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Make certain you have exhausted all records the
immigrant and his family left in this country before attempting to cross the
1. Family Records - have you checked with all family members (distant and close) to see if anyone has anything in their possession that help with place of origin? Are there stories or oral traditions that help?
2. Family Pictures - If your immigrant lived in the late 19th century or later were any family portraits done back in the old country or did they have any pictures of family left behind? Studios and towns were often printed somewhere on the picture.
5. Funeral Home Records. You can
start by going to Funeral Net for a
listing of current funeral homes. Usually if you contact a funeral
home in the place your ancestor died they can tell you if they existed at
the time of their death and if they have the records or who might have the
records at this time. Funeral cards often gave a birthplace for the
Cards Online is a growing database of these that give good examples of
what you might get if you can track down a funeral card. Sometimes
more detailed records were kept
6. Obituaries. Most state libraries now have inventories of microfilmed newspapers for their state which can be interlibrary loaned through your public library. To see what has been filmed and can be borrowed Google using a search like Illinois Newspapers Microfilm and you should see links to libraries who have filmed collections. Look carefully on their sites for directories and when you find the roll that you think will help you print the page and take it to the library when you request it be interlibrary loaned. This will greatly help your librarian.
You might also want to look carefully at the
state library site or google the local library where your ancestor lived to
see if they have a policy that will look for an obituary if you have an
exact death date. An example would be Washington State Library's
"Ask a Librarian" program where you can email a request for an obituary.
7. Marriage Records. Particularly from the
1880s onward marriages often gave specific details on birthplace.
Some of these are filmed through the
Family History Library. Some must be gotten by writing the
county court where your ancestors
were married. There are also marriage databases on Ancestry and many
county Genweb sites but remember that if details about birthplace were
recorded they often have not been put in the database and you need to track
down the original of the marriage.
8. Census. 1850 is the
first census that will list all family members and record the country of birth.
1890 census was burned but the census for veterans survived (and is on Ancestry)
1900 census asks for the year of immigration for each person and number of years in the U.S. and whether they are naturalized citizens.
1910 asks for year of immigration and if they are naturalized and if they are a veteran of the Civil War.
1920 asks for year of immigration and if they are
naturalized and if so what year were they naturalized.
9. Military Records - particularly pension
records will sometimes give an exact place of birth. If they are the
son of immigrant parents they will sometimes list parents birthplace in some
manner i.e. "I was born in Adams Co. Pennsylvania. My father was born
in Switzerland and my mother born in New Jersey.
10. Church Records - Lutheran
often brought letters of introduction from their old congregation to their
new. Some vital records were recorded at the church level that gave
birthplaces of parents etc. Google is helpful here - try searches
11. County Histories - Usually published in
the late 1800s often give detailed information of place of origin for people
born outside the states.
Some places for finding county histories:
12. Homestead Papers. Start with
site and see if a patent for your ancestor is there. Not all
entries in the database are for homesteads but if your ancestor did apply
for homestead foreign
born applicants were supposed to show proof of naturalization when they
applied. The applications are held by the
National Archives but
sometimes county courthouses also have various homestead documentation.