I see many people using the census to discover family members but often they don't bother to look at the actual document. They focus on the indexed information and are just interested in the names. A few years ago I had a talk about mining the US censuses to write your family's story. In that presentation I focused on the additional items in the census. I spoke about family composition, land ownership, employment, economy, and immigration.
Immigration information is one of those things that many beginning researchers have problems finding. The censuses have a wealth of information about immigration if you know how to find it but we always need to be weary about the information and realize that it may not always be correct. Use it as a guide to discover more information that leads to a final conclusion.
Beginning in the 1850 census each person in the census has a birth place listed. Knowing the birth place for the individuals in a family can help you find an approximate date for their immigration. Below is the 1860 census for my 3rd great-grandparents Ferdinand and Appolonia Gayer.
|1860 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio|
From this census I can see that Ferdinand was born in Baden, Germany. Below that there are several family members listed as "Do" which stands for ditto. The last person in this family born in Baden was Magdalena who was age 7, meaning she was likely born around 1852-1853. The next child, Catherine is listed as being born in Ohio. Catherine is 5 years old, so we can assume that she was born around 1854-1855. From this one record, which doesn't list immigration information directly, I was able to determine that the family probably immigrated between 1852 and 1855.
To find more information I then went to the 1870 census.
|1870 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio|
The 1870 census lists Magdalena "Mag" as 18 years old and being born in Baden. Catherine is listed as 13 years old and born in Ohio. This gives me a range of 1851 to 1857 as the possible immigration date. Notice that neither daughter aged the expected 10 years during this census so my approximate immigration date has grown a bit.
The 1880 census isn't as much help because the children are getting older and many have moved out of the family home. But I can still get a little information from it.
|1880 US Census, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio|
In the 1880 census only Ferdinand and his wife are listed as being born in Baden. All of the other people in the household were born in Ohio. But I do see Catherine, she is now listed as Catherine Carity, a widow, aged 24. Based on her age and the fact that she was born in Ohio, we know that the family had to immigrate before 1856.
So, what have I found out about the Gaier family and their immigration from these early censuses? First of all, I know that Ferdinand, Appalonia and several of their children were born in Baden, Germany. Secondly, I know that they most likely immigrated in the mid 1850s, probably around 1853 or 1854.
Next, I looked at the 1900 census. Between 1900 and 1930, the census should list the immigration year for each individual.
|1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Ferdinand Gaier|
In the 1900 census I found Ferdinand Gaier, age 90, born in Germany. He is living in the home of his daughter Magdalena who married Joseph Rice. Remember, Magdalena was the last child born in Germany before the family immigrated. The columns after the birth locations should have the immigration information. Just my luck, the enumerator failed to record the immigration information for this family. So, that means we need to check on the other children who were born in Germany to see if the census records their immigration year.
|1900 US Census, Granville Township, Mercer, Ohio - Charles Gaier|
The 1900 census for Charles Gaier lists his immigration year as 1850. That is a little bit off of what I had figured but still within the typical margin of error on a census.
What about her brother Valentine? I was able to find Valentine in the 1900 and 1910 censuses.
|1900 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier|
|1910 US Census, Loramie Village, McLean Township, Shelby, Ohio - Val Gaier|
Val's 1900 census lists his immigration year as 1952 while the 1910 census lists it as 1953. Both of these dates seem to fit with what I know about the children in this family.
Now, knowing that the family probably immigrated in the range of 1852-1854 I can look to see which port of entry was most likely at that time. Many German immigrants arrived on the east coast in New York and traveled west to Ohio. Others came in through New Orleans and traveled north up the Mississippi River to Ohio. If they arrived in New York, they would most likely have come through Castle Garden.
Searching through the Castle Garden database I was able to find Ferdinand Geiger and family listed as arriving on 13 January 1854 aboard the ship Carolus Magnus from Le Havre, France.
|Carolus Magnus Passenger List - 13 January 1854|
|Passenger List for Ferdinand Geiger and Family|
So, starting with a few hints from the census records I was able to deduce the immigration dates for this family.
One last hint. Did you know that you can also discover citizenship information in the US censuses. Some of you probably already know that the 1900-1940 censuses list the person's naturalization status (AL=alien, PA=first papers, NA=naturalized) and the 1920 census lists the year of naturalization. But did you know there are some hints in the earlier censuses also? Even though the 1820 and 1830 censuses don't list all the individuals by name, they do list the number of individuals in the household who were of foreign birth and who were not naturalized citizens. Also, the 1870 census has a column for "Male Citizens of the US of 21 years of age and upwards." If a person was of foreign birth and this column is checked he would have been naturalized prior to 1870.
I hope these ideas help you find more information on your immigrant ancestors and as always, remember that census records provide clues to approximate dates, not the exact dates. However, knowing how to use those clues can lead to more discoveries in your families.