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Finding Ancestors When You Don't Know a Port of Arrival in America or Year of Immigration

Where did your Ancestor Arrive in America?

In the 1800s and 1900s there were five major ports of arrival for immigrants. They were New York New York, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Baltimore Maryland, Boston Massachusetts and New Orleans Louisiana

There were smaller ports of arrival that you should consider - Maine, Delaware, Rhode Island, Texas, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Alaska, California, Hawaii and Washington

Your ancestor may have arrived at a Canadian Port (fares were cheaper) and then travelled across the Canada-U.S. border to settle. If your ancestor came via Mexico he would use a USA-Mexico Border Entry port such as Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas

Think about where your ancestor settled. Then choose a port of arrival that was closest. If your ancestor did not settle in or near a Port City, which arrival port had the most common, the fastest, the easiest or the cheapest route to get to your ancestor's local settlement area?

Check census records and land records to see where your immigrant ancestor settled after arrival.


When Did Your Ancestor Arrive in America?

If you are not sure of the approximate year of your ancestorís arrival, search other records for clues:

The 1870 census records whether or not an individual was naturalized. If your ancestor has a check mark in the column Male Citizens of the United States of twenty-one years of age and upwards you have a clue that naturalization took place before 1870

The 1900, 1910 ,1920 and 1930 census identify citizenship status, with notations showing if the individual was an Alien, or had started the Naturalization process or had his final papers. They also give the year of immigration.1920 census also gives the year of naturalization.

There are indexes to names of passengers on ships passenger lists for most ports after 1820 (New York is an exception). Consult the list of NARA & FHC film numbers. Find the film # you need, then order it in to your closest FHC or have NARA do a lookup.

Land Records are helpful because immigrants often applied for land shortly after arrival.

Annual City Directories can help narrow down an immigration year.

Death Records sometimes give the number of years the deceased had resided in United States.

Naturalization Records can also be helpful in determining an immigration year and port of arrival


Did Your Ancestor Arrive in America as Part of an Ethnic Group Immigration?

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