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Immigrants landing at Castle Garden

Researching Immigrant Ancestors to America, 1620–1965

July 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, 2024
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 7:30 PM ET
Rhonda R. McClure
Hallie Kirchner
James Heffernan
10% Member Discount

For centuries, people have immigrated to America to escape religious or social persecution, claim a better life, or seek adventure. No matter what century your ancestors arrived in America, this five-week online seminar will provide you with the historical context, records, resources, and research strategies for understanding immigration and naturalization in the United States since 1620. From passenger lists and border crossings to naturalization records and alien files, our instructors will explain how various records can be used in your family history research. We will also provide several case studies demonstrating how to uncover immigrant origins and next steps in taking your research back to the old country.

July 3 - Class 1 – Coming to America: 400 Years of Immigration and Naturalization in the United States
Presented by Rhonda R. McClure

This first class will discuss the historical context surrounding passenger lists and migration, as well as the laws that shaped the way that passenger lists have been recorded. We’ll also discuss how to conduct research on individual ships, and how this can provide clues for tracing your ancestor’s migration.

July 10 - Class 2 – Passenger Lists
Presented by Hallie Kirchner

Passenger lists are an invaluable resource in family history research—they can help you “jump across the pond” to find your ancestors’ origins, provide clues in determining familial relationships, and later passenger lists can even provide details about what your ancestors looked like. But passenger lists can also be difficult to navigate—early lists provide minimal information, which can make it difficult to identify your ancestor in the records. You may also see variations in names and spellings, listed birth years, and more. This session will discuss the historical context of passenger lists and how they changed over time. You’ll also gain tips to help you navigate passenger lists and trace your ancestors’ arrival to the United States!

July 17 - Class 3 – Naturalization Records
Presented by Rhonda R. McClure

No matter what century your ancestors arrived in America, newcomers were expected to show allegiance to their new land. Over time, that expectation developed into the present-day naturalization process. Following the paper trail your ancestor left on the path to citizenship can lead to important genealogical discoveries. This session will discuss the naturalization process since the seventeenth century, what documentation exists, what information these records contain, and how to locate these important documents.

July 24 - Class 4 – More Immigration Records
Presented by James Heffernan

Beyond the all-important passenger list, immigration to America resulted in the creation of several other records. This class will demonstrate how to utilize several records, including: passports (both those from the origin nation and those later applied for by naturalized US citizens), border crossings, embarkation records, C-Files (naturalization certificates, 1906-1956), AR-2 Files (Alien Registration Forms, 1940-1944), WWI Alien Registrations (1918, gathered by each state), Visa Files (1924-1944), A-Files (1944-1951), and the Arolsen Archive database, which documents European refugee arrivals following Nazi persecution.

July 31 - Class 5 – Case Studies for Finding Immigrant Origins and Parents in the Old Country
Presented by Hallie Kirchner

One of the hardest tasks a family historian can embark upon is to “jump across the pond” and discover exactly where in the old country ancestors hail from. This final class will provide practical strategies and a methodical step-by-step approach to uncovering immigrant origins and furthering your research to uncover parents and extended family.

Education and Programming
Rhonda R. McClure
Immigration and Naturalization
Genealogical Software
Areas of expertise: Immigration and naturalization, late 19th and early 20th century urban research, missionaries.
Research and Library Services
Hallie Kirchner
New York
19th-Century United States
Areas of expertise: 19th-century America, Germany, New York, New York City, Norway, Italy, westward migration, immigration history, and descendancy research.
Books and Journals
James Heffernan
James Heffernan, Genealogist, has been with American Ancestors/NEHGS since 2015. He is a graduate of Boston College, where he worked in the conservation department at the John J. Burns Library.