Immigration Record Sources

By Sherry Stevens, professional genealogist

Looking for your ancestor’s immigration story? In what year did Great-grandpa arrive? What ship did he arrive on, and what were its living conditions?  Who were his traveling companions?  In what port did he first disembark in his new country? These popular websites might just tell his immigration tale:

Castle Garden
If your ancestor arrived in the port of New York between 1820 through 1892, Castle Garden was where they were processed. This was the facility used before Ellis Island was built. At this website, you can search a database of 11 million immigrants.

Ellis Island
If your ancestor arrived through the port of New York between 1892 and 1924, they would have been processed at Ellis Island. The Ellis Island website provides free access to 22 million records of passenger arrivals. You can now also search by ship name as well.  The excellent photos on this site provide and even richer insight into the immigrant processing experience.  Registration is required for searching, but it is free. 

Perhaps your ancestor arrived through a port other than New York, such as Baltimore, Galveston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, etc.  This website by Steve Morse allows you to search arrivals at these ports, as well as Ellis Island and Castle Garden.  Steve’s sophisticated search engine also allows a search of many types of immigration records in “one step”.  Some searches on this site will link to, for which you still need a subscription.

This site is fee-based, but much of it is free at your local library or FamilySearch center.  It contains images of immigration records from the 1500’s to the 1900’s. Even if your ancestor was not of European descent, don’t forget to check the records of those coming in from the UK or Hamburg.  Many immigrants transferred to ships in these ports before crossing the Atlantic. 

This free site contains millions of records in its Migration and Naturalization collection.  The records are organized by port and year, and then by surname.  All records on this database are digitized, so a view of the original document is available.

Wee Monster

This site is a source of great links to immigration records.  Most of them are organized by port and year, so it ’s easy to search this site fast. 

You can search this site by passenger name, arrival date, or ship name.  Here you will find information about voyages, ship descriptions, and even photos or drawings of the ships.  The collection also includes an extensive list of Australian and Canadian arrivals.

Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild
Links! Links! Links!  This site contains over 11,000 ship’s passenger lists and links to the immigration records of many nationalities and ethnic groups.  It even includes arrivals at ports all over the world.  Although not extremely user-friendly, its extensive collection is hard to beat.

If your ancestor can’t be found in these popular websites, it may be because he or she had a common name or a name spelled in a way you didn’t expect.  Perhaps you need to learn the year of immigration first.  Perhaps your ancestor arrived at an unexpected port or came across the border from Canada.  In future articles we will explore ways to find the more elusive immigration records.  Until then, happy hunting!


P.S. For expert help with your genealogical research, contact me at

Even More Places to Search for Death Records

By Sherry Stevens, professional genealogist

Lesser-known sources may be the key to unlocking the death record of your ancestor.

Lately we’ve been discussing the many ways to find death information. When you’ve tried the more obvious records such as death certificates, obituaries, the Social Security Death Index, and the records listed in my other articles, these lesser-known sources might help you unearth that death record you seek:

Church records
Your ancestor was probably a member of a local church, so his or her church records may include the death date. If the funeral took place at the church, you might even find the funeral records, burial location, and other valuable information in the church’s records. To find possible churches, type your ancestor’s address into Google Maps, click on Search Nearby and type in “churches”.

Family SourcesWe’re often told to check with older or extended family members regarding family records in their possession, and that is good advice. But it’s important to go beyond just asking the “family genealogist”. Your great aunt may have some old photos with dates on the back, while your grandfather might have your ancestor’s diary. Ask as many family members as you can. The records in the top of their old closet might include family Bibles, interview transcriptions, letters, journals, insurance papers, and other priceless articles.

Census Mortality Schedules– Mortality schedules are lists of those who died in the 12- month period before the U.S. censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. These schedules list the deceased’s name, sex, age, race, marital status, birthplace, month of death, occupation, and cause of death. The 1870 schedules also include the parent’s birthplaces. Free transcriptions of the census mortality schedules are available at, and they are also free on by clicking on the link in the website.

Journals, Genealogies and Histories
Consider the extended family members, friends, neighbors, and church leaders who lived in the same vicinity as your ancestor. They may have written details about your ancestor’s death or funeral in their journal. Or someone may have compiled a genealogy or written a history book containing the very person you seek. These types of records are usually found at libraries, so check the public libraries in the area, and also the libraries of local universities and colleges. In the library catalog, these records are usually listed under the name of the city or county. Also check with local historical societies. You can often find these organizations on the Internet by entering the name of the city, county, or state, followed by “historical society”, “archive”, or “library”.

Until next time, best of luck in your searching!


P.S. For expert help with your genealogical research, contact me at

Obituaries and Where to Find Them

By Sherry Stevens, professional genealogist

Obituaries are a genealogical treat! The trick, of course, is finding them. On this Halloween week, I’ll share with you some tools to unearth these elusive goodies and lay your family secrets to rest.
Who knows what treasures you might find in an obituary? Did your great aunt have a previous husband? Did your grandfather have a child you never knew about? Where were the places they lived, and what were their experiences and hobbies? It could all be in their obituary.

Buyer Beware
The obituary is usually written by a close family member, so the information provided there is generally quite accurate. You will usually find dates, places, and names of next-of-kin, as well as the interests and important experiences of your ancestor. However, be cautious! The author may not have a perfect memory, or may have been emotionally upset while writing, so their “facts” can vary slightly from the truth. Nevertheless, obituaries are still a valuable summary of a person’s life experiences.
Where to Find Obituaries
Obviously, obituaries are printed in newspapers. But there are other locations you may find them as well. The mortuary or funeral home may have kept a copy, a family member may have saved one in a scrapbook or family Bible, or the article may have been included in a compiled family history. Talk to family members, especially those who are aged, to see what they have. Contact the mortuary to see if they still have any records on your ancestor. Hint: The name of the mortuary is often listed on the death certificate.
Searching Newspapers
To find an obituary in a newspaper, you will first need your ancestor’s death date. If you don’t start with the date, you’ll have to read a lot of newspapers!
Next, you need to find out what newspapers were in print at the time and place of your ancestor’s death. A great website to learn this information is Chronicling America, a website of the U.S. Library of Congress. Here you can search by location and date to access the largest available list of newspapers from 1690 to the present. Don’t overlook papers published by special interest groups such as political parties, religious, or ethnic groups, of which your ancestor might have been a member.
After you’ve made a list of which newspapers to check, learn which ones are still available today and who has them. Some historic newspapers are available online, but others are only in print or on microfilm. Try entering the name of the newspaper into the following sites:

  1. Chronicling America– Click on the newspaper title, then on “Holdings” at the bottom.
  2. Google– Just enter the name of the city and newspaper, and perhaps the year as well.
  3. WorldCat– the world library catalog. If you find your newspaper listed here, go your local library to order it through an inter-library loan. Usually they charge a small fee for shipping.
  4. American Antiquarian– Specializes in newspapers prior to 1876.
  5. Center for Research Libraries– Offers mostly international newspapers. Order them through your local university or college through an inter-library loan.
  6. The United States Newspaper Program– Microfilmed newspapers from 1700’s to the present.

There are many fee-based sites as well, which are searchable for free at your local library or FamilySearch center. These include, World Vital Records, the Godfrey Memorial Library, and the 19th Century British Library Newspapers digital archive. For more information on their holdings, click here.
If you find the repository of your newspaper, but they do not loan copies, you could ask them to recommend a local researcher whom you could hire to examine the newspaper for you on site.
Search the Newspaper
When you obtain the newspaper, whether online or otherwise, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Obituaries were usually printed from one to seven days after the death date, so you may need to search several issues of the paper.
  2. Historic newspapers typically did not have a section set aside for obituaries, so you will probably need to search every page of the paper.
  3. Don’t forget to search the front page if your ancestor was a noted citizen, especially in a small town.
  4. Check for other newspaper articles besides the obituary. Sometimes you will find a death notice or a funeral report, which is published after the funeral and lists the details and participants at the funeral.

Now that you’ve learned a few tricks, I hope you find some genealogical treats. Happy hunting and Happy Halloween!


P.S. For expert help with your genealogical research, contact me at