Finding Town of Origin - United States Immigration - 1880-1930

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How to find birth records, marriage records and death records, Finding Town of Origin - United States Immigration - 1880-1930

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Beginning in the late 19th century, immigration to the United States from eastern and southern Europe increased dramatically. Previously, immigration from these countries was not as represented in the United States.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Nationwide Collections

State-wide immigration pages with links to collections:

U.S. Territories

Census Records[edit | edit source]

Below is a table with possible immigration information found in the United States Census records. The below information can give clues as to when a person immigrated. Beginning in 1850, the United States censuses listed the birthplace of a person. This information can be helpful in knowing the country of origin. These earlier census records can also give clues as to when a family immigrated to the United States if some of the children were born in their homeland country and some in the United States. This is helpful in narrowing down the year of immigration. As noted in the table, some of the later censuses provide an estimated or exact year of immigration as well. NOTE: The immigration years can vary from census to census, especially if the person immigrated as a child and did not remember the year exactly.

Census Year Wiki Article about the Census Websites Information found in census
1850 United States Census 1850 FamilySearch $
Birthplace of individual given.
1860 United States Census 1860 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual given.
1870 United States Census 1870 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual given, if parents were of foreign birth, and whether or not they're a male citizen of the United States over 21 years of age (this is helpful in knowing whether they have been naturalized or not).
1880 United States Census 1880 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual and parents.
1890 United States Census 1890 FamilySearch $

The majority of this census was destroyed and there are very few records remaining. Birthplace of individual and their parents, number of years in the United States, whether or not the person was naturalized, whether or not they had their naturalization papers taken out, if they did not speak English then what language.
1900 United States Census 1900 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual and parents, year of immigration, years in the United States, whether or not naturalized.
1910 United States Census 1910 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual and parents, year of immigration, naturalized or alien, whether they speak English or if not what language.
1920 United States Census 1920 FamilySearch $

Birthplace and mother tongue of individual and parents, year of immigration, naturalized or alien, year of naturalization, whether or not they spoke English.
1930 United States Census 1930 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual and parents, language spoken at home before coming to the United States, year of immigration, whether or not naturalized, whether able to speak English.
1940 United States Census 1940 FamilySearch $

Birthplace of individual, Citizenship status for those foreign-born, where the individual lived in 1935 (this is especially helpful if the person immigrated around this time).

Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

Online Naturalization Resources[edit | edit source]

Since the adoption of the United States constitution, there have been naturalization laws and regulations in place. The naturalization process often took place in county courts. To learn more about the naturalization process read United States Naturalization and Citizenship. These types of courts varied between different states. County naturalization records can often be found in county supreme, circuit, district, equity, chancery, probate, or common pleas courts. Some states also naturalized aliens in state supreme courts. These states include Indiana, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, and South Dakota. Aliens were sometimes naturalized in a Federal court (U.S. district court or U.S. circuit court) if they resided in a large city.[1]

The naturalization process took a minimum of five years to complete. After living in the United States for 2 years, a declaration of intent could be filed. This was called the "first papers." After another three years, the petition of naturalization could be filed. When this petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was given. In the 1900 and 1910 United States census records, it is stated whether or not the person is an alien or naturalized. NA stands for naturalized, AL for Alien, and PA for papers.[2]

There were several exceptions to the citizenship rule. From 1790-1922, minor children and wives automatically became citizens when their father or husband did. If an alien woman married a citizen, she gained citizenship in the United States. The reverse was not true for men. If an alien man married a citizen of the United States, he did not become a citizen and his wife lost her citizenship, even if she never left the United States. From 1824-1906, aliens who had lived in the United States for five years before they turned 23, could file their declarations and petitions at the same time. A third exception was for veterans. Beginning in 1862, honorably discharged veterans of the United States could petition for naturalization without filing a declaration of intent. In 1918, aliens currently serving in the military were allowed to petition for naturalization.[3]

Town and County Records and Histories[edit | edit source]

Online Town and County History Resources[edit | edit source]

Town and county histories can give important clues to a person's origins. Many of these histories have short biographies of important or founding families in the community. If someone prominent in the community is an immigrant their place of origin will usually be recorded in this biographies; the origins of parents are sometimes listed in biographies of their children as well.

Church Records[edit | edit source]

Online Church Resources[edit | edit source]

Church records can include christenings, baptisms, marriage, and burial records. These can give the names of parents and other potential relatives. After coming to the United States, many immigrants stayed near people from their own country and community back home. Many churches kept records in their native language. Looking at the records of other members of the community who immigrated about the same time and from the same country can also give potential clues to the town of origin.

Court and Land Records[edit | edit source]

Online Court and Land Resources[edit | edit source]

Court and land records can be helpful in keeping track of a person in the community. These can be helpful in figuring out when a person came into a community, and potentially where they lived before. Usually these Usually these records were kept at the county level.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Naturalization Records," in Research Our Records, National Archives,, accessed 26 November 2019.
  2. "Naturalization Records," in Research Our Records, National Archives,, accessed 26 November 2019.
  3. "Naturalization Records," in Research Our Records, National Archives,, accessed 26 November 2019.