Genealogy/Locating the previous overseas residence

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Locating the previous overseas residence

Finding your family village name: You must find your ancestor’s community's name before you will be able to locate ancestral records that were recorded in the "old country." This will usually require beginning research in the U.S., or whatever your home country, to determine the correct community.

First, begin with yourself. Gather everything you know about your own origins: where you were born, what religion you were raised in, your own civil and religious records. Then go back one generation at a time, looking for all of the available information you have. Where did your parents live? Where were they born? Gather their records. Sometimes even the smallest detail can lead you on the path to discovery. At times, you will not be able to locate a particular record for a parent or grandparent. If that is the case, look for records of their siblings. Often those will have the information you seek.

Records to Search[edit | edit source]

Family documents[edit | edit source]

Get out those old shoe boxes, start reading and really look at the details. Old letters often contain family connections, dates, locations and hints to lead you in the right direction. The same applies to old photographs which may have names and dates, or the photograpy studio or photographer’s name. Address books, postcards and, of course, family Bibles contain information and clues. Deeds, marriage certificates, naturalization papers, social security papers, Wills, and even insurance policies can be sources for information. I found one great-great grandmother’s address in Poland in an old personal address book which was about to be thrown out when her granddaughter passed on.

Contact your relatives. Many families are large, and an aunt, great-uncle, or distant cousin may have family documents you were not even aware existed. Begin with the one who was closest to your ancestor or cared for them before they died. Often those relatives end up with the ancestor’s documents.

An important note about family Bibles: in most of the older Bibles, the family information is listed about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way toward the back of the book (unlike modern Bibles where this information is listed in the first few pages).

Public Records[edit | edit source]

Public records in general present some problems. Families changed their names; names were misspelled due to language barriers; phonetic spellings were used by clerks; different pronunciation of letters from one language to the next, typographical errors and poor penmanship created transcription errors, among others. Some records are missing due to misfiling, or were destroyed by fire and flood. This is as true in the U.S. as it is in other countries; the 1890 Federal Census being a prime example.

Vital records[edit | edit source]

Birth, marriage and death records are generally located in the county seat in which the event happened (in the USA, other arrangements apply in the rest of the world). The cost of those records vary from county to county, and often depend upon whether you ask for a certified copy of the record or just a genealogical copy (generally cost less).

Most U.S. counties can be accessed on the web as follows:”countyname”.”state two letter abbreviation”.us/ (omit the quotation marks in your search. If that doesn’t work, just do a web search with your favorite search engine. The information for obtaining the records should be on the county site. In the U.S. this information can be found on the USGenWeb site: There is also a World GenWeb site that may help for researching in other countries:

Another source to find vital records by state in the U.S. can be found at Some of these state sites give the year in which the state began to maintain the records, the locations to find earlier records, and refer to databases which are also searchable on the web.

SSDI[edit | edit source]

The Social Security Death Index is available free on line at Scroll down a bit and just put the name in the search box, and a list of persons with that name will come up. The Social Security Death Index is generally updated every three months.

When a person is found, the name, date of birth, date of death, last residence, the state in which the number was issued, and the number itself is shown. If you wish to obtain a copy of the original Social Security Application, you can click on the SS-5 letter link. The following information was requested on the application: Name, current address, birthdate, birthplace (generally City and State, place of employment and business address (if applicable) and names of parents (mother’s full maiden name).

Social Security is constantly updating this file. If the person for whom you are looking recently died, they probably won't be here. Give it a few months before you check again.

Obituaries[edit | edit source]

Published obituaries can be a valuable source of information. Often parents’ names, spouses, children and surviving siblings are shown. This is especially valuable if you are unable to locate information on your ancestor and don’t have the female siblings’ married names. Generally, if listed at all, it is with their then present married name, giving you another piece of information to allow you to continue your search.

Obituaries may be found in the “morgue” of the local newspapers, historical libraries in various cities and counties, and some public libraries have film or online databases for obituaries, marriages and death notices.

Alien Registration[edit | edit source]

Alien registration was required beginning in 1940 for resident aliens in the USA. The records can be obtained for the years 1940-1944 from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Voter Registration[edit | edit source]

Most U.S. counties and states keep voter registration records. The states’ records are generally kept in the office of the Secretary of State. You can check with the county or state departments for information. Additionally, the LDS has filmed numerous voter registration indexes for various areas of the United States. You can check their Family History Library Catalog on line to see if your location has been filmed.

WWI Draft Registration[edit | edit source]

In 1917 and 1918 males old enough to serve in the military were required to register for the draft, whether citizen or alien. See more detailed information on Ancestry WWI Draft Information at

The LDS has compiled the WWI Draft Registration on microfiche arranged by state of residence, and you can contact your local Family History Center to view the registration records. Information is available at WWII Draft Info at

United States Census[edit | edit source]

The U.S. census is an excellent source of information, although it won’t usually give you the town of origin, it will give the country and occasionally the Province, such as “Prussian Posen” or “Russian Warsawa”. Keep in mind that the reference to “Posen” and “Warsawa” in these records generally refer to the Province and not the city.

Remember that these records are organized by family group. You will generally find parents and children, but sometime will also find grandparents and even great-grandparents living with their descendants. This information is also valuable because it provides a fairly accurate view of where the family (including siblings) were located when the individual census was taken - given several, this can show how the family members came and went in a household.

Census films may be obtained at your local Family History Center of the LDS (see the Family History Library search page listed under voter registration above) or through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

These records are also available on line through the paid genealogical subscription sites, and

Immigration records[edit | edit source]

There are a number of sources for ship manifests, and their availability varies with the time and port to which your ancestor immigrated. The most well-known is the Ellis Island database on line, and if your ancestors immigrated between 1892 and 1924 to the port of New York, you may find that information free online: You must register to use the site, but it is without charge. 

There have been some problems with the Ellis Island database indexing and linking, and the usual problems with misspellings and transcription errors. Another site which can help with such problems is the Stephen P. Morse website which gives search options not available from the Ellis Island site, and a way in which to find “missing manifests.”

For more information on Ellis Island records, go to the Jewish GenWeb site:

The LDS has filmed numerous passengers records for many ports, and have some ports indexed so that you can find your ancestor’s name and arrival date before you order the actual manifest. Again, you can check what records they hold at

NARA also has many manifests for U.S. ports:

Additional passenger arrival information can be found on the following sites: 

Immigration and Ships Passenger Lists Research Guide

Polish Genealogical Society of America

An extensive reference for immigration to Australia, Canada, Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world is found on Mary’s Genealogy Treasures at:

Declarations of Intent or Citizenship Applications are generally found in the local county court of residence prior to the Federal government taking over the naturalization process. A guide to finding these records is found at:

There are some free and paid searchable naturalization databases on the web for the U.S. and Canada at:

Land records[edit | edit source]

These are often harder to obtain and study than other documents, but they may hold clues, if not outright references to former residence.

Probate records[edit | edit source]

Again, these may hold clues, if not outright references to former residence.

Religious records[edit | edit source]

Baptismal records and marriage applications kept by the churches often have parents’ names and place of birth. If you cannot find your ancestor’s batismal certificate, you may have be able to find a sibling’s record and locate the information indirectly.

Catholic records are generally kept in the parish in which the ceremony was performed. If a parish has closed, the records may have been sent to the Diocese or Archdiocese archives, or to the nearest church still in existence. Many local parishes are now on line in the U.S. To locate a specific church by town or city and even by foreign Language masses, this site is very helpful: . There is even a scrollable map so you can find a parish nearest your ancestors’ home.

There is no set web address for the Archidiocese in the U.S., but a web search for “catholic archdiocese” and the city or state will generally get you good results. For a Diocese, you can use a similar search. Many have information about how to obtain genealogical records.

The Evangelical(Lutheran) church of the U.S. has genealogical assistance. Their website is: Genealogical information is at the top right.

Additionally, the Lutheran World Federation has information and links to their member churches throughout the world. Just click on “member churches” and scroll down to the area in which you are searching:

Jewish records: Jewish Temples did not (and do not) keep records as did the Christian churches. These are family records, and were kept in the family papers. Some of the mohels who performed the bris mila kept records, but they were his personal records and would be with his family documents. Of course, many of these were lost through war and the holocaust, but there are still many ways one can search for their Jewish ancestors. Jewis GenWeb has an excellent guide to searching for family and ancestors: .