Tracing Immigrants: How to Research Your Family’s American Arrivals

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. This course will teach you how to identify an immigrant ancestor in your family tree. You’ll learn how to pinpoint when and where he or she left and locate records documenting his or her immigration. Each of the four lessons includes an assignment designed to help you progress in your research of an immigrant ancestor.


  • How to gather immigration information about your immigrant ancestors through home sources and oral history interviews
  • 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


$99.99 ($89.99 for VIP)

Course Length:

4 Weeks


Lisa A. Alzo

Start Date:

There are no sessions currently scheduled for this course. It is available as an Independent Study course, and as part of the Immigration Master Class course.


  • 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


  • 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.


Lesson 1: Tapping Family Papers and Memories

  • Home and family sources
    • What sources to seek for immigration information
    • How to gather materials and information
  • Oral history interviews
    • Preparation
    • Questions for gleaning immigration details
    • Tips for conducting an interview
    • What to do after the interview
    • Whom to interview
    • Recording what you’ve found
  • Exercise

Lesson 2: Finding Clues in US Records

  • Where to find records you need
    • Records containing immigration clues
    • Censuses
    • Immigration data by year
    • Sample records
    • How to access censuses
  • Vital records
    • Clues in birth, marriage and death records
    • How to access vital records
  • Social Security records
    • Social Security Death Index
    • SS-5 application files
  • Military records
    • WWI draft registrations
    • WWII draft registrations
    • Civil War and Revolutionary War service and pension records
    • Where to find military records
  • Other key records for researching an immigrant
    • Land
    • Probate
  • Exercise

Lesson 3: Tracking Down Immigration Records

  • Naturalization records
    • First papers
    • Second papers
    • Sample records
    • How to get your ancestor’s naturalization files
  • Alien Registrations
  • Passenger lists
    • Arrival records
      • Ellis Island
      • Castle Garden
      • Immigration Collection
      • Steve Morse’s “one-step” tools
      • Microfilmed records
      • Sample documents
    • Departure records
      • Hamburg
      • Bremen
      • Liverpool
      • Other ports
  • Exercise

Lesson 4: Searching for Elusive Immigrants

  • The importance of social history
    • Push and pull factors
    • Chain migration
  • Finding an immigrant through his relatives and countrymen
  • Exercise

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