Prior to 1820, the United States government made no effort to make lists of immigrants arriving in this country, but don't give up! There are many other sources for colonial immigration records available to you.
Time Required: Varies
- Begin your search in the country of arrival, not the country your ancestor emigrated from.
- Collect all of the information that you can about the immigrant and his family. Look for names, dates, places and other clues in every record that you have on your ancestor. Contact family members for any clues that they may have.
- Check previously published research on your family to see if someone else has already identified your immigrant's place of origin or date of immigration.
- Look for published histories of the location where your immigrant ancestor settled. Many communities were born when a group of people immigrated together, or at least settled with others from the same location in the old country.
- Search for your ancestor in William P. Filby's, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. This series is a finding aid to published passenger lists. It is available in most genealogy libraries and on CD-ROM from Broderbund.
- Many transcribed passenger lists have been making their way to the Internet. The best Web sites to check include the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild and The Olive Tree Genealogy.
- Check the many books that have been published for bibliographies and compilations of early ship passenger lists.
- Search local church records, including cemetery records, as these will often mention a home town. If your immigrant ancestor arrived unmarried, then search for a marriage record.
- Look for a will or probate record for your ancestor, as people often identified their country of origin in such documents.
- If your immigrant ancestor filed for U.S. citizenship, then the naturalization record is an excellent way to narrow down when your ancestor arrived and the country of origin. These records can be found in court files.
- Search for the immigrant's entire family. The records of each person in the family may hold different clues.
- If you can't locate your ancestor, broaden your time period. Look at several years on both sides of the date that you think your ancestor immigrated.
- Be sure to search for possible spelling variations of your ancestor's name.