Monday, January 3, 2011

Uncovering the Stories of Immigrant Ancestors

The January issue of Internet Genealogy is now available. If you are unfamiliar with this magazine, it is a practical, how-to magazine that focuses on websites that are useful for genealogists. It is published by the same group that publishes Family Chronicle Magazine.

On page 22 of this new issue is an article I wrote called “Uncovering the Stories of Our Immigrant Ancestors.” I thought I would share some tips and resources from my article. I start out by explaining that in order to uncover your immigrant ancestors' stories, you have to first know that basic facts. Begin by finding those bare-bone documents that will provide you with the outline of their lives. For immigrant ancestors, this means parish records for their early life in Europe (or wherever they came from), immigration records that show their ocean voyage, and then records such as church, vital, and census that provide dates and places for the remainder of their lives in the US.

I don’t want to spend too much time on that aspect of research. Instead, I want to move on to the next step – on resources that can help you take your ancestors’ stories from a listing of facts to an actual story. The key is to fit them into their environment. Here are some suggestions that I included in my article:

1) Get oriented by reading a general history of the time and place your ancestors lived.

2) Next, learn about the social history of their time and place – what life was like for the “common” people. One book I like for Europeans in the 1800s is Life in the Long Nineteenth Century, 1789-1913, edited by David Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli.

3) Become familiar with what the immigration experience was like. One suggestion here is: Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels. A great website is by Harvard University: Aspiration, Acculturation, and Impact: Immigration to the United States, 1790-1930.

4) Narrow your search to local histories (this isn’t in my article, but it’s a good idea anyway!). Many towns and parishes kept their own histories. Contact a local historical or genealogical society – or the town or church itself. I’ll post more about this later.

5) Read firsthand accounts written by others. This gives you that personal insight into experiences your ancestors might have shared with others who kept written accounts. Pay attention to sources in social histories or look for sources covering specific events that your ancestors were part of.

For more suggestions on books that might help you, visit my website. Choose the “Ancestors in Specific Locations” from the bar on the left hand side. Each of these sections has a subsection with books and websites that cover sources relevant to that place. Sources in the Mecklenburg section, for example, will be useful to anyone with German roots, not just Mecklenburg roots.

To see more of what is available in the January issue of Internet Genealogy, visit their website here.

Also, some of you might be interested to know that Internet Genealogy currently have an “appeal for submissions.” To quote from the magazine, “We are in the early stages of planning a new book, a follow-up to our successful Brickwall Solutions series. Tentatively titled Internet Brickwall Solutions, we want to hear how you overcame your brickwalls using the World Wide Web! Please e-mail your submissions (Word document or RTF file) to Please limit your submission to no more than 500 words, and include images (200 dpi or higher) as a separate email jpeg attachment, with caption details.

So, here’s a chance to have your story in print!

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