Most Americans have at least some immigrants in their family tree. They took ships, trains, airplanes, and even walked into this country. That is, unless you are from my family, where I would swear they sprung fully formed in place like Athena from Zeus’s head. Tracking down those pesky immigrant ancestors has given me headaches, backaches, and eye strain. It has left me muttering to myself, the results of which were concerned looks from my boys and amused grins from my husband.
In an attempt to help me locate my fully formed ancestors, and those of my husband too, I have been doing my best to educate myself on everything and anything having to deal with immigration. In addition to reading books, and looking up online resources, I have taken several classes through Family Tree University. I will admit that I have had a few break-through moments, and helpful hints from instructors on things to try next, but there are still questions that, for the life of me, I cannot answer.
Of course, the occasional ancestor that likes to purge and burn stuff has not helped the matter at all. Rule #1 of genealogy is to start at home. Look through what you have, ask your family; someone will be able to give you a clue no matter how small. So far that has not panned out so well in certain lines of the family. My maternal grandmother’s families immigrated to the United States in the mid-1800s from Germany and Ireland. Her parents’ generation had a purge and burn streak in them a mile wide. Unfortunately, it appears my father’s cousins do too. I wonder if it is genetic.
My one early break, if you can call it that, was finding the passenger manifest of my third-great-grandparents, William Armstrong and Elizabeth Adair. When I first started my research I wrote to my mother’s family Yahoo! group (very 21st century, huh?) and asked if anyone could help me. I got a listing of names, birth dates, and death dates for each set of grandparents. Then I found a book that my mother’s mother had given her that was the listing of all their descendants in the United States, and my name was even in it! I found the mention of their crossing from Ireland in it, but no image. It took me an hour of hunting at Ancestry, but I found it, and read the passenger list of the “Louisa” that departed Londonderry, Ireland and sailed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1808. It was thrilling to see it in black and white.
My husband’s side has not fared so well on sharing of memories and documents either. The Bennetts appear to have immigrated to New York City in the early 1870s. My father-in-law didn’t know anyone past his grandparents on that side of the family, and has been very interested in what I have located thus far. His great-grandmother was the daughter of German immigrants, which was a real surprise to him, and nope… nothing to be found at the homestead. Her father Emil Jahnke has proven just as elusive in immigration records as the Bennett’s have.
This leaves me with a lot of questions, and many possible leads to track down. It may also be one of those projects that I just can’t accomplish until after both my boys are in school and I can arrange time to actually go to places and physically do the research. Not everything is on the Internet…yet.
Photo from the Library of Congress
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.
Do you have Hoosier ancestors like Shannon? Register for our upcoming Indiana Genealogy Crash Course webinar!