Originally authored by Jeremy Palmer, Dip. Gen. Edited by Ancestry.com.au.
Here are some tips on finding your migrant ancestor.
Speak to your relatives
As with many aspects of family history research, a good first step is to talk to your relatives about what they know about the family history. If the family migrated to Australia or New Zealand in the last two or three generations then they may be able to give you some very useful details about the ancestor who made the journey, when it took place and where he or she was from.
The surname of your ancestor may provide some useful clues in regard to the country of origin. Names such as Wood, Smith and Brown are British in origin. If you have Kelly ancestors, the chances are that they came from Ireland. Whilst there are no rules in regard to surname origins, the meaning and history of the name can be an important factor in determining the country of origin of the migrant ancestor.
The use of Death Certificates
Death certificates can help prove that your ancestor came from a particular place in a particular country. In Australia, for instance, death certificates may include how long the person had been living in Australia and the place of birth. This will help to identify when your ancestor came to Australia and where they came from.
Once you have an idea as to when your migrant ancestor arrived in a particular country, you can search for them in passenger lists and other immigration records. Information found in these records will vary but may detail your ancestor’s age, birthplace, parentage, occupation and literacy skills.
When you discover the birthplace of your migrant ancestor you can start to research their country of origin. Records available will vary from country to country and will depend on the time period in which your ancestor lived. If your ancestor was born in the UK, for instance, you can search birth, marriage and death certificates, census records and parish register material of baptism, marriage and burial.
Using these sources, you can begin to paint a rich portrait of your migrant ancestor and the lives they created in their new country.
Click here for tips on searching Australian immigration records.
Jeremy Palmer has been a full time professional genealogist since 1992. He was the Registrar at The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury, England for many years before emigrating to Australia where he now runs his own research business which specialises in tracing the British origins of families in Australia and New Zealand. He also lectures on a wide variety of family history topics for the Society of Australian Genealogists.