They key to most ethnic group research is to identify the immigrants original name and family’s home village

Immigration Timeline

The earliest available immigration records include ship manifests and passenger lists beginning in the 1600’s. However, US passenger arrival records are spotty prior to 1820.

From 1820 to 1891 the arrival ports of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Orleans maintained detailed customs lists

In 1891 the US Office of Immigration standardized passenger manifets, adding details such as previous residence, marital status, final destination, etc.

Ellis Island opened in 1892 and closed in 1954

  • Over 70% of U.S. immigrants came through Ellis Island
  • Almost half of Americans today have an ancestor who arrived at Ellis Island
  • A fire in 1987 destroyed thousands of Ellis Island records

The first border arrival records kept for entries from Canada begin in 1895. However, records of borner crossings were only formally established in 1908.

During WWI, from 1917 to 1918, German, Japanese and Italian nationals were requred to file an Enemy Alien Registration Affidavit

From 1924 to 1944 U.S. embassies began issuing visa’s. Visa’s were filed at the INS and copies can be ordered through USCIS

During WWII, from 1940 to 1944, aliens older than 14 had to register at the local post office or upon entering the country. These Alien Registration (AR-2) Forms can be ordered through USCIS

During WWII, “enemy aliens” and their US citizen relatives were incarcerated within the U.S. in internment camps. A database of inmate files can be found at here


Surnames were often changes during immigration. A free Surname Variation Chart can be found online through Family Tree Magazine

To become a US citizen involved three steps:

  1. Sign a Declaration of Intention
    • Clues in the Declaration of Intention can point you to your ancestors immigration information, family members and residence
  2. Petition for Naturalization, and
  3. Take the Oath of Citizenship

To request copies of these records, visit this link

Useful Websites
Translate »