5 Tips For Writing About Your Immigrant Ancestor


Writing about an immigrant ancestor does have to be difficult. Follow these 5 tips and impress your family with a terrific bit of insight without the boredom!


Let’s jump into 5 questions you want to research about your immigrant ancestor so you can write their stories.


Watch the video.


One Caveat Before You Begin Writing About Your Immigrant Ancestor


When you research about migration you’re not ALWAYS going to find specific records naming your ancestor. Consult histories and resources for the context of the overall migration story and then consider whether your ancestor would have been impacted by such information.


#1: What was the country like that your immigrant ancestor left?


When you research to write about your immigrant ancestor, explore what the country of origin was like before they left. Explore the:

  1. Geographic elements of a location

  2. Customs

  3. Political / Governmental facts of the homeland

  4. Push factors

In the video I link below, you’ll hear what I discovered about my ancestor Joseph Geissler who was born in Baden.


Resources used while writing about my immigrant ancestor:

  1. Margraviate of Baden (Wikipedia)

  2. History fo Baden (World History at KMLA)

  3. The Era of Reaction and Nation Building (Deutsches Historisches Museum)

#2: Where could they have gone?


When writing about our immigrant ancestor, let’s not overlook the CHOICES available to them. Research and include the options available so that you can ultimately understand why your ancestors made their final decision.


Resources used while writing about my immigrant ancestor:

  1. Forty-Eighters (Wikipedia)

  2. Understanding Your Immigrant Ancestors: Who Came and Why: German Immigration by Leslie Albrecht Huber

  3. The Germans of 1849 in America (Internet Archive)

  4. Germans in Wisconsin by Richard H. Zeitlin (Google Books)

  5. Celebrate the journeys that changed Australia forever (Museums Victoria)

#3 Where did they ultimately choose?


After you discuss where your immigrant ancestor originated and the options they had available for their journey, then you can write about where they ultimately decided to settle.


Compare the geography, amenities, and customs, in the new home to the one the left. Discuss what amenities (or lack of amenities) were available for the settlers. Repeat the process defining where they left with where they put down new roots.


Resources used while writing about my immigrant ancestor:

  1. 1856 Plat Map for Franklin County, Ohio

  2. Maxwell, Fay. Early German Village History, South Columbus, Ohio. Columbus, Ohio: Elic Press, 1971. (Available at the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Columbus, Ohio)

  3. Holy Cross Catholic Church – Columbus, Ohio


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#4: How could they have traveled?


When you write the story of your immigrant ancestor, you should explore the possible routes they may have taken to move them from the old country to their new location. You’ll want to explore wagon trails, canals, major roads, shipping lanes, and rail lines when applicable.


If you’re fortunate, your ancestor’s name and the ships they arrived on will appear on passenger lists or immigration papers. Otherwise, be sure to speculate about the options available. Consider that they may have walked.


Resources used while writing about my immigrant ancestor:

  1. Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad Map a Columbus, Ohio (Library of Congress)

  2. Disturnell’s railroad, steamboat and telegraph book (Internet Archive)

#5 What was the world like they migrated to?


Wrap up the story of your immigrant ancestor by comparing the economic and political climate they would experience in their new homes. Pick the stories that interest you and enhance the historical context. By so doing, you’ll never write a boring family history.


Search newspapers for headlines, editorial cartoons, and advertisements for the politics, technology, and market place of the day. Explore periodicals for additional challenges for different ethnic groups as they transitioned into their new homes.


If you need help doing keyword research on Newspapers.com, check out this video.)


Resources used while writing about my immigrant ancestor:

  1. Germans Face Discrimination (German Corner Blog - Internet Archive)

  2. Zachary Taylor (History Channel)

  3. Anbinder, Tyler. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850’s. (Google Books)

  4. Editorial Cartoons (Newspapers.com)



Write the Story of Your Immigrant Ancestor Now!


With this road map of what to include when writing about your immigrant ancestor, you can do this! Be sure to watch this video to see the sources I used and how I made them fit into a book about my ancestor, Joseph Geissler.

Check out my writing samples for further inspiration

  1. Birth and Baden (the land he left)

  2. Coming to America (his choices and his travel path)

  3. Planting Roots in Prairie (discussing his new home)



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