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Italy Emigration: The Who, Why, and Where

FamilySearch - Tue, 08/14/2018 - 12:13

Italy has a long tradition of exploration and emigration, from Amerigo Vespucci to Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) and John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto). For centuries, Italians have been explorers, inventors, and adventurers. Since the 1800s, Italians have immigrated to other countries for a variety of reasons, but most prominently for growth and employment opportunities. Millions of Italians immigrated to Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Canada, and other countries between 1880 and 1920. Nearly 80 million descendants of Italian immigrants1 live outside of Italy today, making tracing one’s Italian heritage a popular quest worldwide.

Find Your Italian Ancestors

A Brief History—Who Were These Italian Immigrants and Why They Left

“Our people have to emigrate. It is a matter of too much boundless life and too much space.”
—Pascal D’Angelo, Son of Italy

Italy was historically made up of city states that became unified (the Unification) between 1859 and 1871 to help them be more independent from foreign rule. The new government had new ideas and caused political and cultural changes. At various points, they emphasized Italian colonialism and propagating the Italian language and culture across the world. The Unification resulted in increased taxes and socioeconomic divisions between northern and southern Italy. Many citizens, predominantly poor southern Italians in rural areas, resolved to escape poverty and improve their status by seeking better employment and future growth opportunities in other countries. These Italian emigrants were mostly impoverished laborers and farmers, but included were some craftsmen, merchants, and artisans. They shared a strong work ethic.

Prior to the 1890s, a higher majority of Italian immigrants originally came from northern Italy. After 1890, a majority of the emigration was concentrated in the mezzogiorno area of Italy—Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia. Between 30 and 50 percent of Italian emigrants returned to Italy within five years2. Those who didn’t, replanted their deep love of their family and Italian heritage and culture in their new countries, and many sent much needed money to support family still in Italy.

Italian Immigrant Destinations

The major ports of embarkation from Italy were Genova, Naples, and Palermo. The top destination countries were Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Venezuela, and Canada—but other destination countries might surprise you (see the table below).

There were usually several ports of entry in each country. For example, when researching Italian immigration to America, you might start looking for immigration records from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, as these were a few of the major ports. Make sure you don’t limit yourself to one port in your Italian ancestry research. My grandmother told me that my great-grandfather Bartolomeo Gambino entered the United States through New York. The reality is that he came through Boston. Also, do not be surprised if you find ancestors entering their new country multiple times. Some Italian immigrants did not intend to stay permanently, or once they did arrive, they decided to go back to Italy and retrieve family members or to visit Italy for a time. Because the peak Italian emigration periods were in late 1800 and early 1900, family members often have living memory of where and when their family may have immigrated and better records to identify places of origin.

Italian Immigration Records

You can consider many types of Italian immigration records when researching your Italian genealogy. The key record types differ by country. In Italy, the following records may exist.

  • Passport Applications: When an Italian emigrant prepared to leave the native homeland, he or she would have completed a passport application. (Unfortunately, most of these applications were destroyed; however, some still exist locally.)
  • Military Conscriptions (draft and service records): These records can be a great source for identifying an ancestor’s birth town.
  • Church Records: These documents often include christenings, births, marriages, and deaths, often with information about multiple generations.
  • Civil Registrations: Look in these civil registrations also for birth records, marriage records, and death records.

If you are unsure where your Italian ancestor was born, a good rule of thumb is to begin exploring the records created in the country they immigrated to. You might have inherited documents from family members, such as alien registrations or green cards; passports; birth, marriage and death certificates; obituaries or funeral cards; letters and other correspondence; naturalization papers; and so on.

In destination countries, you can also consider the following records created by government and church officials or local organizations:

  • Federal and State Censuses
  • Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
  • Church Records
  • Passenger Lists
  • Naturalization and Alien Registration
  • Military Records
  • City Directories, Newspapers, Societies, and Associations

Pictured here, a record of my great-grandmother Maria Accetta traveling with her daughter Filippa Russo in 1909.

Other Italian Genealogy Research Tips

The way an Italian immigrant ancestor’s name was spelled on a passenger list is most likely the way the name would have been spelled on records in Italy. The lists were often filled out at the port of embarkation before the ship left Italy. Contrary to popular belief in the United States, names were not changed at the port of entry, but rather as Italian ancestors assimilated into their new neighborhoods. For example, my great-grandfather’s name was Matteo Russo. I have found him on a variety of documents in the United States as Mike, Matt, and Martin.

Keep in mind that Italian women typically use their maiden names on official documents in Italy, which means that on passenger lists, you will often find a woman travelling under her maiden name with minor children travelling under the father’s surname.

Passenger lists and other useful records to locate your Italian family can be found on FamilySearch, Ancestry, and MyHeritage. In addition, FamilySearch is publishing nearly the complete civil registration of Italy online.
For more information and clues about how to find your place of origin, consider these sources:

  • Italy Gathering Information to Locate Place of Origin
  • A Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide
  • Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide

In many instances, Italians didn’t travel alone. If you can’t find a place of origin on the records of your direct ancestor, branch out to siblings, neighbors, and associates. After all, it’s a family thing.

Additional Historical Sources on Italian Immigration
  • Mark I. Choate, Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2008).
  • Pascal D’Angelo, Son of Italy (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2003).
  • “Italy Emigration and Immigration,” FamilySearch wiki, last modified 28 April, 2018.
  • Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale, La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience (New York: Harper Collins Publ., 1992).
  • Joan Rapczynski, “Italian Immigrant Experience in America (1870–1920),” http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1999/3/99.03.06.x.html.
  1. “Italians,” Wikipedia.org, last modified 26 July, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italians.
  2. Trafford R. Cole. Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, & Other Records in Family History Research (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Incorporated, 1995).

Article by Suzanne Russo Adams, MA, AG®. Suzanne works in content strategy for FamilySearch and was previously employed by Ancestry.com. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University, with a B.S. in sociology, a B.A. in family history and genealogy, and a master’s degree in European history. She has served on the boards of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), Utah Genealogical Association (UGA), and ICAPGen. She is the author of Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide and was a lead researcher for season 1 of NBC’s hit series Who Do You Think You Are.


Complete Archive of Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Records—Now Online for Free

FamilySearch - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 15:02

Ellis Island is famous as the home of the Statue of Liberty—and millions of passenger arrival records for U.S. immigrants. Now, a complete collection of Ellis Island passenger lists is available online and searchable for free at FamilySearch.

These ship passenger records span more than half the nation’s history, including millions of arrivals during the “Great Wave” of immigration (1880s–early 1920s). They also include a variety of transportation types, from the 380-ton cargo ship Hector that arrived from Liverpool on 8 January, 1820 to VARIG Airlines flight 850 from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that arrived in New York on 2 July, 1957.

Ship passenger lists can teach you more than you might think about your traveling ancestors. Earlier records may include a full name, age, gender, occupation, nationality, intended destination (country), name of ship and date of arrival. Later records may also name traveling companions and relatives “back home” or in the United States. You may also learn a relative’s marital status, physical description, last permanent residence, or birthplace. Any of these details can help you build your family tree and connect with your immigrant ancestors.

Search Ellis Island Records for Free

A trio of new collections representing the complete archive of Ellis Island passenger records is now available on the free genealogy website, FamilySearch. Search these to discover your immigrant ancestors during 3 distinct time periods:

New York Passenger Lists (Castle Garden) 1820–1891

These passenger lists document over 13 million immigrants and international travelers who arrived in New York City beginning in 1820, when the federal government first required ship captains to submit lists of passengers to customs officials. Among these records are customs passenger lists for those who arrived at Castle Garden, the State of New York’s official immigrant reception facility, during its years of operation (1855–1890). You can search the name index for your ancestors or browse the record images.

New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) 1892–1924

This is a searchable index of 25 million names of immigrants and international passengers who arrived at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924. Once you find a name of interest, you can click through to view individual record images at FamilySearch. If you’re interested in seeing a photo of the actual ship your ancestor travelled on, or learning more about Ellis Island as a historic port of entry into the US, check out the free Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island website.

New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists 1925–1957

Search nearly 29 million indexed names (and over 5 million record images) for these lists of post-Ellis Island-era international arrivals in New York Harbor and at New York airports.

Not sure when your immigrant ancestors arrived? Here’s a tip: If they were alive between 1900 and 1930, look them up in the 1900, 1910, 1920 or 1930 U.S. censuses. There should be a column indicating their year of arrival. Still not sure? Search for their names in all three of the passenger list collections—it’s free.

Search now for your ancestors in passenger arrival lists for 1820–1891, 1892–1924, or 1925–1957. Then share your story! We’d love to hear about your search. #familysearch


Learn more about Ellis Island and the immigrants that came through there. Who were they? Where did they come from? Did my ancestors go arrive in Ellis Island?



What Can I Learn about My Italian Last Name?

FamilySearch - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 08:27

Do you think you have an Italian surname? It ends in an “o,” “e,” “a,” or “i,” so it must be Italian, right?

Odds are it could be, but to be sure, you can explore in several places to learn more about your name.

Italians didn’t generally use surnames until the Italian population started to grow and more families needed to be distinguished one from another. So beginning in the 15th century, Italians in the upper classes started to add a surname. By the time of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), using a surname was a common practice and further solidified by that council when they emphasized the need to record baptisms, marriages, and burials.

Search for Your Italian Surname
  Origins of Italian Last Names

Italian surnames generally come in a few main categories as far as their origins are concerned.

  • Patronymics (The surname comes from an ancestor’s first name)—d’Alberto, d’Angelo, d’Alessi
  • Geographical areas—Lombardo, Di Genova, Napolitano
  • Descriptives or Nicknames—Franco, Betto, Zello, Gambino
  • Occupations—Ferraro, Carpenteri, Muratori

Some names even come from animals, insects, birds, objects, anatomy, and so on.

Some surnames, such as Esposito, Innocenti, and Incogniti, can even be used to identify a family who had an abandoned child somewhere in their family.

Use these excellent resources to learn more about the origins of your own Italian surname and how first names are passed down to future generations.

Italian Emigration and Surname Changes

If you have Italian immigrants among your ancestors, their names could have been changed as they assimilated into their new home country.

A common surname such as Russo could have become anglicized or changed to become Russe, Russa, Russell, or even Russ. A surname could also have been translated into English directly from Italian. Examples include Piccolo becoming Little, Chiesa being changed to Church, and Bianco changing to White.

Watch for these changes on documents in the countries where your Italian ancestors immigrated to. If you are still exploring records, try to locate your ancestor on a passenger list such as those from the United States Ellis Island Immigration Station. The way your ancestor’s name was spelled on the passenger list is most likely the way the name would have been spelled in Italian records. The lists were often filled out at the port of embarkation before the ship left Italy.

Tracking down original birth records for your ancestors, as well as other Italian records such as marriages, christenings, deaths, and so on, can give you clues about how your surname has changed over time. If you need help getting started with your Italian genealogy, FamilySearch has great Italy research resources.

Common Italian Last Names and Surname Distribution Maps Top 10 Italian Surnames Most Requested Most Common in Italy 1. Rossi 6. Russo 1. Rossi 6. Romano 2. Berlusconi 7. Colombo 2. Russo 7. Colombo 3. Ferrari 8. Brambilla 3. Ferrari 8. Ricci 4. Puddu 9. Greco 4. Esposito 9. Marino 5. Esposito 10. Ricci 5. Bianchi 10. Greco

Understanding the meaning and origin of your surname can help you not only distinguish between families of the same name, but in Italy it could be a key to locating an exact place of origin for your ancestors. Why? Simply put, because certain surnames exist only in certain localities in Italy or are more commonplace to specific regions of the country.

You can explore several websites that show on maps or in a tabular form where a surname is most prevalent in Italy. These websites often use modern phone directories and historical records to give a good representation of where a surname exists in Italy. This information can be extremely useful to narrow down where your family may have come from, especially with uncommon surnames.

Let’s face it, these searches are also a lot of fun!

This website maps your Italian surname. On the home page, look for the box that says cerca un cognomen. Type your surname into the box, and then click Trova. You will see how many comuni, or towns, your surname exists in.

The Italian Surnames site is a little different. This site allows you to enter a name region by region in Italy to discover how prevalent your name might be in specific towns. As an example, I put the surname Accetta in the box for “Sicilia” and find a list of towns with the estimated number of people in a town with that surname. When you click on the name of a town, it also gives you the ten most common surnames in that town. You can also search for the most common surnames by town.

The Cognomix website is sort of a combination of the two—it not only maps the surname for you, but also tells you an estimated number of people or families in a town with the surname, ultimately drilling down from region to province and then to town on a colorful map.

If you just want to see a good list of Italian surnames, there are also several good sources online.

So, give it a try—you might be surprised by what you find.

Exploring your surname can be a lot of fun, but ultimately, I hope it leads you to discovering more about your ancestors’ lives and where they lived. FamilySearch has undertaken a massive project to digitize and index civil registration records throughout Italy. Once you have located where your ancestors lived—odds are you will find them in this collection of Italy records now available online!


Add Multiple Pictures in FamilySearch Memories—Share Your Family Stories!

FamilySearch - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 22:47

Memories is a tool in FamilySearch that allows you to preserve and share your family’s most important moments by adding family photos, documents, audio clips and stories. You can then organize and tag them, attaching them to individuals on your family tree. This turns these treasured moments into heirlooms that can be passed down in your family and easily accessed by even distant family members.

Previously, when creating a story in Memories, you could only choose one photo to attach to each story. There’s no longer any reason to limit yourself! A recent update allows you to expand and add increased depth to your family stories by uploading up to 10 photos with each story.

Ready to get started creating improved stories with more photos? Here’s all you need to know to do just that:

Adding Family Photos to Your Stories

Once you’re logged in to FamilySearch, select the Memories tab from the main FamilySearch menu. Then, when you reach the Memories page, click the Add Memories button.

A menu at the top allows you to view memories you already have—photographs, stories, documents, audio clips—or all of them at once. If you haven’t added memories before, that’s okay! You can add your very first memory from this page. Just click the green plus sign when you’re ready to add a memory.

After doing this, you’ll see a couple of choices. You can upload a file (a photo, audio clip or document) from your computer or phone. If you’d like to add a story, select Create a Story.

That will bring you to the screen where you can enter your story:

Choose a title for your story, and begin typing—or even cut and paste text from another file. Then add your photos. You can choose photos from those already saved in your Memories albums by clicking Select from Gallery, or you can choose photos from another place (such as your computer or phone) by selecting Upload Photo. When you’ve added the photos you want, click Save Story.

With the ability to add up to 10 photos, you now can make your story even stronger. You might select photos from different points along the time line of your story or add more breadth to your story with several different photos of the same event. You don’t have to limit your attachments to photos either. If you’d like to attach an image of a birth record for example, you can do that also.

What if you’ve already created stories and now want to add more photos to them? It’s simple! Select the story you’re interested in, and click Edit Story. Then continue adding photos just as you would to a new story.

Tagging and Organizing Photos in Your Family Stories

Other features help you organize and share your memories on FamilySearch. When you open a particular story, on the right side you see boxes to enter information about your story. Enter who is in your memory, and FamilySearch will automatically search through your Family Tree to identify a person you type in. When it finds a match, it tags your story to that person. Others can now view that person in Family Tree, click on Memories, and see the story, photo, document, or other memory you attached to her.

It’s important to remember that this works differently for living people. Information, including photos, entered about living people is not publicly available in order to protect their privacy. If a story has information about both living and deceased people and the deceased person is tagged, the story and photos can be publicly seen attached to the deceased person.

In addition to tagging the story, you can also tag people in individual photos. Click on the photo, and then click on the person you’d like to tag. A circle will appear around the person’s face, along with the question: Who is in this memory? Once again, as you enter a name, FamilySearch will search your family tree for a match. The photo will then also appear in that person’s memories.

Adding Photos to Stories on the FamilySearch Apps

If you aren’t familiar with the Memories and Family Tree mobile apps yet, learn about both FamilySearch apps here, and get an overview of how they work. Both of these apps enable you to add stories—and now they allow you to include multiple family photos in those stories.

In the Memories app, click on the green plus sign in the bottom right corner to get started. Select Write Story. Then, just like before, add a title, text, and up to 10 photos.





Tap on the silhouette with a green plus sign in the right bottom corner to tag people in the story. (If you are on an android device, tap on the silhouette with a white plus sign at the top of the screen.) To tag people in a photo, tap on that photo, and then tap on the same silhouette. To tag people in a photo, tap on that photo, and then tap on the same silhouette in the bottom right corner. Next, tap on the face of the person you’d like to tag, and a circle will appear with a text box to add his or her name. Select Done when you are finished.



Adding stories with multiple photos is easy in the Family Tree app as well. After opening the app, go to your family tree (select Tree for apple users or Pedigree if you’re on an android device). Find the ancestor you have a story for and click on them. Once you have your ancestor’s page open, click on the Memories tab. This will take you to the Memories section, where you can follow the steps above.



With this new ability to add multiple photos to your stories, your family stories can be better than ever. Go visit the Memories section of FamilySearch today, and get started preserving and sharing your precious family memories.


The Immigration Act of 1924 and the End of Ellis Island

FamilySearch - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 21:18

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, immigration to the United States was at an all-time high. Upwards of a million people per year arrived in some years leading up to World War I.1 Hope for better work opportunities, food and shelter for families, religious freedom, personal freedom, and freedom from military conflict led many of these immigrants to the U.S. to start a new home.

The onset of WWI and new U.S. legislation in the 1900s caused the immigration boom to slow down dramatically. Although this slowdown caused Ellis Island to eventually close its doors in 1954, a key change to immigration records in The Immigration Act of 1924 can unlock many doors in your family history research.

The Immigration Act of 1924

Between 1882 and 1924, a series of major immigration laws led to the 1924 legislation that most seriously affected Ellis Island. Some U.S. citizens and organizations during this time began to petition the government for limits on immigration, spurred by concerns for economic conditions and national security. An increased prejudice against immigrants from certain countries also caused a stir over immigration law.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first major law to limit immigration. Follow-up legislation barred immigration for convicts, anarchists, workers illegally recruited overseas, immigrants with certain medical conditions, and other categories of immigrants. In 1917, a law raised the fee paid by new arrivals, instituted a literacy test, and made some restrictions based on an immigrant’s nation of origin.

A two-step series of laws in the early 1920s had the most dramatic effect on immigration. In 1921, the Emergency Quota Act introduced a quota system that gave preference to northern and western Europeans. A follow-up law, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, kept this quota system and refined it in ways that further limited immigration from southern and eastern European countries. (Read the full text of the Immigration Act of 1924 .)

Of particular note to Ellis Island historians and people doing immigrant genealogy work, the 1924 law also implemented a visa system. Instead of traveling to the United States with uncertainty about being admitted, hopeful immigrants instead applied for permission at U.S. consulate offices overseas.

How did the Immigration Act of 1924 Affect Ellis Island?

During the first year after the 1924 immigration law passed, the number of immigrants dropped by about half: from 357,803 to 164,667.2 Ellis Island, the nation’s largest immigrant receiving station, suddenly received much less traffic—and didn’t need to evaluate or detain most of them, since they already had visas.

Meanwhile, immigration opponents were pushing for the mass removal of some foreign-born residents. Before long, Ellis Island became more of a holding center for potential deportations rather than an entry-processing facility.3 New facilities were soon built to separate immigrants from deportees. During and after World War II, Ellis Island also served as a training center for the U.S. Coast Guard, a military hospital, and a military detention center.4 The facility gradually fell into disrepair and finally closed in 1954.

How Did the 1924 Immigration Law Affect Passenger Arrival Records?

After the 1924 immigration law went into effect, ship passenger arrival manifests still captured the same abundant information about immigrant travelers, as can be seen in the 2-page register entry shown below. In addition, manifests now included a visa number and the date and place of its issue, as shown in the enlarged portion. This column hints at a remarkable, new genealogical resource that became available for immigrant ancestors: visa files!

Those who applied successfully for visas at overseas consulates brought their visa packets with them to the United States. Application forms included personal details such as addresses for the previous 5 years, parents’ names, and photos. Visa packets often also contained certified birth certificates, health clearances, background checks, marriage and military service documents, letters of support, and other correspondence. These packets became part of the immigrants’ visa files, which aren’t available online but may be requested from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Be sure to read the section that USCIS provides on “Avoiding Common Index and Records Request Issues” before submitting a request to make the process smoother.

NY Passenger Arrival Records 1925–1957

You can search for your relatives who immigrated to the United States after 1924 in FamilySearch’s free collection, New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists 1925–1957. The nearly 29 million names in this database include those who arrived at Ellis Island and in New York airports through 1957 (with a few minor exceptions, as described here).

As shown in the sample record above, passenger arrival records during this time period contain rich personal and family information. Some details may help you build your family tree and extend it overseas. Others may give insight into your relatives’ reasons for immigrating, their plans at the time of travel, and the people who helped support their journeys.

Search here for your relatives in New York passenger lists for 1925–1957. If you think your relatives arrived in New York earlier, you can also search for them in NY passenger arrival manifests for 1820–1891 and for 1892–1924.

If you find your immigrant ancestor in the Ellis Island records, share your story! We’d love to hear how visa records unlocked parts of your family tree. #familysearch


Learn more about Ellis Island and Castle Garden immigration in New York. What records do we have about the immigrants?


  1. Henry P. Guzda, “Ellis Island a welcome site? Only after years of reform,” Monthly Labor Review (July 1986), pp. 30–36, accessed at https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1986/07/art4full.pdf, 18 July 2018.
  2. Robert Keith Murray, The 103rd Ballot: The Legendary 1924 Democratic Convention That Forever Changed Politics (New York City: HarperCollins), 2016.
  3. Guzda, “Ellis Island.”
  4. “A Timeline of Ellis Island,” The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, accessed July 27, 2018. https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ellis-timeline
Other Sources Consulted:

“The Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson–Reed Act),” U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.

Colletta, John P., PhD. They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record. Revised 3rd edition. Orem, UT : Ancestry Publishing, 2008.

Tepper, Michael. American Passenger Arrival Records: A Guide to the Records of Immigrants Arriving at American Ports by Sail and Steam. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1999.

“Immigration and the Great War.” National Park Service. Accessed July 26, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/articles/immigration-and-the-great-war.htm


New Records on FamilySearch: July 2018

FamilySearch - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 19:17

FamilySearch expanded its free online archives in July 2018 with almost 13 million new indexed family history records and over 500,000 digital images from around the world. New historical records were added from Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, BillionGraves, Find A Grave, Peru, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and United States, which includes Arkansas, California, District of Columbia, Georga, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Native American, Utah, and Washington. New digital images were added from BillionGraves and the United Kingdom.

Find your ancestors using these free archives online, including birth, marriage, death, and church records. Millions of new genealogy records are added each month to make your search easier.

Country Collection Indexed Records Comments Australia Australia, South Australia, Immigrants Ship Papers, 1849–1940 25,927 Added indexed records to an existing collection Belgium Belgium, Namur, Civil Registration, 1800–1912 26,361 Added indexed records to an existing collection Bolivia Bolivia Catholic Church Records, 1566–1996 155,604 Added indexed records to an existing collection Canada New Brunswick Late Registration of Births, 1810–1899 23,947 Added indexed records to an existing collection Chile Chile, Cemetery Records, 1821–2015 51,174 Added indexed records to an existing collection Colombia Colombia, Catholic Church Records, 1576–2014 60,424 Added indexed records to an existing collection France France, Coutances et d’Avranches Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1533–1894 13,339 Added indexed records to an existing collection France France, Paris, Identity Cards, 1792–1795 182,066 New indexed records collection France France, Saône–et–Loire, Censuses, 1836 382,683 New indexed records collection France France, Vital Records, 1542–1900 53,914 Added indexed records to an existing collection Germany Germany, Baden, Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, Catholic Church Records, 1678–1930 69,391 Added indexed records to an existing collection Germany Germany, Baden, Church Book Duplicates, 1804–1877 3,081 Added indexed records to an existing collection Ireland Ireland Civil Registration, 1845–1913 81,278 Added indexed records to an existing collection Italy Italy, Teramo, Teramo, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866–1940 49,393 Added indexed records to an existing collection Italy Italy, Terni, Civil Registration, 1861–1921 12,556 Added indexed records to an existing collection Luxembourg Luxembourg, Civil Registration, 1796–1941 27,677 Added indexed records to an existing collection New Zealand New Zealand, Cemetery Transcriptions, 1840–1981 474,031 New indexed records collection Other BillionGraves Index 387,937 Added indexed records to an existing collection Other Find A Grave Index 2,533,302 Added indexed records to an existing collection Peru Peru, Áncash, Civil Registration, 1888–2005 108,377 Added indexed records to an existing collection Slovakia Slovakia Church and Synagogue Books, 1592–1935 9,828 Added indexed records to an existing collection South Africa South Africa, Pietermaritzburg Estate Files 1846–1950 34,260 Added indexed records to an existing collection Spain Spain, Diocese of Lugo, Catholic Parish Records, 1550–1966 40,523 Added indexed records to an existing collection Sweden Sweden, Örebro Church Records, 1613–1918; index 1635–1860 135,778 Added indexed records to an existing collection United Kingdom British Newspaper Archive, Family Notices 3,264,935 Added indexed records and images to an existing  collection United Kingdom England, Warwickshire, Parish Registers, 1535–1984 340,229 Added indexed records to an existing collection United Kingdom England, Northumberland, Parish Registers, 1538–1950 928,964 Added indexed records to an existing collection United Kingdom Great Britain, War Office Registers, 1772–1935 26,146 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Arkansas Confederate Soldier Home,1890–1963 1,448 New indexed records collection United States California, Airplane Passenger Lists from Honolulu, Hawaii, 1947–1948 29,913 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States District of Columbia, Glenwood Cemetery Records, 1854–2013 97,681 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Georgia Deaths, 1928–1942 91,377 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Georgia, Fulton County Records from the Atlanta History Center, 1827–1955 1,475 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Georgia, Houston County, Marriage Records, 1832–2015 229 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Maine, United States Naturalization Records, 1918–1991 14,100 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Maryland, Baltimore, Lock Funeral Home Records, 1936–2007 4,242 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Massachusetts, Revolutionary War, Index Cards to Muster Rolls, 1775–1783 387,816 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Massachusetts, United States Naturalization Records, 1871–1991 474,126 New indexed records collection United States Missouri, Jackson County Voter Registration Records, 1928–1956 123,424 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Nebraska, Grand Army of the Republic, Burial Records, 1861–1948 43,003 New indexed records collection United States Nevada County Birth and Death Records, 1871–1992 11,540 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States New Jersey, Bride Index, 1930–1938 238,623 New indexed records collection United States New Jersey, Reclaim the Records, New Jersey Birth Index, 1901–1903 111,049 New indexed records collection United States New York State Census, 1905 133,456 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States North Carolina, County Divorce Records, 1926–1975 19,013 New indexed records collection United States North Carolina, Davidson County Vital Records, 1867–2006 69,879 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Ohio, Crawford County Obituaries, 1860–2004 167,619 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States South Carolina, Chesterfield County, Original Marriage licenses, 1911–1951 45,609 New indexed records collection United States Tennessee Death Records, 1914–1963 154,346 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Tennessee Deaths, 1914–1966 73,540 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States Texas, Cooke County, Birth Records 1873–1876 162 New indexed records collection United States Texas, Cooke County, Probate Records, 1849–1982 4,826 New indexed records collection United States Texas, El Paso Alien Arrivals, 1909–1924 181,787 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States United States, Native American Birth and Death Records, 1885–1940 76,966 New indexed records collection United States United States, Native American, Census of the Ute Tribe, 1944 2,480 New indexed records collection United States United States, Native American, Census Records, 1880–1952 134,754 New indexed records collection United States United States, Native American, Census Rolls, 1885–1940 246,263 New indexed records collection United States United States, Native American, Eastern Cherokee Enrollment Records, 1908–1910 129,605 New indexed records collection United States United States, Native American, Eastern Cherokee Indian Reservation Rolls, 1848–1970 48,034 Added indexed records to an existing collection United States United States, Veteran’s Administration Master Index, 1917–1940 71,035 New indexed records collection United States Utah, Uintah County, Ute Indian Census, 1910 1,036 New indexed records collection United States Washington, Pierce County Marriage Returns, 1891–1938 111 Added indexed records to an existing collection Uruguay Uruguay, Passenger Lists, 1888–1980 163,438 New indexed records collection Wales Wales, Marriage Bonds, 1650–1900 114,002 New indexed records collection

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Ellis Island and Castle Garden Immigration Records

FamilySearch - Thu, 07/26/2018 - 13:25

Do you have US immigrants among your ancestors? What experience did they have when they first reached America? Were they met with a bustling city, swindlers and thieves, or a hearty welcome? For many early immigrants, New York was the choice gateway into America, the “Golden Door.” Whether your ancestors simply arrived at New York harbor in America’s earliest days, passed through Castle Garden Depot from 1855–1890, or underwent inspection at Ellis Island (from 1892–1954), your ancestors’ immigration records hold lots of clues about who they were, why they came, and what experiences they had.

Search Castle Garden New York Passenger Lists (1820–1891)
Search Ellis Island Passenger Lists (1892–1924)
Search New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists from 1925–1957

Castle Garden: Immigration Before Ellis Island

Before the government took control of immigration, Castle Garden was New York’s landing depot.

When Did Immigration Start at Ellis Island?

Millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island after it opened. Why did it replace Castle Garden?

The Immigration Act of 1924 and Ellis Island

How did the Immigration Act of 1924 impact US immigration and lead to the close of Ellis Island?

What Were Castle Garden and Ellis Island?

The United States of America offered political and religious freedom, economic opportunities, and a place for families to unite, drawing waves of immigrants beginning in the 1600s. The hope for a new life and the American dream promised a better life, and thousands made the journey to make the US their home.

With so many travelers, many fell ill on overpacked ships. To protect US citizens and immigrants alike, the State of New York opened America’s first immigration station at Castle Garden. Once a military fort on its own artificial island, Castle Garden is now part of the island of Manhattan. More than 8 million people landed here before entering America. The site has also been used as an exhibition hall, as an aquarium, and it is now a national monument.

Floating beneath the copper gaze of the Statue of Liberty in the Upper New York harbor, Ellis Island is America’s first federal immigration station. A national monument with a well-earned place in the history books, Ellis Island replaced Castle Garden as the immigrant landing hub in 1892. From its early origins as a profitable fishing spot to its significant role as a military fort and then immigration station, Ellis Island is a rich source of history, genealogical records, and immigration information. Around 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island at its peak period between 1892 and 1954.

Ellis Island Time Line

Use the Ellis Island time line below to learn the major events that shaped this famous island.

Where Did the Ellis Island Immigrants Come From?

American immigrants throughout US history have come from all around the world. With several ports of entry, tracking down where your ancestors are from and which port they came through can be quite the search. Take a look at which countries Ellis Island immigrants traveled from before they made America their new home.

Famous People Who Passed through Ellis Island

Purportedly forty percent of all US residents can trace their heritage back to Ellis Island. Even if you don’t have a New York immigrant in your family tree, the New York passenger lists are a fascinating source of history. Do you recognize some of these famous people who passed through Ellis Island?


When Did New York Immigration Start at Ellis Island?

FamilySearch - Wed, 07/25/2018 - 14:15

Ellis Island is famous for being the United States’ front door for receiving immigrants—but did you know millions of people had already come to the U.S. by the time Ellis Island opened in 1892? This history of Ellis Island can help you better understand your immigrant ancestors’ arrivals and how to find the evidence in New York immigration records.

Why Was the Ellis Island Immigration Station Built?

During the first 100 years of U.S. history, the nation placed few restrictions on immigration. In fact, many newcomers were actually enticed to make America their home. The federal government offered incentives like fast-tracked citizenship for military service and the ability to purchase homestead land. U.S. employers actively recruited workers overseas. New arrivals wrote home to encourage their relatives to join them.

By the 1870s, enthusiasm for welcoming immigrants began to fade, especially when it came to poor immigrants. The federal government began restricting entry with legislation such as the Immigration Acts of 1875 and 1882.

Massive numbers of immigrants continued to arrive, however: about 600,000 per year.1 Most came through the Castle Garden Emigration Landing Depot at the Port of New York. Eventually, this facility and its management proved inadequate. The federal government stepped in to manage immigrant processing—but first it built an entirely new facility on Ellis Island.

When Did Ellis Island Open?

The Ellis Island Immigration Station opened on January 1, 1892. The main building was 400 feet long with square corner towers. Travelers stored their luggage on the first floor and underwent inspection on the second. Those successfully admitted could exchange currency and purchase rail tickets on the spot. Any who were detained stayed in the island’s dormitories or hospital.

Unfortunately, the main building burned to the ground 5 years later. For the next 3 years, officials processed immigrants at the Barge Office on the southeast tip of Manhattan. A new—fireproof—Ellis Island facility opened on December 17, 1900. For the next several years, Ellis Island welcomed unprecedented numbers of arrivals, peaking at 1.25 million in 1907 alone.

Laws passed in 1921 and 1924 dramatically restricted immigration to the United States. Additionally, prospective immigrants began applying at U.S. embassies in their home countries. Traffic at Ellis Island diminished. After 1924, the Ellis Island facility housed enemy aliens, war refugees, displaced persons, WWII servicemen, Coast Guard trainees, and imminent deportees. It closed in 1954, after more than 12 million immigrants passed through its doors.

Who Were the Immigrants?

U.S. immigrants during the Ellis Island era largely came from eastern, southern and central Europe. Some fled poverty. Others, such as eastern European Jews, fled religious persecution. All sought the relative safety and prosperity for which the country was known.

Only steerage (“economy-class”) passengers were personally sent to Ellis Island. Because they were poor, these passengers were closely scrutinized to be sure they were disease-free and financially able to care for themselves. Wealthier travelers received a brief inspection on the ship before being cleared to enter the country. Read more about Ellis Island passenger arrival lists.

A Ruthenian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1906

An Armenian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1926

A Syrian immigrant at Ellis Island in 1926

How to Find Your Ancestors’ Records

Wherever they were from—and whether they were rich or poor—you can learn more about immigrant ancestors in passenger arrival lists. You can search the entire history of Ellis Island passenger records for free at FamilySearch:

Here’s a great introduction to finding your immigrant ancestors on FamilySearch, and you can read about even more online immigration resources.

Do you have any stories about your ancestors that passed through Ellis Island? Please share! Post in the comments below or to social media with #familysearch.


Learn more about Ellis Island and New York immigration. How can you learn more about your immigrant ancestors through passenger arrival lists and other resources?


  1. “U.S. Immigration History,” Immigration EIS, accessed July 5, 2018. http://www.immigrationeis.org/about-ieis/us-immigration-history


Pioneer History and Discovering Your Pioneer Heritage

FamilySearch - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 16:05

As a new country, the United States boasted freedom and opportunity, particularly in the West, where there were vast expanses of land and, later, rumors of gold. Many pioneers moved west hoping to own land and start fresh.

Were your ancestors among the farmers seeking land, miners hunting for gold, or religious people seeking refuge?

Search Pioneer Records

Westward Expansion and the American Pioneers

Why did the pioneers travel west? Politics and economics both played a part.

What The Oregon Trail Game Didn’t Teach You

Do you remember The Oregon Trail computer game? There’s more to the story!

Who Were the Pioneers?

Where did pioneers come from, how did they travel, and what did they do for fun?

Western Expansion

Early pioneers extended American settlements to the Mississippi Valley. Later pioneers settled the Great Plains and the West Coast. The Oregon Trail was one of the most traveled trails heading west. What was the Oregon Trail? It started in Independence, Missouri, and passed through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Approximately 500,000 people made the journey on foot, in covered wagon trains, or on horseback on the Oregon Trail and two other famous trails: the California Trail and the Mormon Trail.

Along their way west, American pioneers passed famous landmarks and forts, including Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, Independence Rock, and Fort Bridger. Traces of the paths they took can still be seen today, with wheel tracks and names carved into stone.

Other Sides of the Story

Life for the American pioneers was not always easy. Most left family and friends behind with the possibility of never seeing them again. Along the way, many pioneers faced very real dangers such as disease, drowning, runaway covered wagons on steep hillsides, accidental discharge of weapons, and hostile encounters.

For many Native Americans, the western expansion meant risks and changes to their way of life. Some peaceful encounters occurred between pioneers and Native Americans, such as Native Americans teaching pioneers how to handle bears or the two groups cohabitating. However, many tribes were displaced, or experienced loss due to conflict or diseases as a result of the western expansion.

Pioneer Timeline

Major political and social events inspired many people to make the move west. Rumors of rich farming lands in Oregon, gold in California, and refuge across the country convinced many to take the risks of pioneer travel and pursue a better life. However, rumors weren’t the only force at work. Some major events helped accelerate the movement.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was one of the first events that encouraged people to move west. In this purchase, the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory and opened 828,000 square miles of land for settlers. It cost the government over $15 million (the equivalent of over $570 billion1 in today’s market).

Later, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 inspired hundreds of thousands to move west and mine the lands, despite the efforts of discoverers James Wilson Marshall and John Sutter to keep it quiet. By the end of the California Gold Rush, miners extracted a total of 750,000 pounds of gold, worth roughly $2 billion.2

Other events, such as the Homestead Act of 1862—which offered settlers the opportunity to homestead 160 acres of free land, the migration of Mormon pioneers seeking refuge, and the decision of the Mexican government to allow United States citizens to settle the Texas territory were all forces behind the expansion of the American West.

Where Do Your Ancestors Fit Into All This?

Already have a FamilySearch family tree? Discover your pioneer ancestors.

There are many other helpful pioneer collections available. These wiki pages can point you to significant pioneer record collections (though not all of them are freely available):

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase
  2. https://www.history.com/topics/gold-rush-of-1849
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_pioneer
  4. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-thousand-pioneers-head-west-on-the-oregon-trail
  5. http://www.jrank.org/encyclopedia/pages/cm7kxkdlo9/Pioneer-life-in-America.html
  6. http://www.factsfornow.scholastic.com/article?product_id=nbk&type=0ta&uid=10676833&id=a2023250-h


Three Things The Oregon Trail Game Didn’t Teach You about the Pioneers

FamilySearch - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 14:15

The Oregon Trail—fording a river at the age of 10, hunting buffalo to extinction, falling prey to one of five specific diseases, and something “only 90s kids will remember.” Far more than just a remembrance of America’s early pioneers, The Oregon Trail is a computer game that was released by the Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium in 1974. Surprisingly, the game had a far wider reach than one generation. In fact, The Oregon Trail is one of the best-known and best-loved video games of all time. Over 10 years, the game sold over 65 million copies, and in 2016, it was inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame.

As an educational tool, The Oregon Trail teaches students about the westward journey of pioneers in a lighthearted way. Due to the game’s limitations, however, it leaves a great deal out. Read on to discover three Oregon Trail facts you didn’t learn while playing the video game.

1. Pioneer Companies Usually Consisted of More than One Family

The Oregon Trail puts you in charge of a family of five and then sends you off to survive the frontier alone. This situation of a single pioneer family would have been rare, with the exception of eventual homesteaders, who still lived in a relative proximity of growing number of neighboring homesteaders. Realizing the many dangers of crossing the plains, most pioneers elected to travel together.

Travelers leaving from Independence, Missouri, on the actual Oregon Trail were typically organized into caravans called “companies” or “wagon trains.” These groups could be over a hundred wagons long, although most of the time they consisted of 20 to 40 wagons, a number that was far more manageable.

2. Fording Rivers Was Tricky on the Oregon Trail

Players of The Oregon Trail will remember that encountering a river was risky. Paying for the ferry was expensive—but trying to ford it yourself could result in the loss of valuable supplies or party members. Still, most players agonized over the choice for less than a minute.

While fording rivers in The Oregon Trail game is a quick decision, that wasn’t the case for the pioneers. They faced the same challenge: pay the toll for a ferry or find another way across—and maybe lose your life, your livelihood, or your family in the process. Pioneers who attempted to cross rivers on their own spent a great deal of time planning and preparing.

To cross, some pioneers would caulk their wagons, dismantle them, and use the wagon box as a makeshift boat. Caulking and self-ferrying was not preferred, as it was slow and arduous. Others would lash felled trees together to make a raft, although this was one of the most dangerous options a family could take. These attempts at fording rivers cost the lives of many pioneers and their livestock.

3. From Horses to Pioneer Handcarts

Players starting their journey in The Oregon Trail know how important it is to purchase multiple yokes of oxen. This importance, on its own, is accurate; oxen were the favored animals for the journey west. They were hardy and strong and could graze along the trail. However, not everyone had a wagon with teams of oxen. As more travelers flocked westward, the demand for pioneer provisions increased; in some cases, oxen became scarce.

Many groups substituted horses, mules, or even cows for the required wagon teams. Pioneers that came from poorer backgrounds, however, could not afford the required animals or wagons. These pioneers used lighter, cheaper handcarts instead of covered wagons. While handcarts were cheaper, they allowed less space for possessions and provisions. This lack of space for provisions added to the already treacherous journey.

Did Your Ancestors Travel the Oregon Trail?

With the great number of pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail, it is entirely possible your ancestors may have been among them. You can search through pioneer record collections to see where your pioneers may have travelled in the west. Here are some of the collections available on FamilySearch:

There are several other archives with pioneer-related records, though they may not all be free-to-access. Visit the Oregon Trail Settlers and Records wiki page to find even more pioneer records.

Already have a FamilySearch account? Discover your relative’s pioneer stories with the FamilySearch pioneer feature.


Who Were the Pioneers?

FamilySearch - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 12:58

Trailblazer. Settler. Explorer. Homesteader. Each of these terms is a synonym for pioneer. Throughout history, there have been many pioneers with rich stories to tell who have helped shape our lives. People from many different backgrounds, countries, and nationalities have led the way west and blazed a trail for others to follow.

Pioneer Origins

Pioneers represented an amazing diversity of cultures and backgrounds. Take for example, Narcissa Whitman. She was one of the first women to pioneer the Oregon Trail on foot. Narcissa and her family settled in Washington State and helped minister to the Cayuse Indian tribe.

At the age of 14, young pioneer Mary Martha Wanlass was determined to bring her family from Missouri to Utah to be with the Mormon Saints. After Mary’s father suffered a severe stroke and her stepmother passed away, Mary was left to raise her four siblings alone and bring her entire family across the plains in 1863 to Lehi, Utah.

An African American pioneer by the name of James Beckwourth was born into slavery. After being freed from slavery, James joined fur trapping expeditions and played a major role in pioneering the Rocky Mountains.

These are just a few examples of pioneers. Each of us has a family history that is rich with stories of those who helped to prepare the way. By researching and connecting to your own family, you can find your own ancestors and learn of their pioneering journeys.

Pioneer Companies and Trails

An amazing number of pioneers traveled west. Historians estimate that about 500,000 people followed trails like the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Many travelers journeyed in companies, while others did not.

The first pioneer company to travel across the entirety of what was to become the Oregon Trail was the Wyeth–Lee Company. Nathaniel Wyeth (1802–1856) was very knowledgeable about western landscapes and tribes and suggested routes west as he set out with his first party of about 50 people.

Many pioneers traveled the California Trail during the years of the California Gold Rush, but the trail was first used by immigrants such as the Bartleson–Bidwell party, who journeyed west in 1841. This party originally numbered more than 60 members and was the first wagon company to cross what is now Utah.

Over 200 Mormon pioneer companies traveled the Overland Trail during the period 1847–1868. Some companies had as few as one person, while others had over 500 pioneers.

Life on the Trail

With trails spreading out across the United States, pioneers traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles through undeniable hardship and danger. Pioneer journals and histories give us a close look at what life was truly like for so many individuals who headed west.

From the story of Mary Martha Wanlass, a 14-year-old pioneer who led her family across the plains:

“By the time they were able to continue their journey, they were so far behind, they never did catch up with anyone. The three small children were placed on the backs of oxen and the nine year old boy acted as the pilot. . . . Day after day they trudged over the country, meeting lawless men who had deserted both armies and were foraging for themselves. They pushed on until the last settlement was left behind and nothing but a treeless and trackless wilderness lay before them.”1

In her journal, Narcissa Whitman wrote:

“In the morning as soon as the day breaks the first that we hear is the words, ‘Arise! Arise!’—then the mules set up such a noise as you never heard, which puts the whole camp in motion.
“Girls, how do you think we manage to rest ourselves every noon, having no house to shelter us from the scorching heat, or sofa on which to recline? Perhaps you think we always encamp in the shade of some thick wood. Such a sight I have not seen, lo, these many weeks.”2

Some pioneers traveled in covered wagons, or “prairie schooners,” while others pulled handcarts and completed the journey on foot. Life on the trail was not easy. Many faced family deaths to sicknesses such as cholera, measles, and smallpox. Starvation, harsh weather conditions, and travel accidents were common and took their toll, no matter which trail pioneers chose to travel or how carefully they prepared.

Still, some pioneers took on the challenges of the West with a surprising amount of gusto. James Beckwourth recorded many adventures of capture and adoption by an Indian tribe and meeting such famous men as Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith. His autobiography was passed on, and although his yarns may have been in some part exaggerated, many of his tales have confirmation from other sources.3

Pastimes and Activities

While the journey westward was long and full of challenges, pioneers found ways to enjoy themselves with creative games and activities. Many games and toys were homemade and carved from wood.

You can find many sources describing pioneer activities. If any of the games below look fun to you, read the full instructions in this collection of pioneer pastimes from Historic Nauvoo.

  • Bean Bag Double Can: Toss a bean bag from one can to another on opposite ends of a stick.
  • Graces: Catch a flying hoop on your stick before it hits the ground.
  • Paddle Ball with Holes: A ball is attached by a string to a paddle. The goal is to get the ball into the holes in the paddle.
  • Fox and Geese: A pattern game, where the object is to eliminate all marbles from the board.
  • Climbing Bear: A wooden bear is attached to two strings and suspended in the air, and the goal is to get the bear to the top of the strings.
  • Gee Haw Whammy Diddle: Wooden dowels create a propeller that spins in the air.
  • Stick Pull: Two people compete in a game of strength to see who can pull the stick hard enough to unseat the other.
  • Whirly Gig: A round wooden circle is attached to string. By pulling the string, the wooden circle moves back and forth like a saw.

Pioneers also spent time cooking. Their ultimate goal was to have food that would last for days without waste. The following pioneer recipes are some that perhaps could have been found along the Oregon Trail.

Find Your Pioneer Ancestors

Despite the sacrifices and trials they faced, many pioneers continued their journeys with faith and determination in hopes of creating opportunities for themselves and future generations. Do you have pioneers among your ancestors? Search for your relatives in FamilySearch collections of pioneer records to piece together their stories:

These wiki pages can point you to other significant pioneer record collections, though not all of them are freely available:

If you have a FamilySearch Family Tree, learning about your pioneer heritage can be even easier with FamilySearch tools. With a little family history exploration, you can find pioneers with remarkable, inspiring stories among your very own relatives.

  1. Carter, Kate B. 1958. Our Pioneer Heritage. Salt Lake City, Utah: Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
  2. “Narcissa Whitman,” National Parks Service, accessed July 17, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/oreg/learn/historyculture/history2.htm.
  3. “James Pierson Beckwourth,” Beckworth.org, accessed July 17, 2017. http://www.beckwourth.org/Biography/.

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The Westward Expansion and American Pioneers—How It Affects Your Family History

FamilySearch - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 11:02

Until recently, my knowledge of the westward expansion, the Western frontier, and pioneers mainly came from the popular Little House on the Prairie books and the pioneer computer game Oregon Trail. (I naively thought all pioneers died from dysentery out on the plains!) Being familiar with United States history can actually help in your family history work if you have pioneer ancestors. By looking at when your ancestors were born, if they moved, and where they moved, you can easily see if your family had any pioneers involved in settling the great Western frontier.

Westward expansion picked up speed in 1803 with President Thomas Jefferson and the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. With $15 million, Jefferson doubled the amount of land in the United States. He then commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to map the newly purchased land and find a way to the Pacific Ocean.

Extensive expansion into the Western frontier did not get far, however, until around the 1840s when the idea of Manifest Destiny took a strong hold on the American psyche. The Homestead Act also played a large role in later years.

Manifest Destiny

The term Manifest Destiny was first coined by newspaper editor John L. O’Sullivan, although the attitude had already been present in the American mind. Manifest Destiny is the idea that it was the destiny of the United States to spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. United States lawmakers, enamored with this idea, helped extend the railroad and created incentives to send people west.

In 1846, President James K. Polk, a supporter of Manifest Destiny, reached a compromise with Britain on the Oregon Territory, making the 49th parallel the boundary between Canada and the United States.

Shortly afterward, at the end of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe, the States gained more than 525,000 square miles of land that would later become Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.

Westward expansion would ultimately involve more than 7 million pioneers living in the Trans-Appalachian West and the addition of 22 new states. A timeline of the early history of the United States can help you understand what events your ancestors might have been part of in early and late westward expansion.

Why Did the Pioneers Move West?

The news of open land reached the ears of immigrants, freed slaves, farmers, single women, and others. For many, life in the eastern states had lost its appeal. Some had trouble finding a job, overcrowding started being an issue in certain areas, and farmers wanted more land to farm. Others just didn’t like living in what was becoming an industry-driven country with large cities. Still others moved west to escape persecution. Many people living in modern-day Utah and surrounding areas had pioneers in their family move west with Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers starting in 1846.

In 1848, the California Gold Rush began. The gold rush attracted opportunists, miners, and businessmen. It also brought much needed goods to the West and created small mining towns. Pioneers came on several routes, the most common being the California and Oregon Trails.

Texas ranches provided work for cowboys and ranchers. In later years, free-range cattle would be rounded up and fenced in. With less cattle roaming the open land, space was made for even more pioneers to settle on.

The government also provided incentives such as the Homestead Act for people to move west into the newly acquired territory.

The Homestead Act of 1862

In 1862, the Homestead Act was created. It allowed pioneers to claim 160 acres of free land. This offer went to anyone who was listed as head of the household or who was at least 21 years of age. This act provided a great opportunity for people who looked to build a new life. The main requirement for making a claim was that claimants stayed on the land for five years and made various improvements, such as building a house. The only money spent was an $18 filing fee.

To file for a claim, a homesteader would take the survey coordinates to the nearest land office. Checks would be made to ensure that the land was not already claimed, and the homesteader would agree to build a house and farm, which were required for ownership to be finalized. Later, two neighbors would sign statements saying the requirements had been met. The landowner would then get a patent for the land signed by the president of the United States.

Homestead records are a great way to find information about where your ancestors lived and when they lived there. FamilySearch has a large database for finding patents and deeds.

Finding Pioneers in Your Family

With the thousands of pioneers who settled the Western frontier, it is very likely that you had an ancestor involved. Pioneer record collections that are freely available on FamilySearch are a great place to begin exploring your pioneer heritage:

Pioneer records can be hard to track down, as there weren’t “pioneer registers” persay that existed during the western expansion. These wiki pages can point you to other significant pioneer record collections (though not all of them are freely accessible):

If you already have a FamilySearch Family Tree, finding relatives who went west is even easier. Discover your ancestors’ unique stories with this interactive FamilySearch pioneer tool.