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United States Emigration and Immigration

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US Emigration & Immigration

The Tracing Immigrant Origins Wiki pages can help you identify an immigrant ancestor's original hometown. Those pages introduce the principles, search strategies, and additional record types you can use.

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Beginner's CornerEdit


Emigration records list the names of people leaving and immigration records list those coming into the United States. There are passenger lists for ships coming into the United States and border-crossing records of people leaving Canada or Mexico for the United States. These records may include an emigrant’s name, age, occupation, destination, and sometimes the place of origin or birth.

Historical BackgroundEdit

Nearly fifty million people have immigrated to America. Significant patterns of immigration and settlement can be observed during three periods:


Immigrants Behold the Statue of Liberty

An estimated 650,000 individuals arrived in America before 1820. The majority (60 percent) were English and Welsh. Smaller numbers of German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, French, Spanish, African, and other nationalities also arrived. For the most part these immigrants settled in small clusters in the eastern, middle-Atlantic, and southern states.


Over ten million immigrants came from northern Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia during these years. There was a significant increase in the number of immigrants from Germany and Ireland beginning in the 1840s and 1850s. While some of the new arrivals settled in large eastern and mid-western cities, most migrated to the midwest and west.

  • Bergquist, James M. Daily Life in Immigrant America, 1820-1870. The Greenwood Press “Daily Life Through History” Series. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008. 
This is a good resource that gives the context for the immigration that occurred between 1820 and 1870.  The title is a misnomer as it has information on the conditions in Europe, the ports of embarkation, conditions during the voyages of the immigrant ships, and then talks about the daily life of immigrants in the United States.  He also covers Chinese immigration.  There is a helpful chronology and a glossary that add to the usefulness of the book.  A good read if one wants to understand the context of an individual's immigration in the time frame covered.
  • Hansen, Marcus Lee.  The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 : A History of the Continuing Settlement of the United States.  Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press, 1941. 
An excellent overview with a focus on the years 1815-1860.


More than twenty-five million immigrants, primarily from southern and eastern Europe, were attracted to this country. The largest numbers (in order) came from Germany, Italy, Ireland, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and England. Many of these immigrants settled in the larger cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

An in-depth description of colonial and federal immigration lists is:


See Ireland Emigration and Immigration

Millions of Irish (mostly Catholic) immigrated to the United States (a slight majority to New York City) in especially the mid to late 19th Century. Their migration fanned out into the midwest, i.e. Chicago St. Louis, the south, i.e. Alabama and Georgia and out west. Visit the Famine Emigrants 1846-1851 database at the NARA website for an online search of nearly 700,000 Irish Famine Immigrants. A significant (60+ million-name) database is now searchable online at from early to 1960 for emigrant passengers to the United States.

Here is an enlarged List of Irish Emigration websites for locating Irish ancestors on ships. View FamilySearch online tutorials on Irish immigration by clicking here.


Two main regions of early colonization were New England and Virginia.

  • Nearly all of 14,000 pre-1624 Virgina settlers came from the London area. England's Civil War of 1642-1649 and the subsequent Interregnum years up to 1660 significantly impacted the New World settlements. Royalists, at the be-heading of King Charles I, fled England and found refuge in the Virgina Colony.
  • Because King Charles' war-like campaigns so terrorized the Nonconformists (i.e. Puritans), it likewise caused thousands to flee England for Leyden, Holland and North America. Plymouth Colony, created in 1620, by English Separatists (Pilgrims), had by 1650, become populated with numerous Puritans and other English Nonconformists who crossed the ocean seeking religious freedom.
  • The Massachusetts Bay Colony began around this period, with its first inhabitants who came from counties Devonshire, Dorset and Somerset. Later, during the Civil War, this colony was comprised of emigrant 'refugees' from England's cradle of Puritanism--counties Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, NW Essex and east Hertfordshire. 

The Carolinas were populated with English emigrants as well as Connecticut, New Hampshire and portions of Maryland and Maine.

Ports of ArrivalEdit

Major Ports
Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports
Baltimore, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Detroit, Michigan
New Orleans, Louisiana
New York City, New York
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Minor Ports by State

New York (not New York City)
Rhode Island
South Carolina

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