Hard to Find Ancestors – Maybe They Took a Detour?
If you’re frustrated on the trail your hard to find ancestors, you may have to consider – did your immigrant ancestors detour on their way here?
The Canadian port of St. John, New Brunswick, was a magnet for Irish immigration during the 1840s, the decade that culminated in the Great Famine. A majority of these Irish immigrants eventually relocated to Boston or elsewhere in New England to rejoin other family members. Since many of the aforementioned Irish arrived in Canada in a destitute or infirm condition, however, they were required to take temporary refuge in the alms and work houses, hospitals, and asylums of St. John. (See the publication, Irish Emigration to New England Through the Port of St. John, New Brunswick,1841 to 1849 for additional information. A number of records of these institutions have survived and now serve as a surrogate record of these persons “missing” from the official passenger lists. Irish Emigration to New England Through the Port of St. John, New Brunswick,1841 to 1849 identifies some 7,000 persons of Irish birth from the records of alms houses, hospitals, parish houses, etc.)
As in the case of the Irish to St. John, an immigrant’s stopover could last a generation. For example, a number of the 17th-century pioneers of Long Island, New York, actually came from Connecticut, not directly from Great Britain. You should not assume that immigrant ancestors who lived in one place necessarily came there directly from their birth country, especially if no record of the immigrants can be found among the records of the state or colony you associate with them.
Sometimes an immigrant ancestor’s family detour could last generations, or even centuries. Scottish immigration authority David Dobson has documented that thousands of Scots first immigrated to Holland, Scandinavia, Poland, or other places in Eastern Europe, as well as the West Indies, before the New World beckoned. Millions of Germans immigrated to other European nations (e.g., Russia, Poland, Hungary), where their descendants may have lived for generations before casting their lot in the New World (in virtually all of the Americas). As a matter of fact, some of these detours were so extensive that immigrants retained designations like “Germans from Russia” even after they had resettled in the Dakotas and other places in the American Midwest.
If you have exhausted all other avenues for finding your immigrant ancestor, you may wish to explore the possibility that he, she or their forebears took a detour before laying down roots in America. Here are a handful of books that shed light on this phenomenon:
In relation to your Scottish ancestors, David Dobson has some of the highest quality resources available:
- Scots in Latin America: Emigration from Scotland to Latin America began in earnest following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. David Dobson here enumerates the members of this exodus. Dobson’s findings are based on primary sources in Scotland, especially documents in archives, newspapers, and cemetery transcriptions. While there is considerable variance from description to description, each entry identifies the passenger by country (and sometimes city) of origin, a date when the immigrant was known to have resided in Latin America, and the source of the information. Dobson’s Scotsmen turn up in a number of Latin American countries, including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, British Guiana, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
- Scots in Poland, Russia and the Baltic States, 1550-1850: The main period of Scottish settlement in Eastern Europe occurred from 1560 to 1650, when Scottish, German, Dutch, and Jewish entrepreneurs were lured to the Baltic by the promise of economic opportunity. By the 1640s, according to one authority, as many as 30,000 Scots resided in Poland alone. The author of this work has combed through more than 40 manuscript collections and published works to arrive at a list of 2,500 Scots who settled in the Baltic.
- Scots in the West Indies, 1707-1857. Volume I: Arranged alphabetically by surname, many of the entries in this volume were culled from Scottish newspapers like the “Aberdeen Journal,” in which notices would appear seeking to employ managers and servants. In all, David Dobson identifies nearly 3,000 Scotsmen by full name, island inhabited, date, and source of the information, and sometimes by occupation, parent(s) name(s), and education.
- Scots-Dutch Links in Europe and America, 1575-1825: The Scottish presence in the Netherlands was such that by 1700 about a thousand Scots lived in the city of Rotterdam alone. Over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, some of these Scots or their descendants participated in the Dutch emigration to America. For his latest book, Scottish emigration expert David Dobson has found over 2,000 separate references to this traffic. In each case, he states the individual’s name, occupation (soldier, merchant, student, etc.), date of the reference, and the source.
Geraldine Lane has drawn on her experience as a family history researcher in Barbados to compile this unique, comprehensive guide to Barbados genealogy, Tracing Ancestors in Barbados. The book covers all sections of Barbadian society, from English planter families to indentured servants and the tens of thousands of Africans brought in as slaves. Many of these people subsequently moved on to the United States and other destinations to seek their fortune beyond Barbados.
East Prussians from Russia is the account of some 240 Prussian families who first migrated to the Ukraine and then re-settled in Marinette and Oconto counties, Wisconsin. The author, Michael J. Anuta, furnishes the family member’s year of birth, date of entry into the U.S., country of origin, port of entry, and date of death, as well as the name of his spouse, and her dates of birth and death.
Contents and Addresses of Hungarian Archives contains up-to-date addresses of some 70 Hungarian archives – national, county, religious, and special–as well as a listing of genealogical holdings of various archives as noted in the ”Guide to the Archives of Hungary” published by the Archival Board of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture in 1976. This book is crucial for tracking Germans who emigrated to Hungary before coming to the Americas.
In this work, Where to Look for Hard-to-Find German-Speaking Ancestors in Eastern Europe, the late Bruce and Edward Brandt provide the surname of every German-speaking individual who appears in 13 authoritative histories – 11 of them written in German – that document the massive emigration of Germanic individuals to Eastern Europe. In all, this work lists 19,720 surnames of German-speaking ancestors who emigrated to Russia, Poland, Romania, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
Image credit: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Missouri in c.1909, By Deceased family member.Jeanne boleyn at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.