Immigration Master Class: How to Find Immigrants, Ancestral Villages and Foreign Records

Want to kick-start your research of your immigrant ancestors? The Immigration Master Class is an eight-week intensive of the following classes, giving you three courses for the price of two:

Many people get interested in genealogy because they want to learn more about where their family came from—specifically, to find out which ancestors came over from the “old country” and when. In the first part of the session, you’ll learn how to pinpoint when and where they left and how to locate records documenting their immigration.

To “cross the pond,” you need to know the name of the town or village where your ancestor lived. The second part of the Master Class will teach you how identify your ancestor’s place of origin, show you the key tools you need to do so and give you an overview of the factors that likely influenced an immigrant’s decision to leave home.

After you’ve identified the immigrants in your family tree and pinpointed the place your family came from, you’re ready to begin exploring resources in the home country. The third part of our Immigrant Master Class walks you through the steps to successfully cross the pond and find your family in foreign records.


$199.99 ($179.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

8 Weeks


Lisa A. Alzo

Start Date:

View upcoming course schedule for dates.


  • How to gather immigration information about your immigrant ancestors
  • Which US sources to consult in tracing an immigrant ancestor, and what they can tell you
  • Where to look for your ancestor’s naturalization records and/or passenger list—online and offline
  • How social history and migration patterns can help you track your ancestor
  • Key immigration time periods and the factors that influenced immigrants to leave their homelands
  • Historical geography, how outside forces influenced place name changes, and terms you need to know
  • How ethnicity and religion can help you track your ancestor
  • Key tools for locating your ancestral town, such as atlases, gazetteers, maps and online resources
  • Ways to access records from countries all over the world without traveling there
  • Tips for writing to overseas archives and record offices, including sample letters
  • Guidance for interpreting foreign language documents
  • Tips for planning an overseas research trip


  • People who wish to learn where their family came from outside the United States
  • Descendants of fairly recent immigrants—e.g., late 19th- and early 20th-century arrivals—who have just a few generations to trace in US sources
  • Researchers who have traced a family line as far back in America as they can, and want to take their research to the next level
  • Genealogists with roots in Europe
  • Researchers who want to learn how to find and access genealogical records from other countries


  • This course assumes you understand the basics principles of genealogy and have done some investigation into your family history. If you are a total beginner, consider taking the Discover Your Family Tree course before enrolling in this class.
  • Access to and other subscription genealogy databases will help you get the most from this class. Many libraries offer free on-site access to these websites.
  • An audio recorder, video camera or some other device to capture oral history interviews is recommended but not required.
  • A foreign-language/English dictionary for the language of your ancestors’ country is helpful, but not required.


Part 1: Tracing Immigrants

Lesson 1: Tapping Family Papers and Memories

A. Home and family sources
I. What sources to seek for immigration information
II. How to gather materials and information

B. Oral history interviews

I. Preparation
II. Questions for gleaning immigration details
III. Tips for conducting an interview
IV. What to do after the interview
V. Whom to interview
VI. Recording what you’ve found

C. Exercise

Lesson 2: Finding Clues in US Records

A. Where to find records you need
I. Records containing immigration clues
II. Censuses
III. Immigration data by year
IV. Sample records
V. How to access censuses

B. Vital records

I. Clues in birth, marriage and death records
II. How to access vital records

C. Social Security records

I. Social Security Death Index
II. SS-5 application files

D. Military records

I. WWI draft registrations
II. WWII draft registrations
III. Civil War and Revolutionary War service and pension records
IIII. Where to find military records

E. Other key records for researching an immigrant

I. Land
II. Probate

F. Exercise

Lesson 3: Tracking Down Immigration Records

A. Naturalization records
I. First papers
II. Second papers
III. Sample records
IV. How to get your ancestor’s naturalization files

B. Alien Registrations
C. Passenger lists

I. Arrival records
a. Ellis Island
b. Castle Garden
c. Immigration Collection
d. Steve Morse’s "one-step" tools
e. Microfilmed records
f. Sample documents

II. Departure records

a. Hamburg
b. Bremen
c. Liverpool
d. Other ports

D. Exercise

Lesson 4: Searching for Elusive Immigrants

A. The importance of social history
I. Push and pull factors
II. Chain migration

B. Finding an immigrant through his relatives and countrymen
C. Exercise

Part 2: Finding Your Ancestral Village

Lesson 1: US Immigration History

A.    Periods of immigration

I.    Before 1790

II.    1790-1820

III.    1880-1930

B.    Why our ancestors immigrated

I.    Push factors

II.    Pull factors

C.    Quiz

Lesson 2: Finding a Town Name

A.    Before you begin: key research principles

I.    Three keys to success  

II.    The genealogy research cycle

B.    Sources to check

I.    Home sources

II.    Vital records

III.    US censuses

IV.    Naturalization records and passenger lists

V.    Obituaries

VI.    Military records

VII.    Social Security

C.    Additional tips and strategies

D.    Exercise

Lesson 3: Hurdles of Historical Geography

A.    Place-based terminology

I.    Challenge #1: Is your place actually a town? 

II.    Key terms to know

III.    Resources to research jurisdictions in your ancestral country

B.    Language and spelling stumbling blocks

I.    Challenge #2: How do you spell that?

II.    Resources to resolve mispellings

C.    Boundary changes

I.    Challenge #3: Where was the town when your ancestor lived there?

II.    Study the history of the area

III.    Learn alternate names

D.    Exercise

Lesson 4: Locating Your Ancestral Town

A.    Gazetteers

B.    Mapping Resources

C.    Exercise

Part 3: Research in Foreign Records

Lesson 1: Identifying Available Records

A. Reviewing the research you’ve done

B. Gathering finding aids

C. Developing a research strategy

D. Exercise

Lesson 2: Researching From the New World

A. Accessing records online

I. Major websites

II. Tips for locating online records

B. Family History Library microfilm

I. The library’s collection

II. Using the library catalog

C. Making connections in the old country

I. Finding distant relatives

II. Contacting your ancestral village

III. Social networking

D. Exercise

Lesson 3: Tapping Into Foreign Repositories

A. Writing to archives in other countries

I. Preparing your request

II. Translation tools

B. Hiring a professional researcher

C. Planning a research trip abroad

D. Exercise

Lesson 4: Reading and Interpreting Foreign Records

A. Tips and tools to deal with unfamiliar languages

B. Practice with sample documents

C. Exercise

Comments are closed.