Thereâ€™s a unique thrill that comes when we identify an immigrant ancestor in our family tree. Someone long ago, an ancestor who was born in a foreign place, left their home and everything he or she knew. That decision had a huge impact on who we are today. It determines the label we put on ourselves, whether it be American, Canadian, British, or some other nationality. Sherry Irvineâ€™s column on The English in ScotlandÂ was a good reminder to me that these decisions impact people in pretty much every country in the world.
Itâ€™s connections like these that the fuel our passion for family history, inspire us to stay up late searching the depths of the Web, schedule vacations around graveyard and courthouse visits, and grill Great-Aunt Madge at the family reunion, seeking that elusive town name in Germany where it all began. (Of course by “grill,” I’m speaking figuratively. Don’t throw Aunt Madge on the barbie at the family reunion. It will just make her mad and you’ll be less likely to get information from her in the future.)
But Madge may not have the answer for you. What then? Here are ten places to look to find that location in the â€œold worldâ€ where our immigrant ancestor made that fateful choice.
1. Family Correspondence and Memorabilia
As with many aspects of family history research, often the best place to start is at home (or Aunt Madgeâ€™s home, or Grandpa Joeâ€™s home, etc.). A clue to your ethnic origins may lie in an obvious place like a family Bible, or something not as obvious like a piece of clothing or a piece of lace with a pattern that is native to a particular region. Photographs can hold surprising clues, again, sometimes asÂ obvious as a name on the back as was the case when I identified my paternal great-grandfatherâ€™s hometown in Poland, or perhaps in some elements of the photograph like clothing, a sign in the background, the type of housing, or a photographerâ€™s imprint.
2. Birth Records
Locate the birth records of all your immigrant ancestorâ€™s children. While your direct ancestorâ€™s birth record may only include a country of origin (or no information at all), a siblingâ€™s record could include the name of the town or county. Continue reading