Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Crossing the Border

It may well be that political boundaries have always existed since the very first human organizations. It is a certainty that, at least, for the last one hundred years, individuals had to obtain some sort of permission to move across an international boundary or even internal political boundaries within a single country. At times, some countries imposed and still impose travel restrictions on their own citizens and even the process of moving from one city to another to work, requires documentation. That need for permission generates a whole slew of documents that genealogists can use to identify and track individuals. Even if permission was not necessary, there are still documents that track the movements of individuals and families.

The list of documents that record the efforts of your ancestors to cross a border is extensive. The list includes some of these categories of documents:

  • Ship manifests or passenger lists
  • Border crossing records
  • Passports
  • Visas
  • Work permits
  • Travel permits
  • Exit permits
  • Immigration and emigration documents
  • Church records
  • Business records
  • Police Records
  • Military Records and/or Failure to report for service records
  • Citizenship records including, but not limited to naturalization records
  • Port of departure records
  • Approval to emigrate before departure
  • Published announcements of emigration
  • Pre-departure records
  • Consular records
  • Home town censuses and emigrant lists
  • Illegal and extralegal emigration
A common challenge for genealogical researchers in the United States is determining the place of origin of the immigrant. Any of the above record categories and many more types of records can contain that sort of information. I recently identified the birth place of a Great-great-grandfather from a church record. So where would I begin?

The first step, as is commonly taught to budding genealogists, is to start with the records your family has preserved. Any surviving records should be carefully examined to determine if the record contains information about the place of origin of the ancestor. But if these home sources have been exhausted, then there are many websites containing vast amounts of information about international and even local travelers. 

The first place I would look for ancestors' movements would be the Immigrant Ancestors Project. Here is the description of the project from the website:
Immigrant Ancestors is a project sponsored by Brigham Young University's Center for Family History and Genealogy. To create the database, images of emigrant records are transmitted over the Web to volunteers who extract their contents and send them back to the project team at Brigham Young University (BYU). BYU students are hired as part of the project team to supervise the volunteers and edit their work before adding it to the database.
This database already contains hundreds of thousands of records from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. You can see a list of the archives that have been used to create the lists by clicking here. See the information on Records and Laws on this website.

Next, I would recommend following the links contained in the Research Wiki on United States Emigration and Immigration. In addition to links for each state in the United States, the Research Wiki contains the following list of resources:

See also United States Immigration and Naturalization Online Resources. Of course, you should search the large online genealogy websites, including,, and Here are a few other very useful websites to get you started:
This is only the barest beginning of a list of place to search. I included the Australian records because I have two lines of ancestors who came to the Unites States from Australia and also we are coming up on the celebration of Australia Day on the 26th of January. See #AustraliaDay. 


  1. This is a great resource. Here's something I wish you would do and maybe you already have, and I'm just too new to the site to know. But some of your articles deal with items, or ft issues and updates, and other things. And some like this article are for pure Research. Is there some way to categorize your articles into broad topics. I always feel as if I need to copy the Research items because I know I'll have to really search for them later. Think about it. I'd love to go to a search button on this blog, and type in Research Items, and see the little gems all in one place.

    1. You bring up an interesting issue. I tried using topics to characterize my posts for some time and stopped because I got so many topics I couldn't handle it. Perhaps, broader topics would have solved the issues? I'll see what I can do.

  2. It is important to remind people that the answer to "Where do you come from?" is not the same as the answer to "where were you born?"

    Even knowing that, people can err. Obviously, if my family moved when I was young, the answers to those questions are different. But they are also different if a person was born someplace other than where the family lived at the time. Young mother goes "home" to have her child. Or the birth was at a hospital in the next county.

    And we must remember that the person answerng may have one question in mind while the document ask the other question.

    1. That is exactly what happened to me. I was born in Utah instead of Arizona, because my mother went "home" to have a baby.