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Ethnic Genealogy


The United States is populated by people from all over the world, blended to form that special breed we know as Americans. You are probably the product of many nationalities and cultures. If your ancestors havenít been in the United States for a long time, you may have closer ties to your ethnic origins than some Americans who need two hands and all their toes to count their Revolutionary War ancestors.

If you persist in your genealogical and family history research, your search will eventually lead to other countries, even if your ancestors came to the United States before the Revolutionary War. Many books and articles have been written about research in English, Irish, Scottish, French, and German sources. As a beginner, donít attempt to skip generations and target a possible immigrant ancestor based on similarity of name or family tradition. Prove each generationís links as you work backward from yourself to your ancestors.

As you become more knowledgeable about research methods and sources, moving from beginner to intermediate researcher, The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, Third Edition may give you new insights into your investigation. Special sections are devoted to lists of sources about research in other countriesí records. The Source has been updated and revised in a new 2006, third edition.

While it isnít possible in the scope of this book to provide detailed information about examining all the research sources unique to special groups, the following list should furnish a starting place.

Native Americans

While many families have an oral tradition of Native American heritage, itís difficult, in many cases, to prove. When Indians were assimilated into white culture and no longer maintained a separate ethnic identity, they ceased to be officially recorded as Indians. The best method to trace Native American ancestry is to do thorough genealogical and family history research first, then begin to learn about the records available to document Indian lineage. Collateral relatives, especially those who did not lose their Indian identity, can be extremely helpful.

A good book to read about Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole research is Rachal Mills Lennonís Tracing Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes.

African Americans

Researching black American families is little different from standard genealogical research as far back as the Civil War. Oral tradition is very important, even more so than for other cultures.

While most researchers think of African Americans as slaves before the Civil War, a significant number were free blacks and their records are found in census and county records. For those who were slaves, plantation records, will and probate records, and deed records for white families associated with their families are informative. Slave schedules from federal census reports are helpful in researching black ancestry.

The Freedmenís Bureau was created by Congress in 1865, to serve the needs of newly-freed slaves. Records of this agency are maintained by the National Archives and available in many state and regional archives and libraries. One microfilm catalog from the National Archives is devoted to black research sources. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925 by Herbert G. Gutman contains more information about black research.

White Trash

Why is it White Trash isnít treated as an ethnic group? They have distinguishing characteristics and travel in packs. They migrated from the Borderlands between England and Scotland to Ireland, then to America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They came into the Colonies through the port of Philadelphia, stayed in Pennsylvania long enough to work off indentures for their passage, then lit out down the Great Wagon Road for the backwoods. They pursued westward migration to avoid government interference and squat on unclaimed land. They moved into Arkansas and Texas, and then over into Oklahoma before they should have. Finally, they all sent representatives to Bakersfield, California. Read more about this interesting group in Grady McWhineyís Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South.

Everyone Else

Special research aids have been written to help people find their Scandinavian, Polish, German, Hispanic, Irish, Scottish, Italian, Asian, and Eastern European ancestry. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy has extensive bibliographies of helpful books and articles on genealogical research in foreign sources.

When you identify the country from which your ancestors came, go to your local library and borrow a basic history of that country. Read it with special attention to the time period your ancestor left. Youíll learn about the social, political, and cultural forces that contributed to the migration. Remember not to isolate your immigrant; keep him with other members of his kinship group.

When you follow your American ancestors back in time, youíll want to learn which ship they came over in. John Phillip Collettaís They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestorís Arrival Record is very helpful in understanding passenger arrival records.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has microfilmed primary records throughout the world and these are available for use at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and Family History Centers all over the United States.

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