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Before the nineteenth century, generations of most families stayed in one place. If you had lived then, you might even have lived out your life in the same home as your ancestors. Whole communities spent generations in agricultural pursuits, not venturing far from homes and fields. Uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews lived but a few blocks or a few miles from each other. Tracing your lineage was often just a matter of looking at the headstones in the local cemetery or reviewing the records of a church.

The industrial revolution in the 19th century brought a sharp increase in migration. In the United States, people in the North and South began moving West in search of land and opportunities. If you had lived during the industrial revolution in the North, you might have left your family to go to the city for a job. Or you might have been one of the huge numbers of immigrants who entered the United States from Europe, where famine and overcrowding forced families to break up and move long distances for new opportunities. Many of the immigrants spent years migrating from the East coast into the interior of the country.

The type and survival of records in the United States differ from North to South and East to West. Many organizations, online resources, and articles can help you trace your family tree. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • American Family Immigration History Center includes a free database of records for over 22 million immigrants from 1892–1924, including the original manifests with passengers’ names.
  • is a searchable website with online data collections and CDs to help you build your family tree.
  • USGenWeb Project provides a free online genealogical research tool, offered by volunteers from 50 U.S. states. You can find county-specific resources for gathering genealogical information.

Check Additional Resources for more information.

Page Author: Steve Wagner


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