Evangelical United Brethren.
__German Reformed (influenced by Calvin’s teachings), University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque Iowa and Catawba College, Salisbury NC
Popular for Swiss origins. Kin to the Presbyterians.
Bush River Dutch–camp meetings held in the South.
If your ancestors are…Methodist or Baptist and they shun dancing, attend prayer and camp meetings where they share conversion experiences, and engage in Bible study…check Pietist.
If your ancestors are…Presbyterian…check Reformed or Swiss Calvinist.
If your ancestors are…Congregational…check Germans fromRussia.
If your ancestors are…Baptist…check Churches of the Brethren or Germans fromRussia.
See also John Eby Pfautz, “The Pennsylvania Churches and Sects (1878),” Pennsylvania Folklife (Winter 1968): 44-46.
Reconstruct Your Immigrant Family–A key research strategy
The migrating process was and is brutal. Many family members started out together and by the time they arrived in their place of permanent settlement, people have died. Your ancestors re-built their families and became Americans. This common occurrence is best identified in church and cemetery records on both sides of the ocean. Before you examine passports and naturalization papers, search the church records and cemeteries here in America. So you know the configuration of your family when they arrived on the American shore.
Emigration Process—Foreign Exit Documents
Some of these documents have lain hidden in private attics or cedar chests or stored in no-longer used archival boxes in libraries and archives—both here in theUSand in foreign countries where your ancestors originate. Some steps in the emigration process were mandated by law, some prepared the emigrant for the journey, and some derived from local custom or tradition.
__Letters of Manumission. If the head of house was tied to the soil by medieval serf-lord commitments, the first step was to obtain a letter of freedom from that relationship, called a manumission, if your ancestors were to leave legally. Usually payment of a fee for this privilege was required. These letters or certificates were recorded in the local court minutes or registers kept for that purpose.
__Sale of Property. Land and other property not being taken with, was put up for sale or disposed of among family members not migrating. Some emigrants left their property in the possession of family members to be sold later, if the move proved to be a good one. Sales could be noticed in the local papers to alert creditors that there was an intent to emigrate so they could submit claims. Precise locations in the New World may also be mentioned.
__Letters of Recommendation. Local church authorities prepared a letter certifying that the emigrant and his family were members of that congregation in good standing. With these documents in hand, the emigrant approached the local police authority for permits to leave.
__Military Service Clearance. Especially in European countries, males had to clear their military service—which meant males in the family who were of military age were assigned to a regiment instead of being cleared for emigration. When a male child was born he was identified with a military number in the Churchbooks. When he reached military age, the parish clerk supplied a list of eligible males to the police district office. So in reality, males were registered for military service at birth. Watch for these notations among the emigrant exit documents–this is probably one of the greatest causes for a family to “leave in the night” without permission.
__Petitions of Emigration. A family or a group who intended to emigrate, filed a formal petition or letter seeking permission to leave. These petitions are especially valuable because they list father, mother, all the kids with their birthdates and places. And sometimes three generations of genealogy because they often list the parents of both father and mother. Everyone leaving together will be listed. And if, during the emigration process, others decide to leave, their names and information will be added to the petition.
__Permits to Emigrate. The permit certified the emigrant had paid his debts, settled his affairs in the community, and was free to leave. In some countries, the permit was combined with the passport as a single exit visa issued by local district or provincial authorities. These identification papers were required to be carried on the person. Local clerks recorded the information first, in court or council minute books and, by the nineteenth century, in official emigration registers. Sometimes duplicate copies of the documents were made, labeled and folded, and filed alphabetically or by number in the local archives. When emigrants left illegally—without “papers,” or without paying proper fees, they were also recorded in the emigrant registers. In some cases interviews about their whereabouts were recorded too, with notations that potential inheritance rights would be paid to the government in lieu of emigration fees.
Emigrant travel documents often include the infamous German Ahnenpass with several generations of lineage, each generation stamped with the swashtika. Birthbriefs served the same purpose earlier although they are less likely to be in chart format.
__Court Lists of Condemned or Convicted Transportees. For persons sentenced to transportation by court action, there were court lists, minutes, depositions, judgments, and other trial documents. These persons were indentured for service of a stated number of years. See Phillip Tardiff, Notorious Strumpets and Dangerous Girls: Convict Women in Van Diemens Land, 1803-1829. (North Ryde, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson, 1990). More than 1800 pages of convict files from Australia.
__Emigration Agents Register and Files. The purchase of tickets and travel accommodations was often done through an emigration agent. Early agents appointed by church or emigration groups to secure the best price and to insure that travelers were not cheated. These agents could remain behind or travel with the group to their destination. Many agents were local pastors or church clerks. Later agents worked for shipping lines to fill steerages so the trip was profitable for the company. They were licensed by local authorities and paid commission or percentage, some by the length of the journey and some by the total cost of the tickets and provisions. For a more detailed description of these agents, see R.J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775 (London: Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1966) Chapter 7 and Clifford Neal Smith and Anna P. Smith, American Genealogical Resources in German Archives (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1977).
__Indentures and Work Contracts. Emigrants too poor to pay their own way could agree to sell themselves into service for their labor for the cost of the passage. Those who contracted through an emigrant agent before they left carried a copy of the contract with them, knowing in advance how much time they owed. These contracts were then sold, on arrival, to employers in the New World. Those who did not negotiate contracts before they left, redeemed the cost of their passage and provisions by selling their services to the highest bidder once they arrived in America. These emigrants were called redemptioners. English migrants were most often indentured with articles signed before a magistrate.
Germans usually redeemed their passage costs at auction conducted in the public square in the port of arrival. See Barbara Bigham, “Colonists in Bondage: Indentured Servants in America,” Early American Life 10 (1979): 30-33, 83-84.
__Customs Records. Port officials were required by law to see that ships were licensed and registered for dockage–coming in or going out. They recorded ships’ manifests listing crew, passengers, and cargo. Payrolls with signatures or marks of crew and provision lists for items advanced to passengers or crew enroute, will be found among customs records or the record collections of the shipping companies. Vital records for events taking place on the voyage or before the passengers disembarked were recorded in ships logs. These logs may even end up in local government archives or libraries along the shores of rivers where the ships anchored.
__Additional Travel Documents. The emigration process created documents aplenty: personal accounts in journals and diaries, accounts books with careful listings of provisions purchased and fees paid or advanced. Agreements with ship’s masters, haulage receipts or claim checks for baggage loaded in cargo holds or shipped on other vessels. Births, marriages, deaths enroute: on board ship or at ports of call along the way. Sometimes complete lists are recorded by fellow passengers. These private documents can be found in the collections of historical societies, archives, and libraries all acrossAmerica. Watch for these in archive inventories or published in local genealogical periodicals.
Remember! Those who moved away are usually not recorded in local histories written today. Memories grow dim. Unless family members are still living in that place to recall who left and how they were related, they are not mentioned. You need all the records you can find to ensure that people have their place in history—on both sides of the Ocean.
Searching European Churchbooks
(Based on lectures by Larry O. Jensen, June 2007. Used with permission.)
A. Verify the correct ancestor in Parish Records.
1. Make a survey of birth /christening records for a ten-year period–5 years on either side of your ancestor’s birth date.
2. Extract every person with the same name as your ancestor from the churchbook. You can expect to find multiple entries for children with the same given names. And you have to study each one carefully. Make a list.
3. Verify the correct entry–eliminate the entries that do not belong to you. Not the right village of origin, not the correct date of emigration/immigration, etc.
4. Begin with the death records. If 30-40% of children born die under age 10. And if a married couple averages 3 living children each. And if 35% of children are raised by a step-parent because remarriage occurs rapidly after the death of a spouse–specifics of identity can be found best in death records.
5. Eliminate those entries which do not belong to you. And zero in on the ones that are left on your list.
6. If you eliminate all the candidates, do an area search. If a child was expected to die, parents usually went to the nearest parish church to have the baby christened before the death occurred, not necessarily the parish to which they actually belonged. Examine a detailed map for your area of research and identify the closest parish churches and search them.
B. Build the whole family by searching for siblings, grandparents.
1. Check the birth/christening records before and after the birth of your ancestor for other children born to those same parents. This way you can narrow down the time to search for the marriage of the parents.
2. Where does the marriage partner come from, if not from that parish–some 50% of spouses come from outside the parish of residence for the family. The old 20-mile radius rule is too much. Examine the churchbook to determine where others from outside the parish come from. Look in those churches first. If the IGI includes parish entries from the churches in that area, check it carefully before searching other parishes. ( Don’t delay, it is rumored that the IGI will be eliminated as a separate database.)
3. Check for illegitimate births to ensure that you have all of the children born to both of the parents. InEurope, from 1701-1750, 13.3% of births are illegitimate. From 1751-1800, 26.9% of births are illegitimate. Only 1 in 50 couples could afford to marry because the fees were increased. From 1801-1850, 35.9% of births are illegitimate. Only 1 in 250 couples could afford to marry. From 1851-1900, as high as 44.7% of births are illegitimate.
Illegitimate children take the maiden name of the mother as their surname, by law. After 1826, the law stipulates that the father’s name also be listed. The father could legitimize and give the child his surname. The churchbooks include these details.
The church was required to record the christening date. This will be the most accurate date. If the birth date is also supplied, that information was given by the family. It may not be accurate. If you have the birth date from an American source—Bible record, military pension–match this birth date to the churchbook.
Match Data from Churchbooks to Other Documents–
This genealogy research strategy applies to most countries where parish registers or churchbooks are a basic source. Church records lead into other documents: cemetery records, tax lists, census enumerations and substitute census lists, funeral sermons, pastors’ personal records, death certificates and notices, obituaries. Churches are territorial–they have a set local boundary. This automatically places your ancestor into the local community as a participant and usually as a resident. All of these categories can yield place of origin and original spelling of your surname (before it was Americanized).
Check carefully for a tombstone in the cemetery in Americawhere your ancestor died. Verify the spelling of the ancestor’s surname. The original spelling is often on the stone—somehow it just did not seem right to bury Granddad under a changed or falsified name. Many churches kept familienbuches where the clerk entered the records for each family on a separate page—father, mother, all the kids. Where these are available, search them first, then check the registers. Often, one or the other will add names and dates to your family charts. And you can check your data against both of them.