Research Records In Area Of Immigration

Written By: Jayne McGarvey

What We Will Cover In This Lesson:

  • Introduction

  • What To Look For in your Local Record Search – And Why

  • The Usefulness of Background Information

  • Use a Record Log As You Search The Record Collections

  • Conclusion and What To Do Next


At this point in the Research Roadmap you will have:

  • Gathered all the information you currently have on your emigrant ancestor.
  • Taken a time to explore the demographics and history of the area to which your ancestor immigrated
  • Have a good idea of the type of records you might be able to find for your ancestor.

You will have captured facts gathered along the way as well as updated research plans and timelines using the following worksheets:

You are now at the stage where it is important to “flesh out”  your knowledge of your ancestor following their immigration by searching local records in their place of immigration and gathering further useful information along the way.


What To Look For in your Local Record Search – And Why

Let’s start with the obvious things you may wish to discover about your ancestor as you search the local records in their place of immigration. Earlier in this stage, you looked at locating the various record sets available in the area to which your ancestor immigrated (see here).

Now you want to go through these record sets and capture your discoveries. This is a step-by-step process. You are aiming to build up as much obvious information about your ancestor as possible. These facts may include:

  • When your ancestor was born
  • Where your ancestor was born
  • The names of your ancestor’s parents
  • Names of your ancestor’s siblings and order of birth
  • When, where and whom your ancestor married
  • When your ancestor immigrated
  • Whether your ancestor immigrated alone or with others
  • Where your ancestor first lived after immigration
  • When and where your ancestor’s children were born
  • When and where your ancestor died

These are some of the more obvious facts that may be available from the record sets in your ancestor’s place of immigration.

However, there are many less obvious useful clues that may also be extracted from the records  – and these can make a big difference to how you approach your research once you are ready to jump to Ireland. As you look through the record sets available in your ancestor’s place of immigration, look out for answers to the following questions:

  • Was your ancestor literate?
  • Was he or she educated? To what level?
  • Did they have a specific trade or profession?
  • What religion did they practice?
  • Did they have any political affiliations?
  • What was their social standing in their community?
  • Did they serve in the military?
  • Did they buy property immediately after immigrating?

To illustrate the usefulness of these questions let’s look at a couple of scenarios:


Usefulness of Background Information – Scenario 1:

A poor and illiterate labourer (regardless of his religion) is unlikely to have owned or leased land back in Ireland.  Therefore, you are not likely to find a lease for him or his family in his adopted country. However, you might be able to find him or his family in tenant records.

On the other hand a well-educated professional man who has arrived with money to spend on property in his new county may descend from a family who are more likely  to be found in various land ownership records and leases back in Ireland.


Usefulness of Background Information  –Scenario 2:

Even if your ancestor arrived with very little wealth or position – hard work and opportunity may have made a difference in their adopted country. Your ancestor may have arrived with few possessions but was able to educate his or her children who eventually may have become prominent citizens. Information regarding your ancestor’s birth location in Ireland in such a scenario might be found in the obituary of one of his children or even grandchildren.

As you begin to work through the most appropriate record collections for your ancestor post-immigration remember to watch out for such additional clues. These clues about your ancestor’s background will help you to later decide which collections will be most relevant to your search.


Use a Record Log As You Search The Record Collections.

At this point you have considered which record sets to search in your ancestor’s area of immigration, captured them in your research plan and now the time comes to jump in and search the records!

However, where do you keep a record of your discoveries as you progress with your search? It is crucially important to keep a research log! A good record search log covers the search of a single record collection and includes most of the following details:

  • Record Collection searched – include name and location of collection
  • Search Objective 
  • Search Techniques
  • Date Searched
  • Search Results e.g. Birth Certificate located
  • Remarks
  • Further Action Required? 
  • Record saved location

The above list for your post-immigration research is not exhaustive. Our ancestors have arrived in many places across the world over hundreds of years, so the types of records you search for and where to look for that information may vary greatly from one ancestor to another. However, the concept is the same: Explore everything you can find out about your immigrant ancestor!

Also, the method you use to capture your discoveries depends on your personal preferences or a paper or electronic system that you may have already set up.

However, we have drawn up a useful “Record Collection Search Log” which you can use many times. You will find a blank version of this log below as well as a completed example.



This step in the Research Roadmap is the one that most of us are eager to jump into as soon as possible – sometimes jumping straight back to Ireland to search available Irish record sets! However, hopefully I have illustrated that if you first:

  1. Gather what you already know about your Irish ancestor.
  2. Put together a timeline based on those facts and events.
  3. Compile a Research Plan that includes a Working Hypothesis, Research Goals and Record Search Plan
  4. Examine the history of the place to which your Irish ancestor first immigrated – and discovered available record sets in that area to search.
  5. Revise your Timeline and Research Plan based on newly-discovered information.
  6. Set up a Record Search Log and have it to hand

Then you will stand a much greater chance of success of finding useful and pertinent information when you eventually get around to searching the local record sets in the place of your ancestor’s immigration.

What To Do Next:

In the next lesson we move on to Dealing with Conflicting Evidence that you may uncover as you carry out your record search.



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