5 Tips For Writing About Your Immigrant Ancestor

Faded toned naturalization certificate for Joseph Keizler with the caption: Tips and Resources 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. 

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:

  • Geographic elements of a location
  • Customs
  • Political / Governmental facts of the homeland
  • 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:

#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:

#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:

#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 lines, 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:

#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:
Sepia toned naturalization certificate for Joseph Keizler with the caption: Tips and Resources for writing about your immigrant ancestor

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

#ProjectGenealogy logo featuring colorful silhouettes

This video is part of the #ProjectGenealogy Series featuring collaborators discussion migrations. Our video is the first in the series and you can begin the journey by clicking this playlist link.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

5 thoughts on “5 Tips For Writing About Your Immigrant Ancestor

    1. That’s awesome that you want to read it again. That was my hope when creating this post that it would offer a value that you can reference again and again. Let me know when you write a story about your ancestors using one of these tips by dropping a link in this comment thread. Can’t wait to read what you write!

  1. These are excellent tips and resources. I have mostly written about my paternal ancestors, who have been in the U.S. the longest. But when I start on my mother’s immigrant German and Italian ancestors, I will be checking back to check some of these links. Thanks!

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