Many genealogists find the terminology and records related to emigration and immigration records confusing. Because our ancestors encountered multiple identity checkpoints prior to their departure to the New World, many documents were created on both sides of the Atlantic. Emigration records were created as the individual or family prepared to leave a country. These types of records could have been created at any of the following identity checkpoints such as the civil registrar in the locality of residence, border crossings (country and provincial), ports of departure, and ports of entry. The procedures which emigrants followed in the processing of reaching the port of departure, whether complying with family or local directives or laws, all generated records.
Some of the most relevant emigration related records of interest to genealogists include:
1. Letters of Manumission: If a person was employed in an occupation that was considered vital to the survival of a community, he had to obtain a document showing he was released from his commitment to the satisfaction of local authorities.
2. Sale of Property: If the person owned property, they were required to dispose of everything prior to departure. It could be sold or left to relatives or friends or as bribes to facilitate the process.
3. Letters of Recommendation: Often issued by church authorities in the Old World indicating that the emigrant was in good standing.
4. Permit to Emigrate: Document that certified the person was free to leave his homeland, having fulfilled all of his financial obligations and settled his personal affairs. Emigrants had to have this document available for search at all times.
5. Indentured Contracts: Emigrants unable to pay for the trip agreed to sell themselves into service, usually for a specified length of time, to pay for their passage. The contracts were filed at the courts in the port of departure and arrival.
6. Emigrant Lists: Lists of people leaving a particular port of departure. They are available in many foreign archives, especially those located at or near ports of departure.
Immigration records are documents created as one enters a particular country. Immigrants faced the same complexity of legal hurdles to enter, become established, and obtain citizenship in America as they did leaving the Old World. These hurdles generated lots of potential records. Some of the most relevant immigration related records of interest to genealogists include:
1. Ship Passenger Lists: Also called immigrant lists, arrival lists, or manifests. These were created at the port of entry.
2. Hospital Record: Many ports of entry has designated areas, sometimes called pest hospitals, where sick and infirm passengers were quarantined until they were well or deported. Many local newspapers printed names of detailed passengers. For those who were not deported, they usually had to be issued special health certificates.
3. Alien Registrations: At various times in American history, Congress mandated that incoming aliens had to be registered on a regular basis, particularly in the late 1700s, early 1800s, and after 1929.