Naturalization Nirvana, Nightmares, and Nuance: Colonial Clarity British Records (Part 2.1)

Though the laws made colonial citizenship confusing, I hope to clarify where you may find records of your ancestors. Depending on the record sought will dictate what repository that will have to be searched. There have been several books, articles, and indexes published throughout the centuries on this subject.

British Records

The easiest way to break down where to find the records in Britain is to look at it by the different types of citizenship available to a colonist. We already know that there were Collective Naturalizations, Oaths of Allegiance, Letters Patent of Denization, and Naturalizations by Act of Parliament. Collective Naturalizations left few to no records. There may be Oaths of Loyalty that would be included with other oaths.

Letters Patent of Denization: This type of citizenship was on its way out by the time Britain began populating the American Colonies. These records contain both men and women. Between 1645 and 1660 there are only six patent rolls. There are numerous rolls outside of those dates. The rolls dealing with the colonies are located at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew, according to their website and Paul Blake of TNA;

  1. Reference: C66 Title: Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature: Patent Rolls dates: 1201-2012, 5790 rolls and volumes.[i]
  2. Reference C67 Title: Chancery: Supplementary Patent Rolls dates: 1275-1749, 93 rolls.[ii]

Finding Aids for these records are contained in the following published works. Though there are contemporary indices, they may not be complete, so it may be necessary to consult the original indices that were created at or near the time of the original records;

  • The original indexes are at TNA, according to their website;
    1. Reference: C274 Title: Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Original Calendars and Indexes to the Patent Rolls, Dates: c1509-1946, 58 volumes.[iii]
  • William A Shaw’s two-volume set with a supplement written for the Huguenot’s Society, are considered a comprehensive work on Denizations, Naturalizations, and Oaths. They are not all-inclusive indexes.
    1. Letter’s of Denization and Acts of Naturalizations for Aliens in England and Ireland, 1603-1700 published 1911.[iv]
    2. Letter’s of Denization and Acts of Naturalizations for Aliens in England and Ireland, 1701-1800 published 1923[v].
    3. The A Supplement to Dr. W.A. Shaw’s Letter of Denization and Acts of Naturalizations, published 1932.
  • Montague Giuseppi’s book includes naturalizations not included in Shaw’s series. Specific to the the records of the Naturalization Act of 1740 (13 George II, C.7).
    1. Naturalizations of foreign Protestants in the American and West Indian Colonies: (pursuant to statute 13 George II. c. 7), published 1921[vi].

Oaths of Allegiance: In the days of the colonies, an oath was taken very seriously by society. A person’s word was their bond. These records contain both men and women, sometimes it can contain people who refused to take an oath.

Oaths Taken Abroad (These collections include more than just the American Colonies, but the following references deal specifically with some of the colonies in America.)

  1. Reference: C 213/468, Title: Burgesses assembled at St James’ City in Virginia, Date: 1696.[vii]
  2. Reference: C 213/469, Title: Governor and Council of New York Province, Date: 1696.[viii]
  3. Reference: C 213/470, Title: Mayor, Recorder, and Commonalty of New York City, Date: 1696.[ix]

Sacrament Certificates (There were laws that allowed Protestants of other countries to gain citizenship. They needed to show they were members in good standing of theirchurch.)

  1. Reference: E 169/86, Title: Oath roll for naturalization of Protestant refugees, taken under 7 Anne, , Date: 1709-1711.[x]

Between 1708 and 1711, foreign Protestants could become naturalized by taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in court and producing a sacrament certificate. These records are indexed in Shaw’s books.

  1. Reference: KB 24, Title: Court of King’s Bench, and Supreme Court of Judicature, High Court of Justice: Oath Rolls and Files, Description: Rolls and (after 1837) files of signed oaths acknowledging the supremacy of or allegiance to the crown, or of abjuration to deny any rights of the exiled Jacobite pretenders to the throne, under the Test Act of 1672, the Security of the Succession Act of 1701, and the Security of King and Government Act 1695, all of which specified that the oaths could be taken in, among other places, the court. Among notable signatories were Christopher Wren, Horace Walpole and David Garrick, William Blackstone and other notable judges. Women appear only rarely. One roll contains oaths of allegiance and supremacy being taken by alien refugee Protestants becoming naturalized under statute 7 Anne c 5. There is also a stray attorneys’ oath roll of the mid-eighteenth Legislation of the nineteenth century gradually eroded the need for the oaths to be taken, but the latter part of the series includes 8 volumes recording the judicial oaths of judges, magistrates and recorders during the twentieth century, with indexes. The later 19th century records clearly indicate, as earlier ones do not, the office for which the oaths were administered., Date: 25 Charles II – 1987.[xi]

Naturalizations by Act of Parliament Up until 1844 aliens could become British subjects by private acts of Parliament. Naturalization gave the applicant all of the right and privileges of a person born in Britain. It was an expensive prospect. The original Acts of Parliament are house at the Parliament Archives ( To search these bills, the archives has an online catalog called Portcullis ( These too are covered in Shaw.

Lloyd deWitt Bockstruck’s book Denizations and Naturalizations in the British Colonies in America, 1607-1775, Genealogical Publishing Co., 2010, is a great book that combines many published work into one title. It includes Shaw’s and Giuseppi’s books as well as others that are specific to individual colonies in the Americas. This book is available online through an subscription. It can be searched individually through search function or better yet browse by individual pages that are alphabetized.


I would like to thank Paul Blake from TNA for the awesome example that he provided.

Lets look at the example of Jacob Mansboil who is list among others. Below is the record from The National Archive in Kew England series CO 5, Board of Trade and Secretaries of State: America and West Indies, Original Correspondence 1606-1822. These records were transcribed into an Entry Book by a clerk after receiving the record from the colonies.

Jacob Mansboil's 1745 Naturalization Record

Jacob Mansboil’s 1745 Naturalization Record

Jacob Mansboil CO 5 link to the entire record.

This record is indexed in both Giuseppi and Bockstruck. Note the differences.

Giuseppi’s entry in the index looks like this.

Giuseppi, M.S. "Naturalizations of Foreign Protestants in the American and West Indian Colonies". page 8.

Giuseppi, M.S. “Naturalizations of Foreign Protestants in the American and West Indian Colonies”. page 8.

Bockstruck’s listing,

Manspile, Jacob. He was naturalized in Orange County, Virginia 24 Feb. 1742/3. He also appeared as Jacob Mansboil. He was born in Wurttemberg. He had lived in the colony seven years. He was naturalized by the General Court of the colony 15 Oct 1745.

This is a great example that shows Bockstruck draws from several different sources. There are a lot of different indexes available, though Bockstruck is probably the most comprehensive, there are gaps in its coverage. Next post we will look at records of individual colonies.


[i]Description taken directly from The National Archives website

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid




[vii]Description taken directly from The National Archives website

[viii] ibid

[ix] ibid

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Naturalizations | Leave a comment

Naturalization Nirvana, Nightmares, and Nuances: Colonial Complications (Part 2.0)

Naturalizations at Tammany Hall (Library of Congress)

Naturalizations at Tammany Hall (Library of Congress)

Colonial naturalizations can be summed up in one word, COMPLICATED. Before the formation of the United States, there were naturalization and citizenship processes in the thirteen colonies governed mainly by British law but vast portions of today’s country fell under the control of other countries.

In colonies like New York, citizenship records were in part Dutch and British. Due to some ambiguity in British colonial charters, colonial legislative bodies, as well as Parliament, enacted naturalization laws. All of this, along with other issues, complicates where a person’s citizenship may have been recorded.

There were many reasons people became citizens, like the ability to transfer property (real and personal) to their heirs, hold public office, vote, own a ship, and in many cases just to own land. Since Britain was the dominant player in the colonies, most became a type of British subject.

The Dutch had New Amsterdam (New York City), which was surrounded by British colonies. The Dutch concerned by the prospect of being outnumbered, made British citizens, living in New Amsterdam, take oaths of loyalty not to engage in subversive activities against the Dutch crown or their colony.

Spain had colonies in the south and the west. Old Spanish law stated that an alien who created nexus in a colony, ie. married a Spanish woman, owned a shop, owned property, or engaged in a profession, was collectively naturalized leaving few if any records[1]. France had settlements in the south and throughout one of the largest sections of land known as the Louisiana Purchase but the French allowed few naturalizations in the colonies[2]. Texas, once part of Mexico, was an independent republic, they allowed aliens to take an oath to the Republic. Some of these records remain.

So maybe complicated is not a strong enough word. For this post, we will examine mostly British naturalizations since they do make up the bulk of citizenship records created during the colonial period of the United States.

British Naturalizations

British Naturalization Law predates the American Colonies. Much of this law dictated how citizenship issues were treated in the colonies. England divided their subjects into three categories; Natural Born, Aliens, and Denizens. There were three different types of citizenship processes an immigrant could follow: Denization, Oath of Allegiance, and Collective Naturalization. There were four different authorities that granted citizenship.

  1. Letters of Denization by the Crown
  2. Naturalization by Acts of Parliament
  3. Acts of Royal Governor or Proprietor of the colonies (Note: these were eliminated by the Act of 1700)
  4. Acts of Colonial Legislatures (Note: this was in conflict with British Law)

Letters Patent of Denization is the act of making one a denizen; the conferring of the privileges of citizenship[3]. Letters Patent of Denization were given by the King, to grant people a form of citizenship. This type of colonial citizenship was the easiest to obtain. It did not require an Oath of Allegiance. The denizens were expected to follow all of the laws and rules as if they were a natural born citizen and their rights were transferable to any colony of the realm as well as England. A denizen could be granted a letter of patent for property and bequeath their property to heirs. They could not hold public office or own a ship.

Oath of Allegiance: “An oath by which a person promises and binds himself to bear true allegiance to a particular sovereign or government[4].” Some colonies would consider a person a citizen with all of the rights and privileges of a natural born citizen with just the act of taking the oath of loyalty.

Collective Naturalization: This occurs when an entire group naturalizes by conquest, act of a legislative body, or treaty. For the most part, there are not any individual naturalization papers for these citizens.  Examples of exceptions are found when New Amsterdam was taken over by Britain; all citizens were required to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. A list of these citizens can be found in Denizations Naturalizations and Oaths of Allegiance in Colonial New York by Scott and Stryker-Rodda[5].

    British Laws

  1. Status of Children Born Abroad Act of 1350
  2. Linen Cloth Act 1663[6]: One of the first laws favorable to aliens who were beneficial to the Crown like skilled trades, merchants, or intellects.
  3. Act of Settlement of 1701: Barred naturalized subjects from entering high political office.
  4. Alien Act of 1705 aka Sofia Naturalization Act of 1705: Allowed the descendants of the Dowager Electress Sophia of Hanover to be in the line of succession for the throne among other benefits.
  5. Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act 1708: Allowed for the naturalization of the Huguenots among others.
  6. Naturalization Act 1711: Repealed the Act of 1708.
  7. Plantation Act 1740or the Naturalization Act 1740: Allowed Protestants to naturalize.
  8. Jewish Naturalization Act 1753: allowed Jews to become naturalized by application to Parliament. Repealed in 1754.
  9. British Nationality Act 1772: Allowed children of natural born fathers to be automatically citizens.

Colonial Laws

All of the colonies, except for New Hampshire, developed their own naturalization policies outside of English law. Granting naturalizations was a presumed right because the colonial charters did not explicitly forbid them but they also did not grant the power to naturalize either. Many colonial governors considered themselves to be an extension of the king granting them the authority to act.

The Act of Settlement of 1701 restricted local Denizations and Naturalizations. Some of the colonies continued the practice of granting citizenship, citing past practice and unclear verbiage in the law. The practice of colonial legislatures granting citizenship continued until completely banned in 1773. It is important to note that the naturalizations granted by the American colonies were not recognized in Britain or any of its other colonies.

Naturalization policies in the colonies were geographically dependent. Many of the New England colonies sans New Hampshire, adopted the laws similar to Massachusetts Bay. Ship’s passenger lists were required by all vessels entering the port of Massachusetts. Eventually, these were used to exclude undesirables such as the poor, indigent, and criminals.

Pennsylvania and New York both had religious considerations in their laws for both the Jews and Quakers, neither were made to swear an oath of allegiance. In 1730, New York added language that was inviting to Protestants. They had become very politically important to New York and their westward expansion. Pennsylvania adopted similar laws because of their expansionist aspirations. These laws were in conflict with British laws. Specifically, people could swear an oath to the King and the Governor becoming almost instant citizens, the terms of the Plantation Act of 1740 requiring people live in a colony for seven years before applying for citizenship. Pennsylvania also passed a law in 1704 that was very favorable to Swedes and Dutch residents. They were granted full citizenship rights before being issued a Letters Patent of Denization; this law was repealed by Act of Parliament in 1705.

The mid-Atlantic and southern colonies took a stance of inclusion. Early Virginia invited people by pointing out advantages of living there in the preamble of Virginia Colony naturalization law. South Carolina became a haven for the indebted by making it illegal to collect a debt from a colonist incurred before becoming a South Carolinian[7]. As one could imagine this was highly unpopular with lenders.

So maybe colonial naturalizations can be described as conflicted, complicated, and confusing. With all of the different laws from competing interests can make them difficult to find. Citizenship can be an actual British naturalization with the records held in The National Archives of Britain or possibly a colonial naturalization held in a state archive of a former colony or even a collective naturalization that left few if any records. Now that we have a glimpse of some of the issues of colonial naturalizations the next post will focus on where colonial naturalization records may be found.


[1] Lalor, John Joseph editor. Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the United States, by the Best American and European Writers, Volume 2. (New York: Maynard, Merill and Co., 1899). 955;, accessed 3 March 2016.

[2] Bond, Bradley. French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World.(Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2005). 198.

[3] Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary 3rd Ed. (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1933)

[4] ibid

[5] Scott, Kenneth and Kenn Stryker-Rodda. Denizations Naturalizations and Oaths of Allegiance in Colonial New York. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975).

[6]  Linen Cloth Act 1663 (15 Cha. 2, c. 15)

[7] Carpenter,A.H. “Naturalization in England and the American Colonies”. The American Historical Review 1904. (American Historical Association). 299;, accessed 1 March 2016. 

Posted in Crossing the Pond, Naturalizations | Tagged | Leave a comment

Naturalization Nirvana, Nightmares, and Nuances (Part 1)

Naturalization Poster

Naturalization Poster 1919, Library of Congress

Genealogists tend to lump immigration and naturalization into the same category. I have seen countless numbers of classes, articles, and books that do this very thing. Sadly most only gloss over both processes never giving much detail about either. Immigration and naturalization are two entirely different processes each with a distinct set of complexities and records. Immigration was the act by which a person arrived at a location, creating all sorts of records dealing with entry, visas, passports, ships list and the like. Naturalization is a process an immigrant can use to set up permanent residence and citizenship in their adopted country. This series will focus specifically on the naturalization laws, processes, and records research.

I have found that many people have a lot of misconceptions about naturalization records. Many times people lament the older records for lacking the information necessary for locating their family in the homeland. I don’t find this always to be true. Others seem to glom onto stories that their families were “illegals,” to justify their inability to find the records. Many times this is false. Or people don’t understand that many citizens were naturalized en masse because they lived in a territory when it became a state. It is almost without exception that every genealogist has struggled to find naturalization records of one kind or another.

When wanting to find information on an immigrant ancestor, many people turn almost immediately to naturalization records. Some have great success instantly when they find an indexed and digitized post-1906 record on or Others search endlessly for years with no success. Why is there such a discrepancy, why does there seem to be such a stark contrast? The answers are in the laws that surround the process of naturalization.

Naturalization laws range from the simple and straightforward to the complex and circuitous. Needless to say, the law is both our friend and our foe when seeking naturalization records. The law is friendly by codifying what records had to be kept and by whom. The law can make things difficult when it was vague. This ambiguity allowed different jurisdictions to interpret the rules differently causing information to be recorded, stored, and handled in all kinds of ways.

Since almost every court in the United States had jurisdiction to naturalize a person, the records are spread all over the United States. Records are found in municipal, county, state, and supreme courts. Some are indexed; some are not; some are microfilmed; many are not; some are digitized; most are not. The nuances of finding some of these records is a matter of due diligence and education on the records, not just luck.

If finding naturalization records is not difficult enough, researchers can misconstrue the evidence garnered from the information in the record. Many people bring a 20th or 21st-century understanding or misunderstanding of the law to bear on 18th and 19th-century records misinterpreting the evidence in the record. Some people rely on family stories of the immigrant and their foibles and follies with the naturalization process, using this filter to evaluate their records. This type of anecdotal evidence can be highly unreliable causing problems with the analysis.

Because of the complexity of the naturalization laws, processes, and records storage, I am going to do a multipart series on naturalization records and where to find them. Currently, my plan is to break it down into basic eras of the law. First, we will look at the colonial records and discuss why people would want to naturalize, the colonial processes, and where we may find the records. The next era would be from the first federal law in 1790 to 1906 when there were significant changes made to the law. The third era will be post-1906 naturalization and the incredible records associated with the processes today as well as some of the pitfalls of dealing with open records laws.

Naturalization records are vital to discovering the roots of our immigrant ancestors. Many genealogists find nirvana when at long last they discover that elusive naturalization record key to solving their immigration problem. Yet some family historians loathe the nightmares of trying to track down information that may or may not exist. Education and understanding naturalizations are integral to this process of discovery that pays huge dividends. Understanding the nuances of the laws, the records, repositories, sources, and arrangements of these gems is crucial saving the researcher time and heartache.


Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Naturalizations | Leave a comment

Previously we’ve learned that knowledge is a very powerful tool and key to a researcher’s endeavor to finding their family abroad. Understanding the records, language, laws, and customs of the perspective country where your ancestor came from, will allow you to find the information needed to locate them in their homeland. This knowledge coupled with thorough research is a recipe for success.

Marriage Johannes Andersson

New York City Marriage Record of Johannes Andersson and Amanda Charlotta Nilson

Now we can get back to the rest of this Swedish story. The client had also been searching for the “towns” listed on the marriage record with no success. I put towns in quotes because what we popularly call a town and its governance is quite a bit different in Sweden. This wrinkle completely affects where a researcher may find the records. Many times where an immigrant may register something like the town they came from is actually the parish or area name of where they lived. In the document, the parishes seem to be clear, but I did not assume anything. Amanda states she was from Barkåkra and Johannes states he is from Tostarp.

An issue the client may have had in searching for the “town” names was the use of diacritics. In today’s Google search the correct parish comes up most of the time for Barkåkra even when not using the å (diacritical a) in the spelling, but years ago it did not. The parish of “Tostarp” is another story. There are several places in Sweden that could apply to this parish name. So working with the parish names can be difficult but is a very useful piece of information.

To resolve this problem quickly, I chose to use the Swedish census. The census in Sweden is not quite the same thing that we are used to in the United States. In 1686, the Church of Sweden started collecting a yearly clerical survey on every person in Sweden called a Husförhörslängder also know as Household Examinations. Some Swedes jokingly refer to these as “Household Inquisitions.”

Every year the parish priest would survey the home and “keep certain rolls of all their listeners, house to house, farm to farm, and know their progress and knowledge of the assigned sections of the catechism, and diligently admonish children, farm helpers, and servant maids to read in book and with their own eyes see what Gods bids and commands in his Holy Word[i].” The priests were testing parishioners on their knowledge of the Bible. Hence the reference to the Inquisition.

In 1756, the Swedish government legislated the church collect certain statistical data about their subjects including birth, marriage, and death information. Starting in 1860 the government extracted the household information about the residents into a census type document called the Sveriges Befolkning which directly translates to the “Population of Sweden.” The most complete “census” of the entire country started in 1880. The Swedish National Archives have done a great job of indexing these documents and has a very good search function to mine the data of these valuable documents on SVAR .

Johannes Andersson Census

1880 Sveriges Befolkning for Tåstarp, Kristianstads, Sweden

On my first attempt to find Johannes, I entered only his given name, birth year, and parish in the search criteria. It returned two possibilities. One return had the parents Magnus Eliasson and Hanna Andersdotter in Tåstarp in Kristianstad County. Not quite what was on the marriage record, but close. The parish name is Tåstarp not Tostarp but the pronunciation of å sometimes sounds similar to an English short o sound depending on who is pronouncing it. The children in the household included Edvard b.1863, Axel b 1875, and Carl b.1880. All of this matched the information from the client. It took another couple of hours to find all of the children born to Magnus and Hanna. The birth records confirmed the same dates the client had for the known siblings. The death records also confirmed Magnus and Hanna had two sons that died young.

EUREKA, the family, is found, the icing on the cake was Anna Charlotta’s family. In the neighboring parish of Barkåkra, only 8 miles away, was the birth record of Anna Charlotta Nilsdotter. Her father, Nils Peter Larsson, and mother, Johanna Andersdotter, had three other children.

Understanding the naming conventions in Sweden was critical to finding the nativity of Johannes and Anna. Equally valuable was the understanding of the Swedish Census. Knowing the years covered allowed for narrowing search quickly resulting in success. Combined with the thorough research of the client, giving information enabled us to identify uniquely their ancestors in Sweden.

I cannot express this enough; quality education is key to successful genealogical research. This specific client felt hopeless after more than 60 years of combined research with negative results looking for their ancestors. You can avoid this same frustration by seeking out high-quality instruction by proven educators at places like genealogical institutes[ii].


[i] Johansson, Carl Erik. Cradled in Sweden. (Logan UT: Everton Publishers, 1995). p.117.

[ii] Similar to the British Instistute


Posted on by EricStroschein | Leave a comment

Census and Sensibilities for Crossing the Pond (part 1)

A proponent of thorough research, I believe that this is how we build the stories that puts flesh and bones on our ancestors. Knowing my relative’s trials and tribulations helps me make sense of my life. It allows me to compare my lot in life, to theirs. Sometimes this gives me comfort, but other times it gives me a kick in the pants to dream bigger. Either way, I find my family fascinating, and I know the facts about their lives better than anybody else on the planet today.

As a professional researcher, when I am hired to find a client’s family abroad sometimes they have done an incredible job of doing thorough research but other times they provide only scant information and believe there is a shortcut to take.

Johannes Andersson Census

1880 Sveriges Befolkning, Tåstarp Parish

A foreign census can be very helpful to finding your ancestor abroad. In cases of unique names, large targets of several people, or knowing a general location where somebody immigrated, all make using a foreign census an extremely handy tool.  Short cutting the thorough research approach is an intermediate skill that should be used sensibly and cautiously. A researcher cannot rely on one record alone and must use a combination of records, documents, stories, and other evidence to confirm conclusions.

Case in point, a client, called me and asked if I could help him find his great-grandparents in Sweden. He told me the story of Johannes Andersson and Amanda Charlotta Nilson. His grandmother had been searching for thirty years to discover their nativity. His mother started helping ten years later, and she had been researching them for 20 years. My client jumped into the fray about ten years earlier. All totaled they had about 60 years of combined research on this family, and they could not find them in Sweden. They blamed Johannes’ common name for the root of their difficulties.

We went through the story of how his great-grandfather had started a stair company in New York City, Andersson’s Stairs, with his brothers (note: the brothers created a larger target of people to find in Sweden), and my client gave me their names; Edward, Axel, and Carl. The brothers also had a sister that immigrated to the United States. They also had some family stories about two siblings that had died in Sweden when they were young.

The client had also engaged another professional previously to no avail. They were at their wits end with this case. I was their last ditch effort to discovering the origins of their ancestors in Sweden. The client emailed me one document, the marriage record of their great-grandparents. While on the phone with them I started to analyze the information.

The 14 May 1890 marriage record was very rich with information (see picture). If you had family members in downstate New York in the late 19th century, you are blessed with some incredibly bountiful records. One of the first things I noticed was the handwriting. The minister used Swedish spelling of names, the style of the writing consistent with 19th century records in Sweden, he used Swedish diacritics and date formats for the birth dates. This minister trained in Sweden. That means he probably knew the proper spellings of place names.

Another thing that struck me was Johannes Andersson’s father’s name was Magnus Andersson. The possible issue, I saw here, was Sweden was going through a change in their naming conventions in the late 19th century and early 20th century. They were switching from a patronymic naming structure to that of a surname structure. It was very common for Swedes coming to the United States during this period to adopt the surname of their father but in Swedish records, they were still referred to by their patronymic name. In this case, Johannes is the son of Magnus, thus, his name would have been Johannes Magnusson.

I asked the client who they were looking for in Sweden, and he said, “Johannes Andersson of course.” I said, “You may be looking for the wrong person.” When I explained the patronymic naming convention to the client, they were dumbstruck saying, “We have always wondered why the youngest brother Carl used the surname Magnusson.”

Finding your family abroad is fraught with many twists and turns. It is imperative that we not only have a working understanding of the laws, language, records, customs, religions, naming conventions, and such in the United States but it is equally important we have the same knowledge of the foreign country of our ancestor we wish to find. Absent that, we run the risk of searching for decades without a positive result.

Part two of this post will examine how a basic working knowledge of names, records,and censuses pays huge dividends. Everybody can become proficient at finding their ancestors abroad.


Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Tips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s in a Name?

hunley obeliskOne of my greatest discoveries almost never happened. I had turned down a project on numerous occasions because I felt the client expected me to arrive at a predetermined outcome. To be eligible to join a lineage society they wanted me to prove they were relatives of a notable person who was named, along with several others, on a cenotaph in Mobile Alabama and a grave marker in Charleston South Carolina.  I had explained that I did not do research this way. I was resolute in my position that the evidence must speak for itself and that no matter what the outcome; their desired outcome was not germane to the final answer.

On about my sixth phone call with this particular client, right before I was set to decline the project once again, the client said something that stopped me dead in my tracks. “You know that it is a rare surname,” they implored. I took pause and told them I would get back to them later in the day.

Rare surnames are a gift from the genealogy gods and when they appear you must seize the day. I have been fortunate to have had a few of them in my personal genealogy, and professionally I have dealt with quite a few. As stated in a past blog post, a large unique target is advantageous to correctly identifying somebody in the records, but nothing quite delineates a person from others than a unique name whether it is a given name or a surname.

I immediately started searching for the origins of the surname the client had provided. In relatively short order, I discovered that the name was very rare, even though it sounded common. Also, the name had a very specific origin in central England. The name first appears in the records of the early 14th century[1]; it has about a dozen different variants and links with two small English towns. This information was gold. I knew that any information I found that is pertinent to this project should lead straight back to these two towns. It also gave me another advantage, if I became stuck, I could always work the project in reverse to find records that could help resolve the question.

After discovering this information, I called the client to ask some more questions. I learned that the client’s family did indeed originate near the area of England associated with the surname. They explained to me that they did not have much information before the late 19th and early 20th century. I accepted the project on the conditions that the evidence would lead the research, and happen in ten-hour increments. At the end of every segment, we would reassess the project, its direction, and next steps.

After about two hours into this project, I had a suspicion that there was a problem with the given name of the project’s subject. The only people I found could not have been the person on the cenotaph and grave marker. There were two people in Mobile with the same surname and different given names. One person’s name shared the same first initial as the research subject.

I researched the cenotaph and the grave maker. The cenotaph, in Mobile, was erected on the 50th anniversary of the death of the men in Charleston. On the 100th anniversary of the passing of the men, a new grave marker was erected in Charleston. The information on the new maker came from the cenotaph. Meaning the only grave markers that were contemporary to the deaths of the men only had their first and last initials. H.H., R.B., J.P, T.P., C. M. H.B., J. M., and C.S. The names that history remembers, is etched in stone, and they are wrong.

After shedding the idea that these stones were true and accurate, I was able to find direct and indirect evidence of the research subject.  The evidence led to the same area of England as where the surname originated. The information included an obituary, in England, of his death in America including mention of the men who died with him. I was able to place him in a family, discovering his first wife and his daughter. All of the evidence uncovered in England led back to more information and evidence in Mobile and the Alabama State Archives. Blindly believing the inscriptions on the stones led to many of the roadblocks other researchers encountered on this case. All genealogical discoveries hinge on proper identification of the research subjects.

So what’s in a name?…a whole lot if you look closely. History, location, and uniqueness are just a few pieces of evidence contained in a name. “Crossing the Pond” to England and accurately placing this subject with his family, was a direct result of knowing from where he may have come. Knowing that his surname was rare and came from a specific place allowed for an easier solution to this problem leading to the obituary found mentioning him and his compatriots.  So if you are fortunate enough to find a rare surname, carpe diem and research the name itself. You will not be sorry.

[1] The Internet Surname Database, surname Brockbank,, accessed: 19 November 2010.

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Resources, Tips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Institutions Revisited

A couple of weeks ago I spoke of my strong belief in the educational value of genealogical institutes. Because of its unique format, the British Institute (BI), in Salt Lake City, is one of my favorites. All of the courses combine instruction in a classroom setting in the morning, followed by consultations and led research in the afternoons in the Family History Library (FHL). I have personally benefited greatly from the incredible instruction I have received here.

I have attended the Genealogical Research in Ireland­–Advanced Methodology course at the 2012 BI taught by David Rencher AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA. I learned so much from his classes that not only helped me find my Melody family in Ireland but gave me tools that I have used to find ancestors all over Europe. This was my first exposure to advanced method of using statistical to identify places to begin one’s search. Truly an incredibly powerful method when all else has failed.

I was also extremely fortunate to attend the last class of Course 4 Advanced Methodology & Evidence Analysis taught by Elizabeth Shown Mills CG, CGL, FASG at the 2013 Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research at Samford University, Birmingham Alabama. The massive amount of information, best practices, and methods that I took away from her will help me for a lifetime. Elizabeth’s ability to coax evidence out of items, passed over by other researchers as useless or incomplete, is unparalleled. She inspired me to view all artifacts, documents, and information from completely different angles. Now, my belief is the process of drawing evidence out of information is only limited by the imagination and ingenuity of the researcher.


This year I have the great honor of being a course coordinator and instructor at the BI. I will be teaching the course Crossing the Pond: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor in Their Homeland along with some of the best and brightest professional genealogists and genealogical instructors that I know. David Ouimette CG, Cari Taplin CG, and Luana Darby MILS will be assisting me by teaching some great classes in this course. All have had incredible success finding ancestors abroad for themselves, students, and clients.

The design of the class has one goal in mind, helping the student succeed in finding the nativity of their immigrant ancestors. All students will be asked to supply up to five of their personal immigration brick wall problems. The students will spend the mornings receiving some of the best instruction on records, processes, strategies, and methods used to track down those elusive forbearers. In the afternoons, the instructors will be in the FHL. They will be assisting the students with implementing what they had learned earlier. All of the instructors are well versed in using the resources of the FHL, in fact, two are or have been genealogical experts that volunteer at the FHL.

The course is not limited to British Isles researchers. Everything taught in this course will translate easily into other research. Many of the examples in the classes may be British in nature, but there will also be examples from other countries. A combination of beginning, intermediate, and advanced presentations will explain some of the best and innovative strategies used to find a person abroad.

To keep abreast of the current announcements about the British Institute or the International Association for British Genealogy and Family History please like their Facebook page, or visit their website at, .

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Tips, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My First Great Nativity Success…The Rest of the Story

Finding an immigrant ancestor in their homeland can be a daunting task. One of my mentors explained to me; many times researchers try to “cross the pond” before they are ready to make that jump. What my mentor meant was, without doing thorough research in the United States records you may not be able to identify, accurately, the family abroad and possibly spend years, spinning your wheels, never finding your ancestor in their homeland.

The Main

The Main

Thorough research has many positive byproducts. One, you learn about your subject inside and out, this is hugely advantageous throughout your research. When examining documents or artifacts, a researcher will recognize right away if the information from the item relates to their subject.   Plus many times with thorough research you will find direct evidence of an ancestor’s origins.

Another one of my instructor’s taught me to research exhaustively an individual, to identify uniquely, that particular person in the records and a specific location. This effort includes researching the Family, Associates, and Neighbors of the specific target person. Once again this strategy can uncover information with direct and indirect evidence of an individual’s nativity.

The moral of the story is, thorough research is the key to success. The vast majority of nativity questions can be answered with U.S. research; some expert researchers say a much as 90% of these cases can be solved. The remaining questions require more advanced techniques to uncover. My Strohschien’s secretive immigration compounded the problems I faced with their nativity, but the solution was just that, a U.S. research problem.

As mentioned previously, when attempting to find someone’s origins, it is advantageous to create a large target to find. It is easier to find a group of people than it is to find a single individual. This technique is especially true if you are attempting to find a single person, in a large country, with a common name, similar place names, people of similar ages, etc.… Knowing your ancestor’s F.A.N. Club can make this task much easier.

At least seven Stroscheins immigrated to the United States. Because of naturalization laws and a death, only the four men went through the naturalization process. Caroline Stroschein (1883-1947), by law,  naturalized upon her marriage to Howard W Smeltzer (1880-1948). The matriarch Gottliebe Dombrowsky Stroschein (1844-1913) came to the United States in 1903 and lived with her oldest son Charles L. Stroschein until her death in 1913[1]. She never naturalized that I have found. One of the older sons. John Stroschein died in 1906, never naturalizing.

Carl (Charles L.) Stroschein immigrated in 1883 with his uncle, Andreas Dombrowsky. He was only 16-years-old. Charles naturalized 30 October 1903 in the Western District of Pennsylvania, United States District Court. Since he naturalized before 1906, his application was not very helpful. It states he came from Germany[2].

Fredrick Stroschein immigrated to Pitcairn on 25 March 1882 and entered the United States through New York aboard the Hermann according to his Declaration of Intent[3]. There is a problem with this information. First, Frederick would have been nine years old and secondly the Hermann only landed in New York November 1881, May 1883, September 1886, October 1889, April 1990, May 1892, and June 1892. These pieces of differing information complicate finding Fredrick on a passenger list. Luckily Fredrick signs his declaration 29 November 1917. He states he was born in Grozno Germany 24 October 1872; this is the same information he gave in his Petition for Naturalization.

August Stroschein, my great grandfather, arrived in Baltimore 26 June 1901 with his younger siblings Caroline and Hermann. The passenger list states they were from Gorzno Germany. In his Declaration of Intent of 8 February 1910, August claims he was born 27 September 1877 in Gorzno Germany. He further states his last residence was Gorzon Germany. In his Petition for Naturalization, August says he was born in Gorzov Germany[4]. Interestingly it was written that he came from three differently spelled towns with similar spellings.

Hermann Stroschein immigrated with his brother and sister in 1901. In his Declaration of Intent of 28 June 1901 he states he was born 27 October 1887 in Gorkno Germany but in his Application for Naturalization, Hermann says he is from Gorzuv Germany[5].

With five different town names, it would seem to be a simple matter of searching all of these names and find a town in Germany. Not so fast. There are not any towns in Germany with this name. This rookie genealogist was making a common but fatal error. I was looking at the records with 21st-century eyes and trying to apply the same logic. Big Mistake—Big, Big Mistake.

Resolving this problem required me to think about the town and its location in my ancestor’s terms. In other documents, many Stroschein’s state they were from Prussia. I had to examine what Germany looked like when my ancestors lived there. Germany did not become a country until 1871. Before this, it was just a loose group of states, duchies, and Palatinates of Germanic origins allied together. In 1871,  Otto von Bismarck unified most of the German states, with one notable exception, Austria. So when Charles says he was born in Germany, this is misleading.

After World War I, the country of Poland was reformed from former regions known as East and West Prussia. Modern day Poland was called Germany from 1871 to the end of WWI. When I started to examine this area, a town emerged with the name GORZNO that was in the Brodnica area of Poland.

Armed with this information, I went to the Family History Library for the first time. Karen and I sat through the little introductory video of the library. Then with our first-time visitor tags on, I explaining my research needs, we were immediately ushered down to the B-1 level of the FHL. After consulting Meyers Orts, and discovering Lautenburg was the main Lutheran parish that coverd Gorzno, we went to the computer and found film #245696.

The elder from the FHL was so helpful that he loaded the film onto the reader for me. He started spinning through the film going past about half a dozen images. I was saying wait, wait, wait; I want to start from the beginning. The very helpful man told me, “Oh chances are the person you are looking for is not there.” Undaunted I rolled the film back to the first page, there, about six lines down was Paul Strohschein born to Johann Strohschein and Regina Bobrowski.

If there was ever a moment that stopped me in my tracks and made me think there should be a choir of angels singing with a giant heavenly gate opening this was it for me. I blurted out, “That is my Great Great Grandfather!” My very next statement was definitely from a rookie’s mouth, I proclaimed, “This genealogy stuff is easy!” You can imagine the ignorance of this statement from a wet behind the ears genealogist examining his first microfilm and looking through half a dozen entries and solving a great mystery of his family. I WAS HOOKED. Overcome with excitement; I did not even notice the throngs of people giving me an odd stare.

I spent the rest of the week trying to find this family in entirely foreign records to me…pun intended. This experience was also my first foray into German language records and my first ever look at “Old German Script.” Indoctrination by fire indeed, but that’s okay, I am after all a fireman.

[1] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death, file no. 81281, registered no. 37, Gottlebe Stroschein, 20 August 1913; digital image, ( accessed 2 February 2016), Pennsylvania Death Certificates 1906-1963.

[2] Karl Stroschein, Petiton for Citizenship (1903), filed 30 October 1903, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image, ( accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 102, filed Oct 13-31, 1903.

[3] Fredrick Stroschein petition for naturalization (1919), naturalization petition file number 26733, Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Court; digital image, ( accessed 8 December 2015); NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 225, Petitions 26661-26900.

[4] August Stroschein Petition for Naturalization (1912), naturalization petition file number 5929, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image, ( accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 144, Petition Nos. 5851-6100.

[5] Hermann Stroschein Petition for Naturalization (1912), naturalization petition file number 5928, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image, ( accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 144, Petition Nos. 5851-6100.

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Becoming “Institutionalized”

From the time I was a little boy, the value and importance of education has been stressed. My father often quoted to me ”They can take everything away from you, but they cannot take your education.” My father and I did not see eye to eye on much but this lesson I took to heart and it sticks with me to this day.

Northern States Hospital, Sedro Woolley, Washington

Northern States Hospital, Sedro Woolley, Washington

I have always stressed the importance of good genealogical education. I remember well the first bit of genealogical education that I received. No, it was not from a book. No, it was not at a general meeting of a local genealogical society, I did not even know there was one in my hometown. Not a state conference, I couldn’t tell you where the conferences were held at the time. No, it was not at a national conference, as I did not know anything about them either. My first bit of genealogical education was with some of the best, brightest, and most knowledgeable genealogical educators in the field. My first experience with genalogical education took place at the National Archives in Washington D.C.

I let my fingers do the walking, and on the internet, I found a genealogical institute. Claire Bettag CG CGL, Marie V. Melchiori CG CGL, Connie Potter of NARA, Marian Smith of USCIS,  Patti Shawker CG, Laura Prescott CG, John Deeban of NARA, Shirley Wilcox CG FNGS, Claire Prechtel-Kluskens of NARA, Reginald Washington of NARA, and others all gave me my first indoctrination into genealogical education. Yes, you are correct, my first hint of instruction beyond being self-taught was the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) now known as the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (GenFed). This was an incredible experience for me. I set me up for success and put me on the path to seeking out more quality instruction.

Seasoned genealogists refer to the volumes of information thrown at you in an institute akin to drinking from a firehose. Being a 26-year veteran of the Seattle Fire Department, I can tell you that they are wrong. Drinking from a firehose is less intense. In the pre-study, I took Patti Shawkers advice and aligned my genealogical problems to the classes being taught. After each lecture, I would immediately run downstairs and put in my pull requests. Sometimes I was tardy for the next session. I learned so much valuable, and accurate information on my first go around of genealogical education that it ruined me… well sort of. My expectations as to what was next for me may have been unrealistically high. I thought all educators had this kind of incredible information, I was wrong.

When I returned home, I hungered for more.. I found my local society and went to my first meeting. The speaker was talking about land records, a favorite of mine. The instructor, heralded as the expert in the state, had presented many times throughout the area. I was excited until one of the first things out of his mouth was, “ I don’t know what the big deal is about land records, they do not have much genealogical value.” Wha, wha, whaaaa. What a letdown.

Having been educated with more accurate information, I knew this educator was mistaken. I found the education in the local area was not of the caliber I hungered for. So I searched out more institutes to feed that hunger.

The next institute I went to was the Salt Lake Institute (SLIG); Held in January each year, at one of the meccas for research, in Salt Lake City. Here I took the Advanced Swedish Research course with Geoff Fröberg Morris. Definitely, one of the top Swedish researchers in the United States. The details learned in this class dramatically helped me to understand the massive amount of records held in Sweden that have genealogical value. This course punctuated for me the vast inequities across the genealogical education spectrum. This fantastic experience set firmly in my mind, if I wanted consistent, high-quality information and instruction, I would need to go to institutes.

Since then I have gone to more than a dozen including the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) a.k.a. Samford, The Genealogical Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), and the British Institute (BI) held in Salt Lake City in September or October. I have taken many advanced courses from leading genealogical educators to include, Elizabeth Shown Mills CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, Tom Jones PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, David Rencher CG, AG John Colletta PhD, Judy Russell JD, CG, CGL, CeCe Moore, Angie Bush, MS Blaine Bettinger, JD, Rick Sayre CG FUGA, Pam Sayre CG FUGA, and D. Joshua Taylor, to name a few.

Now I will be teaching at an institute. This year’s British Institute, held October 10th – 14th in Salt Lake City will feature a course, “Crossing the Pond: Finding your Immigrant Ancestor in Their Homeland.” This course is open to all people of all ethnic backgrounds. Though we may use many British examples in class, all of the techniques taught will transfer over to any other research one is doing. My fellow instructors are some of the best professionals in their fields, David Ouimette CG, Cari Taplin CG, and Luana Darby MILS. This team of instructors are experienced researchers in the United States, British Isles, Germany, Scandinavia, France, the Balkans, Spain, Italy, and other areas of Europe.

The format for the British Institute is about four hours of instruction in the morning and the afternoon includes, three hours of assisted research, with your instructors, in the Family History Library (FHL). Specific to Crossing the Pond, all students will bring at least five of their personal genealogical problems to research. Every day in the library, the student’s will take what they have learned and apply it to their personal genealogical problems. The instructors will be there to assist each student to frame their research question and develop a research strategy to resolve the “brick wall.” The goal is to have each student experience personal success in their research. The students will be asked to bring multiple problems because the FHL may not have all of the records needed to solve the case and records may need to be sought elsewhere. What great, inexpensive way to get high quality, professional research help.

One of the classes I am excited to attend is Advanced Researching at the Family History Library, taught by Luana Darby. Most patrons of the FHL do not fully realize the vast amount of information available to researchers only in the Family History Library. Their computer databases, subscriptions, and CDs is massive and comprehensive. Their book collections housed in the High-Density secure area is an untapped gold mine. The hidden treasures at the FHL can dramatically supercharge your research.

I hope to see a few familiar faces and many new ones in the seats at the British Institute in October. For more informationa about the British Institute, click on the link provided to the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History (ISBGFH). If you want to inquire to me personally about the course please contact me here . Becoming “institutionalized” is not always a bad thing.

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Resources, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My First “Great Migration” Challenge

The Stroscheins were my grandmother’s genealogy love-hate relationship; she loved my grandfather but hated the fact that she was unable to find their origins in Germany.  A few years before she passed away, Mom-mom (my paternal grandmother) confided in me her frustrations. She intimated that when she attempted to find the nativity of Pop’s (my paternal grandfather) family, they thwarted her at every turn. Her memory was, anytime she entered a room, and the Stroschein family members were speaking of the old country, they would either immediately start speaking German or stop talking about their origins altogether.

The Stroscheins were so successful at concealing their hometown’s location that even Pop did not know where his father was born and raised. His grandmother immigrated to the United States, and Pop knew her, but he did not know the name of his grandfather. This fact was a huge complication for my grandmother and me, in the beginning. Speculation abounds to why they hid their origins with nothing concrete discovered yet.

I never inquired about Mom-mom’s knowledge of genealogical methods and analysis. Where her knowledge and use of records such as censuses, tax records, naturalizations, and the multitude of other record types came from I do not know. I do not know if she knew of the existence of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I do know that she was excellent at grave yard research, vital records, contacting and interviewing cousins, and gathering stories, photos, and memorabilia.

Sadly it was not until after my grandmother died that I got deep into the study and science of genealogy. When I took on the Stroschein challenge, I had no experience with finding the origins of immigrants, but I forged ahead with steadfast determination and ignorance. My grandmother had decades of experience researching the family. How was this veritable rookie going to figure out what she could not?  Though one thing my grandmother did not use was the power of the internet and online databases.

Through information provided by Mom-mom and the internet, I was able to discern August Stroschein had, at least, five siblings and his mother who all immigrated to Pennsylvania. Four brothers and one sister, Charles, John, Frederick, Herman, and Caroline, all immigrated to Western Pennsylvania. His mother, Wilhelmina Dombrowski Stroschein, also immigrated in 1903. Similar to many immigrant families, mine spelled their name differently in the homeland. My Stroscheins used an extra “h,” Strohschein…sometimes.

This large family group was very fortuitous to this beginner; they created a large target of people for me to find in Germany. I did not know it then, but this is a basic approach to successfully locating your immigrant ancestors in their mother country.

Baltimore Docks

  • Charles L Stroschein –arrived Baltimore 20 Sep 1883 on the Nurnberg [1]
  • John Stroschein–arrived 1888[2]
  • Frederick Stroschein New York 25 March 1882 on the Hermann[3]
  • August Stroschein Baltimore 26 June 1901 on the Köln[4]
  • Herman Stroschein Baltimore 26 June 1901 on the Köln[5]
  • Caroline Stroschein Baltimore 26 June 1901 on the Köln[6]
  • Gottliebe Dombrowski Stroschein New York 8 December 1903 on the Main[7]

This group of ancestors created a lot of records. Information gathered from these records pointed to a place of origin, but it was not quite that easy. The Strohschein’s “Great Migration” was a “chain migration[8].” Did they even come from Germany? How was the issue of language barriers going to play into the discovery of my family’s origins? There were many questions for this rookie researcher to tackle; maybe it was time for some education? I decided to get “institutionalized.”


[1] Manifest, S.S. Nurnberg, 20 September 1883, unpaginated, line 78, Carl Strohschein, age 16,; ”Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1964”, digital image,, ( accessed 8 December 2015).

[2] 1900 U.S. census, Braddock, Ward 2, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Enumeration District 348, page 1A, dwelling 9, family 9, John Stroschaen [sic]; digital image,, ( accessed 8 December 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication, T623, roll 1365.

[3] Fredrick Stroschein petition for naturalization (1919), naturalization petition file number 26733, Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Court; digital image, ( accessed 8 December 2015); NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 225, Petitions 26661-26900.

[4] Manifest, S.S. Köln, 26 June 1901, stamped page 230, line 8, August Stohschein, age 23;“ Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1964,” digital image,, ( accessed 8 December 2015).

[5] Ibid, line 8, Hermann Strohschein, age 13.

[6] Ibid, line 7, Caroline Strohschein, age 19.

[7] Manifest, S.S. Main, 22 December 1903, stamped page 38, line 18, Gottliebe Strohschein, age 55;“ Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1964,” digital image,, ( accessed 8 December 2015).

[8] “Chain Migration” refers to the process by which a family member or a member of a town immigrates to a foreign land and paves the way for other members of that famiy or town to follow.

Posted in Crossing the Pond, General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment