Family history month is almost over! Week 3 of Family History Month gave you the chance to send your questions in to our very own Director of Family History, D. Joshua Taylor. Joshua has conducted genealogical research all over the world and is currently the President for the Federation of Genealogical Societies. He is also a host of the popular PBS series Genealogy Roadshow.
Here are his answers:
Linda asked... I believe my ancestors immigrated from Ireland to Canada during the Great Famine; were there particular ports in Ireland they would have departed from that primarily serviced Canadian arrival ports?
Joshua: There is a long history of immigration from Ireland to Canada, dating from the 1600s to the 1900s. In some cases, the port of departure depends on the time period and where the family was living in Ireland. During the Irish Famine, thousands of families journey to the United States and Canada. Common ports of departure from Ireland were Belfast, Cork, Dublin, and Waterford. It is also important to remember that Irish families also left from ports within England – including Bristol, Liverpool, London, and Southampton.
Official immigration records (such as passenger lists and border entries) do exist, though they do not often cover the period of the Great Famine. The Library and Archives Canada has produced a terrific guide to immigration records and compilations, which would be a great place to learn more.
Lori asked... My ancestors journeyed across the country following the railroad, and one supposedly died as a result of a train accident in the late 1890's. Are there resources I can utilize to learn if this is really true? I've been unable to locate his death certificate or any newspaper stories about the incident.
Joshua: Many of our ancestors traveled via railroad and luckily; there are plenty of records left behind to research. Your first step would be to locate a map of the railroads in the area(s) where your ancestor lived to learn of the major lines and companies operating in the area and search resources like ArchiveGrid for the name of the railroad line or company. There might be a mention of his death with an official accident report filed with the company.
There are also terrific records for employees of railroads and other general records that might hold answers to your questions. For example, some states, like Pennsylvania offer online tools and guides to railroad collections within their state.
@mod_roots asked... Do you have recommendations for tracking an adolescent immigrant? Specifically looking for a family from Germany during the Colonial period, but general advice on how to trace youth immigrants would be beneficial, too.
Joshua: A common myth in family history is that there was always a complete passenger list kept. This simply isn't the case – specifically during the colonial time period. Many of the sources that exist today are recreations of passenger lists from other sources (personal accounts, depositions, diaries, etc.). One method to finding an adolescent immigrant is to look closely at those he or she associates with during their first years of arrival in colonies. Another tactic for tracing a young immigrant is to "follow the money," (i.e. who supported their passage to the colonies?). Were they an apprentice, an indentured servant, or supported by a relative? Answering these questions might lead you to the missing piece of information.
James asked... I've searched all the passenger lists I can find, but I just cannot seem to locate my family! Do you have any suggestions for alternate sources that might indicate their arrival date in North America?
Joshua: If you haven't already searched ensure that you check the naturalization documents to see if they provide any further details on an ancestor's date of arrival. You might also check local newspapers from the time period an ancestor is thought to have arrived, as they might include listings of ships that have arrived in the area or even lists of arriving passengers. In addition, a page-by-page search of the passenger lists (if they exist for the time period you know an ancestor arrived) is often necessary as lists might merely list someone under a first initial or surname, making an exact search difficult. For example, my Taylor immigrant, William Joseph Taylor proved a bit difficult to find, as he is listed simply as "W. Taylor" on one passenger list.
Elizabeth asked... I believe my ancestor came into the U.S. via New Orleans; are there trustworthy online resources for the areas that had less traffic than Ellis Island?
Joshua: As you are finding, there are several other ports of arrival beyond Ellis Island that should be researched. I'm not aware of any specific resources for other areas outside of New York City – however the U.S. Passenger Lists collection at Findmypast is quickly adding records from ports around the U.S – including San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami, Boston, Baltimore, and elsewhere. These records are incredible reliable, as they originate from the official lists kept by the National Archives and Records Administration.