Southern States Immigration Research

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Syllabus for class taught by G. David Dilts, AG® from FamilySearch at the FGS Conference 2010

Learn strategies and resources for finding the place (town) of origin of settlers who migrated into the southern United States.

Important Preliminaries and Fundamentals[edit | edit source]

A. Minimum identification: name, date, place, source, plus a relative/neighbor needed to identify an ancestor in both the place of arrival and the place of origin.

B. The more you know, the better you can guess. A well-documented family group record listing each event and source notes provides the most succinct view of the clues. Each time you find a new source update and print a new family group record showing that source.

C. Use research logs to document your research steps and strategies, and help show negative evidence. Document AS YOU GO!

D. Prepare to formally compare, contrast, analyze, deduce, and infer from all the sources found.

Research Strategies[edit | edit source]

A. Be thorough—look for and list all available sources. Some sources list more than one event.

B. Study an ancestor in community context. Especially in census and land records:

  • Study people in the area with the same surname, or different surnames in the same house.
  • Identify census and land record neighbors at least 12 before and after
  • Near a county or state line ignore the line and study families on the other side
  • Comb the area for similar first names, similar origins, or similar jobs.

C. Neighbors often move to the same area. Study neighbors to learn your family’s origins.

D. Follow nearby migration pathways backwards. Trees, rivers, and mountains forced travelers to follow predictable routes. Deduce a family's origins from paths to where they settled.

E. How to narrow a broad place of origin like a state or nation to an individual county or town:

  • Look for clusters of the surname (best with two surnames) in indexes like the International Genealogical Index or census indexes, or in tax lists. Concentrate research on likely clusters.

F. Slave places of origin

  • Freedman's Savings and Trust (HeritageQuestOnline and
  • 1870 census of former slaves + within 15 miles land owners and/or 1860 slave owners
  • Upper South and border state registers of slaves and free blacks
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, Slave Manifests, 1807-1860 at
  • Wiki page Quick Guide to African American Records

Migration Sources[edit | edit source]

A. Home sources: older relatives, family Bibles, photos, postmarks and letters, obituaries, etc.

B. Censuses: especially 1850 to 1930 federal and state for place of origin of ancestor and neighbors. See each Wiki state census page, e.g.


  • NY passenger arrival lists 1820-1957
  • Other Atlantic ports including Philadelphia 1800-1945; Baltimore 1820-1948; Annapolis, Norfolk, Charleston, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans 1820-1945, & Galveston 1846-1948
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (PILI or Filby's) especially prior to 1840s—includes Peter Wilson Coldham, books like, British Emigrants in Bondage and American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857

D. County histories often tell the origins of groups or individuals

E. Land records

  • Revolutionary War bounty land warrants (especially in VA OH KY TN)
  • Land lotteries in Georgia
  • Homestead applications. See GLO-BLM land patent index (except for original colonies KY and TN); (TX index separate) at
  • County land records (FamilySearch Catalog Place Search). Also look for neighbors
  • Proprietor's colonial records. See each colony's Land and Property Research Wiki page.

F. Probate records (transfer of land is often the best evidence of descent in the South)

G. Confederate military service records, pensions, and old soldier home records

H. Collections – look in the “Genealogy” section for each state FamilySearch Research Wiki page for information about genealogy collections for that state and how to use them.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Research Wiki articles on the Internet at—

  • Tracing Immigrant Origins
  • each state's Emigration and Immigration section
  • each state's Naturalization and Citizenship section
  • each state's Genealogy section looking for "Collections"
  • United States Migration Internal
  • US Military Old Soldiers Home Records
  • Bounty Land Warrants
  • Document AS YOU GO!
  • Family group record: roadmap for researchers
  • Adding a Custom Event to a PAF Family Group Record
  • Research Logs

Dollarhide, William. Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815. Bountiful, Utah : AGLL, 1997. Maps and histories of major trails and roads.

Handybook for Genealogists, 9th ed. Logan, Utah : Everton Publishers, 1999. Maps at the end on pages M47 to M54 show major trails and roads.

Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry Pub., 1997. Best explanation of how-to book for land records research.

Homework[edit | edit source]

Use each applicable research strategy to search for the previously unknown place of origin for an ancestor who settled in the southern United States. Use all the migration sources in order to become familiar with their use and content.