Opinion

Who was aboard?

In this column we’ll take a look at resources for tracking your immigrant ancestors who came to the U.S. in the late to mid-twentieth centuries.  

Finding passenger lists and information about various vessels that specialized in the immigrant trade can be spotty but your best bet is to go to www.cyndislist.com and check under passenger lists.  On there, Cyndi Ingalls lists a good many resources based on exit and entry ports.  It’s a great starting place to begin your search as Cyndi has a variety of potential resources.

If you’re certain your ancestor came through Ellis Island, you can search on the Historic Park’s website at www.statueofliberty.org.   There’s a one-page form you can fill out to help filter your search but some of the common difficulties you can run into is there may be serious variations in spelling of surnames, not knowing the name of the vessel, or the month and year of arrival.  Hundreds of thousands of people passed through Ellis Island, so searching can be difficult.  

Another site to try is www.stevemorse.org.  Steve Morse has a one-step system to search everything from Ellis Island to New York arrivals beginning in 1820.  Many genealogists prefer this site to the official Ellis Island one, finding it much easier to search.  Passenger ship lists can also be found on Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.  

Naturalization records usually will tell you where your ancestor came from but often only a country.  For example, Eastern European immigrants usually just show “Russia” as country of origin with no regard to ethnicity.  The 1910 U.S. census asks year of immigration and the 1920 census asks for year of naturalization which will make searching easier. An “Al” will indicate an alien and keep in mind that many people opted not to be naturalized; some returned home or were never naturalized.

Prior to September 1906 naturalization could be granted by any “court of record” which includes any city, county, state or federal court.  Not all of these records have been transferred to the National Archives (NARA) so try the courts nearest where your ancestor lived.   The NARA website, www.archives.gov/research/imigration/naturalization, advises researchers to contact the nearest NARA facility to determine if copies of naturalization records or indexes have been submitted from your state.  Quite often the records are still held by courts or have been sent to state archives or even historical societies.  You may need to be creative in your searching.

Naturalization in general was a “two-step” process including a Declaration of Intentions to become a citizen after two years in this country, then a petition for naturalization three years later.  The two steps weren’t required to take place in the same court, so keep that in mind as you search.  At times women were automatically naturalized with their husbands, at others women had to file their own petitions.  And there was a time when American women lost their citizenship if they married an alien and had to go through naturalization to become an American again.

Good luck as you search.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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