Chapter 7 : How Did They Get Here Anyway?

If you live in the United States or Canada, then your family members probably migrated to these locations at some point from various other countries.

If your family has a heritage that they are proud of and often talk about, this is easy to understand.  If your family is a direct descendant of someone that “came over on the boat” then you know that they came from another country usually to seek out the American Dream. 

But, where did they come from?

This opens the door from many different questions that you have.  If you consider yourself Italian, you believe that your family came from Italy, but could it be Sicily?  Or, perhaps it was Northern Italy?  If your family is Irish, then you assume that you can from Ireland; but, where in Ireland?

Sometimes, countries don’t stay the same as they are today.  Many countries have merged, changed hands and even worse been taken over by other countries.  Is this possible for your family?

For example, if your family says that their heritage is German, it could be Hungarian, or others smaller countries in the region in which there was constant land changing hands.  By doing a bit of history education can help you to find the answers to your questions regarding where you came from.

How To Begin Your Search

To connect your family to that of those from around the world, you need to search through a number of regions, records and oral histories.

For starters, you need to get stories straight.  Depending on how many generations ago your family came to the United States will help to determine just where you should start.

Did your father or mother come to the United States from another country?  Did your grandparents?  Did your great grandparents?  How many generations back did your family members come from another country to settle in the United States or Canada?

Also, remember that your entire family probably did not come over at the same time.  Many families had one or two relatives that traveled to North America and settled here.  After talking to their left behind relatives, they convinced them that life was great and that they too should come.  Then, many additional relatives may have come.

Your aunts, uncles, your grandparent’s siblings and so on could have traveled to North America at different times and that’s information that you need.

Learning Where They Came From

Through the use of oral histories as well as family histories that you have already learned, you can begin to understand the location that your family came from.

As much as possible, you want to find out where they were coming from.  For example, knowing that your family traveled from England to the United States is okay, but you should know from what region of England and even better what city they came from.  This will provide you with more details and give you a definite direction in which you should look for more information.

Do this for all of your relatives, as much as possible, because families don’t always live in the same areas. 

For example, let’s say that your great grandmother came from Venice in Italy.  But, her sister may have come from another region.  The question is, did your great grandmother’s parents live near her or did they live near her sister?

While that sounds confusing the fact is that it’s important for you to keep the path of communication moving smoothly so that you can learn as much as possible about your family’s history and family tree.

It can be helpful to actually get out a map and talk about it with those that are around too.  For example, a map of Italy may help your grandmother to remember that she had cousins in a neighboring city by jogging their memory.  Any time you can get any information from those that are around you, it’s a plus to do so.

Life Where They Lived

Finally, if you have the ability to do so, check with the local authorities (if possible) to find out even more information.  You can find information regarding where they lived, what property records where in place there as well as any other public records that were available.

Take another look at the list of public records in the previous chapter.  Can you fill in any of those blanks for your ancestors that came from European or other countries through those types of searches?

Perhaps you can learn about your family’s past through a records search of death and birth certificates in the country they came from.  To get this information, you may need to know someone in that region or perhaps travel there.  Sometimes you’ll be able to get the information through a phone call to the city government offices and with a bit of luck.

Gather as much information using those public record searches as you can from your ancestor’s home countries.  This information can be harder to obtain, definitely, but it’s the best tool available to take you back as far as possible into your family’s past.

How Did They Get Here?

Once you have learned all that you can about where your ancestor’s lived, there’s still the need to piece together information about them when they arrived in the United States, Canada or even other regions (such as South America.)

To get started, find out what means that they came from.  While to some it may be a joke, it’s likely to be true that many of your ancestors traveled by ship to their new country.  Ships of all types left various regions around the globe with the United States as their destination.  Your living relatives may even know what the name of the ship was because of family stories.

The best way for you to learn about your ancestors is through public records and oral histories.  Once you have done your best to get your living relatives to tell you everything that they know, you now need to use public records.  What public records are available to help you learn how your ancestors arrived in North America?  There are actually many ways.

One method that can be helpful to some is that of ship passenger lists.  If you can learn about what time and what city your family came in at, you may be able to find information about the ship that brought them, which means you could get your hands on passenger lists, if they have been kept. 

These can help you to learn more about who came with your family to the country, when they arrived and any deviations from names. 

Next, use immigration paperwork to help you.  This information is ideal for those that are looking for information regarding who their family members came here with, when they arrived, how they arrived, as well as where they went when they came here.  Immigration paperwork is usually something that people keep, but if not there are public records that can additional help with it.  The best place to find it would be through the location that they came in from.  For example, if this was New York City, then information is probably available there regarding

In addition, many people came to the United States and then received naturalization paperwork.  This paperwork is generally kept somewhere safe, but if not, again, it is public record information.  In this case, though, naturalization paperwork and records would be available through the city or state in which they were naturalized.  This is generally where they lived at that time.

Then Where Did They Go ?

Once people arrived in the United States, or neighboring countries, they didn’t necessarily stay in that location.  Many traveled to locations where other family members where located or where they heard there would be jobs.  Traveling was very common for those the immigrated into the country and it can be something difficult for you to trace. 

Nevertheless, you need to do your best to do just that.  Many people were able to purchase property, which means that you can use public records of property records to help you to find them.  Other public record searches can help too.  Learning this information is key to finding your family’s history.

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