Sev­eral celebri­ties in the cur­rent se­ries of WDYTYA? USA traced their fore­bears to Bri­tain. Kim­berly Pow­ell re­veals how to re­search your an­ces­tors who em­i­grated to the United States

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Kim­berly Pow­ell re­veals how to re­search your an­ces­tors who em­i­grated to the United States

Along with the Bri­tish colonists who first founded Amer­ica, nearly 3.5 mil­lion Bri­tish em­i­grants chose the United States as their home be­tween 1820 and 1930, mak­ing it likely that most Bri­tish fam­ily trees con­tain an Amer­i­can rel­a­tive or two.

Nearly half a mil­lion English, Scot­tish and Welsh ar­rived in the US be­tween about 1845 and 1855 in the first of three large waves of Bri­tish em­i­grants. Many were at­tracted by op­por­tu­ni­ties in the tex­tile fac­to­ries of New Eng­land; or the lead min­ing re­gions of Illinois and Wis­con­sin; the iron and cop­per min­ing ranges of Michi­gan; the coal mines of Ohio, Wis­con­sin, and In­di­ana; and the gold fields of Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada. For oth­ers, the lure was land. Dur­ing this pe­riod, govern­ment land was sell­ing for $1.25 an acre, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to buy for about the same cost as rent­ing for a year or two in Bri­tain. Ad­di­tional US acts passed dur­ing this pe­riod made some land avail­able for as lit­tle as 12.5 cents per acre.

A se­cond large wave of Bri­tish em­i­grants ar­rived af­ter the Amer­i­can Civil War (1861-1865), fol­lowed closely by a third sus­tained wave that be­gan about 1879 and lasted un­til the de­pres­sion of 1893. English em­i­grants made up 13.6 per cent of all Euro­pean em­i­grants to Amer­ica dur­ing the peak decade of the 1880s, at­tracted by the con­struc­tion of the coun­try’s transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­roads, homestead op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Great Plains and Amer­i­can West, and the need for skilled work­ers brought about by Amer­ica’s rapid in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Cheaper steamship fares made pas­sage more af­ford­able, and many US rail­road com­pa­nies promised low-in­ter­est loans for em­i­grants will­ing to buy land and set­tle near their rail lines. One fi­nal surge of Bri­tish em­i­gra­tion af­ter the Se­cond World War in­cluded nearly 100,000 war brides, as well as Bri­tish cit­i­zens who once again viewed Amer­ica as a land of op­por­tu­nity fol­low­ing the rav­ages of war.

Fol­low­ing the trail

If you’ve lo­cated a rel­a­tive in UK Out­bound Pas­sen­ger Lists, 1890-1960 on Ances­try or

Nearly 3.5 mil­lion Bri­tish em­i­grants chose the United States as their home be­tween 1820 and 1930

Find­my­past, then it’s rel­a­tively easy to fol­low the trail back to Amer­ica, where mil­lions of pas­sen­ger ar­rival man­i­fests are also avail­able on­line.

For the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish em­i­grants who left for Amer­ica prior to 1890, you may need to use other records in Eng­land to nar­row their ap­prox­i­mate de­par­ture date.

El­lis Is­land didn’t open un­til 1892, but ear­lier em­i­grants can be found ar­riv­ing through Cas­tle Gar­den in New York ( castlegar­, as well as ports in Bal­ti­more, Bos­ton, Philadel­phia, New Or­leans and dozens of other lo­ca­tions.

Em­i­grants may also ap­pear in nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion records, bor­der cross­ing records be­tween Canada and the United States, and pass­port ap­pli­ca­tions. Many of th­ese records can be ac­cessed on­line through ge­neal­ogy web­sites such as Ances­try and Fam­i­lySearch (with World­wide/ World sub­scrip­tions).

US fed­eral census records can be a good first source of in­for­ma­tion on em­i­grant rel­a­tives. An in­di­vid­ual’s oc­cu­pa­tion may pro­vide a clue to their mo­ti­va­tion for em­i­gra­tion. Cen­suses for 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 also show the in­di­vid­ual’s year of em­i­gra­tion, which can help nar­row the search for pas­sen­ger lists. Learn how to use th­ese and other clues in census records to lead you to ad­di­tional re­sources at

Bri­tish em­i­grants who went in search of cheap land from the US govern­ment may be found among the records of the Gen­eral Land Of­fice of the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment ( glo­records.blm. gov), which of­fers ac­cess to digi­tised im­ages of more than five mil­lion Fed­eral land ti­tles is­sued be­tween 1820 and the present, in­clud­ing home­steading records.

Records of those who went to work in the US’s mines or fac­to­ries are in­com­plete and scat­tered. Check with state ar­chives where your US rel­a­tives were liv­ing and search the man­u­script col­lec­tions of more than 1,000 ar­chives na­tion­wide us­ing ArchiveGrid ( beta. world­ Other use­ful records to con­sult in­clude birth, mar­riage and death (vi­tal) records, mil­i­tary and oth­ers, which can be ac­cessed via the world­wide sub­scrip­tion op­tions on web­sites such as ances­, find­my­past., and oth­ers, plus free web­sites in­clud­ing fam­i­lysearch. org (see Record Round-up panel).

How­ever, a foray into so­cial his­tory sources can help bring to life the day-to-day joys and tribu­la­tions that your an­ces­tors may have faced.

Em­i­grant guides pro­duced by govern­ment of­fi­cials and trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies hop­ing to en­cour­age Bri­tish na­tion­als to set­tle in the US are a rich source of de­tail. Wiley & Put­nam’s Em­i­grant’s Guide ( bit. ly/1HPUSBb), pub­lished in Lon­don in 1854, of­fers “ad­vice and in­struc­tion” for em­i­grants pre­par­ing for a voy­age to Amer­ica, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from se­lect­ing a ship to how to find work.

Sim­i­lar guides were writ­ten in Amer­ica as well, some for set­tlers head­ing for spe­cific ar­eas. Many can be found on­line in his­tor­i­cal book data­bases such as Google Books (, In­ter­net Ar­chive ( ar­ and the Hathi Trust (

His­tor­i­cal news­pa­pers can pro­vide con­text for your fam­ily his­tory. Ad­ver­tise­ments, so­cial

gos­sip, recipes and re­ports on top­ics such as crops, ship­ping, and lo­cal sick­ness out­breaks can tell you a lot about your an­ces­tors in the area (see Record Round-up).

Man­u­script col­lec­tions, both on­line and in var­i­ous univer­sity li­braries and other repos­i­to­ries, can also help flesh out your an­ces­tors’ sto­ries through let­ters, com­pany records and oral his­to­ries. Har­vard Univer­sity, for ex­am­ple, hosts an on­line col­lec­tion that fo­cuses on vol­un­tary em­i­gra­tion to the United States be­tween 1789 and 1930, with a

con­cen­tra­tion on the 19th cen­tury, en­com­pass­ing the peak pe­ri­ods of Bri­tish em­i­gra­tion to the United States.

Spe­cific sec­tions de­tail em­i­grant records and sto­ries from as the build­ing of the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­roads. See ocp.hul.har­ im­mi­gra­tion. Man­u­script col­lec­tions can be searched through ArchiveGrid.

Many of th­ese col­lec­tions are not on­line, but there is of­ten enough in­for­ma­tion in the find­ing aids to de­ter­mine if a par­tic­u­lar item is worth fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion. For ex­am­ple, in one episode of Who Do You Think You Are? USA, a let­ter was found in an on­line col­lec­tion at Yale Univer­sity with a first-hand ac­count of the death of Sarah Jes­sica Parker’s 4x great grand­fa­ther, John S Hodge, in the gold fields of Cal­i­for­nia.

While you can un­cover a lot about your Amer­i­can an­ces­tors on­line, there is much more in­for­ma­tion avail­able in county court­houses, state ar­chives, univer­sity li­braries and other repos­i­to­ries.

If you can’t visit Amer­ica to do the re­search in per­son, you can hire a pro­fes­sional US-based ge­neal­o­gist via or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Ge­neal­o­gists ( ap­, the Board for Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Ge­neal­o­gists ( bcgcer­ti­fi­ca­tion. org) and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion for Ac­cred­i­ta­tion of Pro­fes­sional Ge­neal­o­gists ( Kim­berly Pow­ell is a ge­nealog­i­cal ed­u­ca­tor, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Ge­neal­o­gists and ge­neal­ogy ex­pert for

A bustling Fifth Av­enue in New

York on Easter morn­ing, 1900

Steer­age pas­sen­gers on an At­lantic steamer bound for Amer­ica, c1850

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