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Friday, November 25, 2022

Immigration: The Greatest Genealogical Challenge, Part One: The larger picture

During the past almost two years, I have scheduled over 500 consultations online working with the Salt Lake City FamilySearch Library (Family History Library). I estimate that well over 80% of those consultations were questions regarding finding an immigrant ancestor's origin. The most common countries of origin of the ancestors were Italy, Spain, Ireland, and Germany. The popularity of Italy and Spain came from the fact that most of my consultations were and are in Spanish. After you prepare to find this many immigrants, you have a pretty good idea about the issues involved.
Here in the United States, we live in a nation of immigrants. If you go far enough back in history, everyone who lives on both American continents are immigrants from somewhere else. Every one of our ancestral lines ultimately disappears into the shadows of the past or reaches an immigrant. 

The most common end-of-line challenge is finding the origin of the immigrant. Everyone involved in their family history will inevitably either be looking for an immigrant or finding that there are no more records to search. 

American history usually focuses on immigrants from Europe and primarily those who came to the eastern part of the country. In every age, the immigrant has been barely tolerated, vilified, or persecuted. From the earliest settlements in North America, immigrants have been blamed for a myriad of national and local ills. As a result, the prejudice against whatever group of people were coming to the United States at the time, creates barriers to research about the immigrant's origin. Name changes and withholding information about the immigrant's place of origin are common responses to prejudice and impede genealogical research. 

[Illus. for article "an alien anti-dumping bill" in The Literary Digest, May 7, 1921, p. 13, reprinting a cartoon by Hallahan for Providence Evening Bulletin, showing funnel bridging Atlantic with top at Europe crammed with emigrants and bottom at U.S. with Uncle Sam permitting immigrants to trickle through]

During to the early years of the immigration to the east coast of the country, it is estimated that as many as one half to two thirds of all the immigrants to the Colonial America arrived as indentured servants. (See Indentured Servants, Apprentices, and Convicts: Finding Family Histories at the Library of Congress) These figures may be disputable, but the number is still large enough to explain why many research efforts to identify the origin of indentured men and women becomes difficult to impossible. Included in the numbers of indentured servants are the numbers of people who were sent to the colonies as convicts. The number of convicts is estimated at about 50 to 60,000. (See Butler, James Davie. 1896. “British Convicts Shipped to American Colonies.” The American Historical Review 2 (1): 12–33.

Until the first immigration laws were passed in the United States in 1882, (See Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)) all an immigrant had to do to enter the country was to walk across the border or disembark from a ship. There was no consistent, unified effort to identify and record entry into the colonies. The main resources for finding an immigrant are passenger lists. But that only moves the challenge to finding the port of entry. 

Beginning with that first law in 1882, the immigration laws changed and continue to change almost constantly. One of the most useful changes that helps to find the place of origin of an immigrant occurred when the naturalization laws changed in 1906 to move all citizenship and naturalization applications to the Federal Court system. 

Immigration is not a local phenomenon. Every country in the world has some level of emigration or immigration. In the United States, the complex immigration laws passed since 1882 have created the idea of an "illegal immigrant." Immigration law in the United States is second only to the income tax code in legal complexity. See York. September 27, 2021, “15 Myths About Immigration Debunked.” Carnegie Corporation of New York. Accessed November 25, 2022. See also “10 Countries That Take the Most Migrants.” n.d. US News & World Report. Accessed November 25, 2022.

In 2018, there were 1,096,611 immigrants to the United States. In the same year, there were 396,579 U.S. Border Patrol Apprehensions along the Southwest Border. See “Southwest Border Migration FY2018 | U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” n.d. Accessed November 25, 2022. In contrast, quoting from “Irish-Catholic Immigration to America | Irish | Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History | Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress.” n.d. Web page. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Accessed November 25, 2022.

It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930.

Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation.
The number of Irish Americans in the United States in 2010 was 34,670,009. See the following from the United States Census Bureau, “American FactFinder - Results.” 2015. Archive.Ph. January 18, 2015. This number was only exceeded by the number of German Americans of 47,911,129. With these numbers, you can easily see why I would have questions about German and Irish immigrants.

Argentina is an example of the impact of immigration, 62.5% of the population has Italian ancestry. See “Italian Argentines.” 2022. In Wikipedia. Accessed 25 November 2022, The number of Argentines with Spanish ancestry is about 31.4% of the population. The rest came from Germany, the British Isles, France, and other parts of Europe. 

This is a series. I intend to trace not only the history of immigration in the United States, but include information about immigration in many other countries around the world. The goal is to provide a basic understanding to the challenges faced by those who are descendant from immigrants. 

It is also to begin the process of identifying the causes of migration and therefore immigration and emigration. I will also explain the main avenues of research to make some progress in locating the origin of an immigrant. 

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