Tracing Immigrants Arrival SocietiesEdit This Page
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Societies often collect helpful records such as family and local histories, oral histories, church records, newspapers, cemetery record collections, passenger lists, manuscripts, organization membership applications, early settler indexes, military records, directories, and so on. Genealogical and historical societies are organized almost everywhere. Historical societies for most ethnic and religious groups also exist—for example, the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. Also search for pioneer or old settler societies. Contact these societies to learn about their services and hours. They are usually very cooperative and can help you find good local researchers. Your public library normally has guides to help locate these organizations. Two North American guides are—
- Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada. 14th ed. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1990. (FHL book 970 H24d.)
- Bentley, Elizabeth Petty. The Genealogist's Address Book. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991. (FHL book 973 D24ben.)
The records of societies an immigrant joined during his or her life are harder to locate. Foreigners often received financial and other assistance from immigrant aid societies. An immigrant may have sent money back to his family or brought relatives from the old country through an immigrant aid society. These societies were usually associated with ethnic, religious, or community organizations. The Perpetual Emigration Fundis an example of a Latter-day Saint immigrant aid society. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Societyassisted Jewish people. Chinese clans organized immigrant aid societies to help immigrants to America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Their records are some of the best sources for tracing Chinese emigrants. Ask local and ethnic historical societies about records and addresses of immigrant aid societies that operated in the area.
After the immigrant settled, he or she may have sought the company of people with similar interests and joined an ethnic or fraternal organization like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a German-American Club, a Jewish Landsmanschaft, the Grange, a Masonic lodge, the Sons of Italy, or the National Slovak Society. These societies have a vast amount of personal information in membership records and insurance files. (Ethnic fraternal organizations served as the insurance companies of the nineteenth century.)
Although they may be difficult to locate, ethnic and fraternal society records sometimes provide crucial immigration information. A book that helps locate ethnic associations is—
- Encyclopedia of Associations. Annual. Detroit: Gale Research, 25th ed. in 1991. (FHL book 973 E4gr.) See section 10, “Fraternal, Foreign Interest, Nationality, and Ethnic Organizations.”
For a description of ethnic association records, see—
- Records of Ethnic Fraternal Benefit Associations in the United States: Essays and Inventories. St. Paul: Minn.: Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, 1981. (FHL book 973 F24r.)
For addresses and descriptions of many ethnic groups, see—
- Wynar, Lubomyr R. Encyclopedic Directory of Ethnic Organizations in the United States. Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1975. (FHL book 305.8 W99e.)
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