West Virginia, Missing Ancestors

Missing Ancestors? Check the Feeder States!

Here’s a familiar genealogical conundrum: A researcher has traced his/her ancestors from present-day California back to the Dust Bowl-era in Nebraska, into Missouri just as it was achieving statehood, and finally to Indiana in the 1830s. At that point, the trail has grown cold even though legend has it that the family patriarch was a Pennsylvania patriot during the Revolution. So, how does the genealogist pick up the scent of the missing ancestor at this point?

One way to find missing ancestors is by studying the various migration routes our relatives traveled to their new homes. For instance, before 1800, between Boston, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina, our forebears followed one of a score or more of tested land and/or river routes. Our hypothetical Pennsylvanian, for example, might have traversed the Southern Road, from Philadelphia to Baltimore, where he could pick up the National Road. This would have taken him into western Maryland, briefly back into Pennsylvania, and then into western Virginia (today West Virginia), before the road leveled off in Ohio and Indiana. By the 1830s, of course, canals and railroads were beginning to compete with roads and turnpikes as the principal means of westward transportation. Continue reading…

germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – Tool for Locating Ancestors

If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from? According to the authors of Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources, Raymond S. Wright III, Nathan S. Rives, Mirjam J. Kirkham, and Saskia Schier Bunting, the answer to both of these questions is “No!”

First some background: the German Territories, and later the German Empire, provided more emigrants to America than any other European national group. When they came to America, German immigrants left behind a trail of records familiar to everyone in genealogy from births, marriages, and deaths, to citizenship and census records, and from land and tax records to emigration records. The key to German genealogical research, of course, is to find out where these records are located, but since there are more than 2,000 national, state, and local repositories in Germany, to say nothing of church repositories and other private archives, such an undertaking is daunting if not downright impossible. We know there are records, but what good are they if we can’t find them? And these records stretch back to the Middle Ages, encompassing family history sources so vast in number and so scattered that the mind reels.

To overcome this challenge, Brigham Young University (BYU) launched its Immigrant Ancestors Project in 1996. The principal mission of this undertaking at the time was to identify the records of German emigrants and to create Internet-accessible databases describing emigrants’ birthplaces, occupations, spouses, and children. Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources is the direct outgrowth of that ambitious project.

Under the supervision of Professor Raymond Wright, BYU mailed questionnaires to approximately 2,000 national, state, and local German government archives, as well as private archives. The questionnaires asked archivists to identify their archives’ jurisdictions and to describe the records housed in their collections and the services provided by their staff. The questionnaires asked specifically for information about each archive’s collections of vital records, religious records, military records, emigration records, passport records, censuses, and town and county records. Archivists were also asked to describe any published guides or inventories to their collections. The returned questionnaires, supplemented by Internet searches, were used to create summaries of each archive’s jurisdictions, holdings, and services.

The result of this massive survey is an exhaustive guide to family history sources in German archives at every level of jurisdiction, public and private. Anyone searching for data about people who lived in Germany in the past need only determine which archives today have jurisdiction over the records that were created by church or state institutions. The Locality Index at the back of Ancestors in German Archives, moreover, makes this task even easier because it identifies every town with an archive, no matter what kind.

Let’s return to the questions we initially asked as it relates to a German genealogy search: If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from?

If you find a passenger record that states when and from where in Germany your ancestor came, you still have to figure out what German state, city, parish, or other repository has control of his/her records. If you cannot find a passenger record but have a rough idea of your German ancestor’s origins (e.g., from Heidelberg after the U.S. Civil War), you may be able to skip over the missing passenger list and go directly to German vital records for your ancestor. Whichever the case, Ancestors in German Archives will make your task far easier than ever before. It is a one-stop guide to genealogical sources in Germany, and, most importantly, it answers the fundamental questions about the very existence of genealogical records in Germany and paves the way for successful research.

Image credit: Emperor Charlemagne and Emperor Sigismund, by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hard to find Ancestors, Irish Immigrants

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. Continue reading…

Early settlers

Early Settlers of Pennsylvania

Because of its unique immigration policy, Pennsylvania led the way in colonial America in the ethnic diversity of its early settlers. Among early settlers of Pennsylvania, we find English, Irish, and Dutch Quakers; German and Swiss Mennonites, Anabaptists, and Pietists; and Ulster Presbyterians, the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen.

The first “ethnic migration” to be officially documented – mainly in the form of ships’ passenger lists, records of indenture, naturalization records, land records, tax lists, and sundry church records – began in southeastern Pennsylvania between the 1680s and 1720s. These early records include the earliest passenger arrivals in Philadelphia in 1683, the Swiss and Rhineland arrivals in Philadelphia and a host of other groups. Immigrants from Germany’s Rhineland area and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania by the thousands.

Looking for the most authoritative works on Pennsylvania’s German and Swiss immigration? Eshleman’s “Historic Background and Annals of the Swiss and German Pioneer Settlers of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and of their Remote Ancestors,” explores the background of the great sectarian movements in Germany, Switzerland and Holland, and focuses attention on the Mennonite families who later emigrated to Pennsylvania. As many as 300,000 German and Swiss immigrants and settlers have been identified in this work. In addition, all three volumes of “Pennsylvania German Church Records” can be found here, with volumes one, two and three also available individually. These records refer to approximately 91,000 individuals and include births, baptisms, marriages, and burials. They identify people and their relationships to one another–not only parents and children, husbands and wives, but witnesses and sponsors as well.

A more overarching resource on Pennsylvania’s immigration, the Family Archive CD provides a wealth of information on the earliest settlers of the Keystone State. This particular CD contains data on places of origin, dates of arrival, places of residence, ages, occupations, names of wives and children (with details of births, marriages, and deaths), and a host of other details derived from nine respected Pennsylvania reference works. This collection also contains a single electronic name index of 200,000 entries, which allows you to search all the volumes quickly and effortlessly.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, “Pioneer Settlers building Adventure Galley on the Youghiogheny.” This image is from the publication, “History of the Ordinance of 1787 and the Old Northwest Territory.”