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Searching Using Communities

Article Date: 
18 June, 2010 - 06:00

Is your family dead-ended on a research problem related to immigration?  The following are a few techniques and websites to help you in your genealogical quest.
First, you may want to think of your family as a part of a community.  There were many immigrants who came with only their immediate family, but the majority were a part of a chain of individuals who set out to find a new life.  
It sometimes helps to relate the emigration experience to ourselves.  Think about what you would do if you were planning to relocate to England, Sweden, or Australia.  Your first thought might be about those you knew there available to help you.  Family members or friends that had previously emigrated might come to mind.
Our ancestors were no exception to this.  Often when looking at immigration and emigration records there is a pattern that emerges in a family or community over time.  One person may emigrate to another country and thrive in their new life.  They may find a way to purchase and own land regardless of their previous ability.  Back home, neighbors, friends, and family members will come to hear about their experience through long-distance communication.  A success story may persuade others to take the leap.
When the friends, neighbors, or family decide to take this action, they often settle near the person with whom they have been communicating.  This is one reason why we see Scandinavians clustered in communities in Minnesota.  It is why there was a large Swedish community near Price in Utah.
If you are stuck in your research on an immigration issue, look to friends and neighbors around your ancestor.   It could be that you will find more success in researching those individuals.  They may have left a clearer path behind them or already made the move across the ocean.  You can then put your sights on possible locations and search there for your ancestors.
There are a few sites that are also worthy of note.  Ellis Island has the most extensive set of records of immigrants to the United States.  While not the only place where entry into the country took place, it was by far the most utilized.  FamilySearch and Ellis Island indexed these records.  They can be found at EllisIsland.org.
When you search for and find a record, it will have the name, ethnicity, last place of residence, date of arrival, age at arrival, gender, marital status, ship of travel, port of  departure, and manifest line number of the ship’s passenger manifest.  If you click through the ship’s manifest you can see whether they were planning to join a relative or friend as well as other distinguishing characteristics of the immigrant.  You can also see whether they were coming for a short-term trip, or to stay permanently.  As you look at the records you will see that most immigrants were planning to join a relative.  
Once you find the record you can order a physical copy of it, if you wish.  For $29.00 Ellis Island will provide you an archival quality certificate with information about your ancestor’s entry into this country.  They will also provide the ship’s manifest in either an 11 X 17 for $29.00 or a 17 X 22 for $39.00.  These provide evidence of the source of the record and are nice keepsakes.
These records are rich sources of information.  They can provide valuable clues to help locate your ancestors.  Last week, I wrote about doing research on those who live near an ancestor.  This strategy of searching for community migration patterns is a variation on that theme.  Searching for the migration patterns of those who lived in the community with your ancestor may be the key to unlocking their place of origin.
In addition to the records at Ellis Island, FindMyPast.com also has an extensive collection of ships’ manifests from ships leaving from the United Kingdom.  If you cannot find the record of your English ancestor in the Ellis Island records, it may be worthwhile to look in the passenger lists at FindMyPast.com.  There is also a smaller yet significant set of records at immigrants.byu.edu.  The BYU Center For Family History and Genealogy has been sending students to European countries including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and the UK for many years.  These students visit less utilized, but significant ports.  They capture images and then transcribe the passenger list records from these ports.  This project has made available records that cannot be found anywhere else.
Searching for your ancestor through their community can be rewarding.  You will likely learn more about them, their friends, their neighbors, and their motivation for striking out in search of a new life.  You also may finally find that clue that takes you across the ocean to new green fields of research.