California Emigration and Immigration

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Beginning Research
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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Pioneer Immigration[edit | edit source]

California[edit | edit source]

Los Angeles[edit | edit source]

Mexico[edit | edit source]

San Diego[edit | edit source]

San Francisco[edit | edit source]

San Pedro[edit | edit source]

Ventura[edit | edit source]

Passport Records Online[edit | edit source]

Offices to Contact[edit | edit source]

Although many records are included in the online records listed above, there are other records available through these archives and offices. For example, there are many minor ports that have not yet been digitized. There are also records for more recent time periods. For privacy reasons, some records can only be accessed after providing proof that your ancestor is now deceased.

National Archives and Records Administration[edit | edit source]

  • You may do research in immigration records in person at the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.

U.S. Citizenship and and Immigration Services Genealogy Program[edit | edit source]

The USCIS Genealogy Program is a fee-for-service program that provides researchers with timely access to historical immigration and naturalization records of deceased immigrants. If the immigrant was born less than 100 years ago, you will also need to provide proof of his/her death.

Immigration Records Available[edit | edit source]
  • A-Files: Immigrant Files, (A-Files) are the individual alien case files, which became the official file for all immigration records created or consolidated since April 1, 1944.
  • Alien Registration Forms (AR-2s): Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2) are copies of approximately 5.5 million Alien Registration Forms completed by all aliens age 14 and older, residing in or entering the United States between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944.
  • Registry Files: Registry Files are records, which document the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found.
  • Visa Files: Visa Files are original arrival records of immigrants admitted for permanent residence under provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.[1]
Requesting a Record[edit | edit source]

Finding Town of Origin[edit | edit source]

Records in the countries emigrated from are kept on the local level. You must first identify the name of the town where your ancestors lived to access those records. If you do not yet know the name of the town of your ancestor's birth, there are well-known strategies for a thorough hunt for it.

Background[edit | edit source]

  • In the colonial era Spaniards established most of the early settlements, although England and Russia also made expeditions to California. During the 80 years of Spanish and Mexican dominion in California (1769-1848), few immigrants came from Spain and Mexico, and even fewer came from other countries.
  • In 1841, overland travelers from the United States began to come to California. In 1846, war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico when American settlers in California protested Mexican rule and set up a republic.
  • By 1848, when the U.S. acquired the area, fewer than 15,000 settlers lived there. Over half were Spanish or Mexican. The rest were of various nationalities, including English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, and Italian.
  • The discovery of gold in California in 1848 triggered a major exodus from the eastern states.
  • Chinese also began to arrive in California.
  • From 1850 to 1860, many immigrants came from the countries of northern Europe (especially Ireland) and from China.
  • The Chinese continued to immigrate to work on the Pacific railroad, which was completed in 1869. Until 1870, most of the Chinese came from the maritime provinces of China, especially Canton. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers to the U.S.
  • Other nationalities who arrived in this period were the Germans, Italians, French, and Portuguese.
  • In the 1880s. a southern California real estate boom brought the first large migrations from the Midwest and the number of English and German immigrants increased. Other major increases were among the Italians, Portuguese, and Japanese.
  • Japanese laborers could not legally leave Japan until 1885, but after that date, many came to California. The number of Mexicans dropped, and the Irish increased only slightly.
  • After 1890, the Italians, Mexicans, and Japanese became the major immigrant groups.
  • Other countries that have contributed substantial numbers to California's population are Russia, Canada, the Philippines, and Poland.
  • The Irish, French, Italians, and Chinese tended to settle in San Francisco. The Mexicans, Russians, and Japanese settled mostly in the Los Angeles area, as did Anglo-Saxons from the Midwest.
  • Few Blacks settled in California until World War II. Those from the southern states usually went to Los Angeles or Oakland.

Immigration Records[edit | edit source]

Immigration refers to people coming into a country. Emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Immigration records usually take the form of ship's passenger lists collected at the port of entry. See Online Resources.

What can I find in them?[edit | edit source]

Information in Passenger Lists[edit | edit source]

  • Before 1820 - Passenger lists before 1820 included name, departure information and arrival details. The names of wives and children were often not included.
  • 1820-1891 - Customs Passenger Lists between 1820 and 1891 asked for each immigrant’s name, their age, their sex, their occupation, and their country of origin, but not the city or town of origin.
  • 1891-1954 - Information given on passenger lists from 1891 to 1954 included:
    • name, age, sex,
    • nationality, occupation, marital status,
    • last residence, final destination in the U.S.,
    • whether they had been to the U.S. before (and if so, when, where and how long),
    • if joining a relative, who this person was, where they lived, and their relationship,
    • whether able to read and write,
    • whether in possession of a train ticket to their final destination, who paid for the passage,
    • amount of money the immigrant had in their possession,
    • whether the passenger had ever been in prison, a poorhouse, or in an institution for the insane,
    • whether the passenger was a polygamist,
    • and immigrant's state of health.
  • 1906-- - In 1906, the physical description and place of birth were included, and a year later, the name and address of the passenger’s closest living relative in the country of origin was included.

Information in Passports[edit | edit source]

Over the years, passports and passport applications contained different amounts of information about the passport applicant. The first passports that are available begin in 1795. These usually contained the individual's name, description of individual, and age. More information was required on later passport applications, such as:

  • Birthplace
  • Birth date
  • Naturalization information
  • Arrival information, if foreign born

California Pioneer Project[edit | edit source]

The Native Daughters of the Golden West have a free 35,000 name index of California pioneer biographical sketches on the Internet. The full record may contain

  • the full name of pioneer,
  • place and date of birth, marriage and death,
  • date of arrival in California,
  • method of travel, name of rail or vessel;
  • states lived in prior to California,
  • place and year of California residence;
  • where educated, profession or occupation, public offices held;
  • names of children;
  • parents' names;
  • name, address, relationship of informant (if any);
  • date of registration and other comments.

In-country Migration[edit | edit source]

California Migration Routes[edit | edit source]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

The FamilySearch Library has additional sources listed in their catalog:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Genealogy", at USCIS,, accessed 26 March 2021.