Everyone knows that Portland is in Oregon, don’t they? But did you know that in earlier times, it was in the Oregon Territories? Hmm. And when did Saskatchewan become a province, eh? These details about states, provinces, counties, and other events, can be overwhelming if you try to remember them all. Don’t. Start to develop a file – either papers in your Genealogy folders, or create a computer folder in your Genealogy master folder with specific dates and places to keep track of.

For example, you may need to know when your ancestors emigrated into the USA, in order to determine where to research their entry. Although you may think you know a great deal about Ellis Island and immigration, did you know that it was used for screening immigrants from these dates only? – January 1,1892 to 1924. However, over 400,000 immigrants were screened via the Barge Office (at the tip of Manhattan) in 1891 before the official immigration office was opened. Those dates, 1892-1924, would be useful to have in a handy form. Before that time, Castle Garden (Castle Clinton) at the southern tip of Manhattan, NY City, was an immigrant receiving center from August 1,1855 to April 18, 1890. Search “US immigration, timeline” for more information, including how to search both Ellis Island and Castle Garden records.

Did your ancestors come to North America from another country? Ireland, for instance? It would help to know when the major famines happened in Ireland, (search “famines, Ireland”) as well as where most emigrating Irish families landed in Canada or the United States. Or, if they crossed the sea to England, where might they have landed there? If you are searching censuses in England, did you know that many counties changed boundaries several times, particularly after the 1974 Boundary Changes. But some changed prior to that time. One line of my family lived in the Black Midlands, and their town (Dudley) changed counties several times between Staffordshire and Worcestershire. I was sure that others must have recorded the county incorrectly, until I found an article detailing the various changes in boundaries! Search online for “British counties, changes” and you will find several excellent sites with details.

You can imagine how importantthis can be when searching through state/province/country Censuses! I’ve learned to check on maps, and look in nearby counties, states, provinces, when researching an ancestor’s residences over time. It helps to have a map to see which county is close to the residence found for one of your ancestors. People moved around as land opportunities opened up, but often, they moved just across a county border, and can be easily found – IF you know which counties border each other!

Here’s an important point. We are used to registering every event with the government, but such was not the case in our ancestors’ days. For example, passenger lists were not required to be recorded and filed until 1865 in Canada, 1820 in the USA, 1837 in much of England. In Germany, some vital statistic registrations began in 1792, others not until 1876, varying by state, and not kept in a central repository. In general, birth, marriage, death registrations were not required until a state/county or province was formed and had a center for records. This date of “vital statistics” is remarkably varied throughout the world, and you will need to have the details for each place, in order to search successfully and efficiently for your ancestors.

My personal Resource File includes the following (based on my particular ancestors):

1. Canadian Provinces/Territories, dates of Confederation and Civil Registration – and maps!

2. Canadian ships passenger lists source (at Library Archives)

3. Border Crossings dates, and Passport requirements for both US and Canada

4. Canadian land grants periods

5. U.S. States (PA, CT, NY, MA, WA, OR) and county borders, history of formation

6. Immigration dates for Ellis Island, Crystal Garden

7. US cities receiving immigration ships; dates

8. Dates of US wars from 1600-1945

9. UK Civil registrations, where held

10. UK counties, border changes, where to find details

11. Scotland, Ireland church registrations, census dates

12. The German Palatine emigration paths

12. Blank Census forms for Canada, USA, UK

And much more! Pensions, social insurance records, railway historical maps – there is no end to the resources available to help you.

I also have maps of all sorts – villages, land grants, towns, county borders, and more; plus details of various historical events which might have impacted on my ancestors’ lives. All of this makes your research more efficient and accurate, plus these resources will allow you to provide correct citations of the sources you find. Enjoy your research!

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