Immigration and Naturalization

At some point in our research, we all want to find out about our immigrant ancestors. All of us who live in North or South America have had ancestors that at one time or another migrated to this section of the world. Even our Native American came by various means from Asia. Some of them came across the land bridge through Alaska and now some are saying that their ancestors came by boat from the South Pacific Islands. We are discovering that there were Europeans in North America prior to the coming of Columbus in 1492. With all the different theories, finding our immigrant ancestor may prove to be more of a challenge that we might expect.

There are a number of problems associated with the migration patterns into North America than would appear at first. In the first place, we want to know where they came from. We can also speculate about the background of the name being researched which may or may not be a clue. In one of my searches for my wife’s family background, I was sure of their presence only after they arrived in Tennessee in the late 1820s. Hints in the information suggested that they might have come from North Carolina, but that information gave little else. There were two men in North Carolina in the American Revolutionary War by the same name, which is not a common name. These men were suspected of being brothers, or at least this was my working theory. In their military records, both of the veterans were from Pennsylvania and they were living at the time of the War in the area of Wachovia in western North Carolina with the Moravians.

Knowing that the Moravians were of German background and they came from Pennsylvania and Maryland in the late eighteen century was about all I had to go on in the search. So I began my research in old Salem, which is now a part of Winston-Salem. Old Salem was the center of the Moravians from the late eighteenth century to the present. A nice research trip was in store for us so that we could get acquainted with the Moravians and the area.

In the public library, we searched the ship’s listings for the suspected time frame and luckily we found a “David Kell” coming into the port of Philadelphia about the time period that we suspected. The name Kell was the one being researched. Upon looking more closely at the records, the ship’s manifest of passengers listed one “David Schell” but in comparison with the listing of the Oath of Allegiance as required of all immigrant passengers, he signs his name “David Kell” and not Schell. This supposed name change was a revelation. David may or may not have been able to read or write and he just told the clerk his name. The clerk did the best he could do to write down the name. I was not able to see the original Oath of Allegiance to know if David signed his own name or with just the usual “X” as happens when one cannot read or write.

Now in a preview of the Pennsylvania birth records, there were no Kells in the state but there were plenty of Schells. In North Carolina, there are Kells but not Schells in the area of interest. I am not sure if this was our immigrant ancestor, but at least it gave us a clue for further investigation.

The ship’s passenger listings are just one point for immigration records and are best for early searches. Later in the development of the country, other avenues open up such as the Ellis Island records in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Newspapers of the day will often carry the names of persons coming from Europe on the various ships. A search of the newspapers will take time, so you will need to be patient.

Naturalization is a term used when someone of foreign birth wants to become a citizen of a second country. In doing research in various court records, these records are found all over the place. I have found them in State Legislature records from the early 19th century, in civil courts, circuit courts, and even in court of pleas. There is no standardization for these events to take place. What also makes the search even more difficult is that at different time periods the records and process are undertaken by different courts. I have found it best to talk with the local county judges to get a clue as to where the records might be found. They might not be aware of all the changes in locations of the records, but keep asking and researching.

Presently, in Tennessee, there is a great social event when many are accepted as citizens and the newspaper carries the listing of the individuals. Sometimes the naturalization records are not in open records, so getting into the court listing may prove difficult and you may have to rely on other sources.

Since we all have immigrant ancestors the task of finding them is difficult, but rewarding when we find the answer or even just a clue. Try to learn of any name changes before you start will also help in your search.

Happy Hunting!

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