Post-WWI and Post-WWII Immigration to the United States

Posted by Jennifer Holik on February 21, 2017 in Guest Bloggers

This year, 100 years have passed since the U.S. entered World War I, and 75 years have passed since the U.S. entered World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Each day, more people begin investigating their family’s role in these wars by researching their American soldier. One area of American military research that has not been discussed often, is the role of Europeans who fought alongside or with the Americans, and later immigrated to the U.S.

Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales
Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

How many of the Ancestry blog readers have a European family member who fought with the Americans in either war and later immigrated? Recently, someone contacted me about writing a book about a Polish citizen who was shuffled through concentration camps during WWII and ended up being freed by the Americans in late 1944. This citizen was 14 years old at that time and chose to fight with one of our Armored Divisions. Later, he immigrated to the U.S. and created an incredible life for himself. This made me wonder how many others have stories like this that are not being investigated.

As years go by, our World War I veterans are all gone and the veterans and family members who lived during the World War II years die in large numbers and will soon be gone. It is up to us to keep their memories alive and tell their stories.

After both World Wars, many people immigrated to our country to begin new lives, U.S. immigration laws permitting. Have we looked at these immigrants or are we still focused on the early 1900 and earlier immigrants? If we have not, then why? Is it because of privacy restrictions on records or lack of records, like the 1950 U.S. Census which is not yet released?

How can we find information on the service of these men and women who served alongside or with our troops? Use the following checklist to help navigate your research on these family members.

Wartime Checklist

Attempt to locate information on your soldier’s service in Europe with foreign armies or the U.S. Army.

  • Talk to family members. Interview family members to learn all you can about your more recent immigrants. Just Google “genealogy interview questions” to find questions that will work for your family. Be sure to include questions on post-war immigration and life in the U.S.
  • Home Sources. Download my Military Home Source checklist to learn what items may be in your family’s homes to help move your research forward.
  • European record sets. Ancestry has digitized many European record sets containing vital records, church records, immigration records, and military records from overseas. Check these to learn facts to create a timeline of service for your soldier in Europe.
  • Talk to European military researchers. Researchers in Europe who specialize in specific units or battles, often have a wealth of information and veteran interviews that many in the U.S. do not have. Seeking out these experts will add a lot to your research.
  • U.S. Military Records. Do you know what unit(s) your family member fought alongside or with? Use my World War II Research Guide, which is a collection of articles on this blog, to learn how to start researching U.S. military service. While your family member may not be officially listed in most records, if you know what unit(s) he was with, you will gain historical context as to his contribution to the war effort.

Post-War Immigration Checklist

Locate the following databases on Ancestry.com to learn more about your family member.

  • Talk to family members. Interview family members to learn all you can about your more recent immigrants. Just Google “genealogy interview questions” to find questions that will work for your family. Be sure to include questions on post-war immigration and life in the U.S.
  • Home Sources. Download my Military Home Source checklist to learn what items may be in your family’s homes to help move your research forward.
  • Immigration Records. Document your family member and others who immigrated after the war. What information can you find that adds to their life story?
  • U.S. Census records 1920, 1930, 1940. What information does the census provide to help you prove birth, immigration year, education level and military service? Track all of your family members addresses. It will help you when you search U.S. City Directories.
  • Naturalization Records. Have you searched these to see if your post-war immigrants were naturalized? Many post-1930 U.S. District Court naturalization records contains photographs of the individual. In some cases, it is the only photo a family locates.
  • School records and yearbooks. Did your immigrant who fought with the U.S. military attend school in the U.S. after immigration? Check high school and college yearbooks to learn more.
  • Vital Records. Locate birth, marriage, and death records for your immigrant and his or her family members. All the clues will help you build your family’s story.
  • European record sets. Ancestry has digitized many European record sets containing vital records, church records, immigration records, and military records from overseas. Are you using these databases to learn more about your immigrants prior to their immigration? What can you learn about their lives? Were some records destroyed due to the wars? Be sure to note these instances within your research to keep your research on track, but also to let others know who view your family tree that not all records exist.

There are many resources available to genealogists to trace their family member’s lives and military service. The checklist provided here is not a complete list, but will get you started and encourage further research into other online and offline records.

Have you researched your immigrant family member’s post-war life? What interesting things did you find?

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