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Tracing your first American ancestor

The Findmypast team
27 January 2017

America is a nation founded on immigration. For centuries, people have traveled from around the world to start a new life and new legacies in the United States, and the chances are that your family is no different.

In our records, we have a number of collections from different points in history that can help you to trace the immigrant that started your American story. We've listed a few of these record sets below, let us know what you find!

A 1634 record of a trip to New England

A 1634 record of a trip to New England

Published in collaboration with The National Archives in London, this incredible record set comes from a time where permission – or a licence – would be needed in order to travel abroad. This record set contains the details of those who applied for such licences.

There are records of people traveling to New England, Barbados and other British colonies from 1634-1639, as well as one register from 1677. In addition, the record set contains the oath of allegiance taken by British soldiers as they traveled to serve in the Low Countries, meaning that if you have British ancestry, there's a lot you can discover.

This massive collection of 62 million records covers 1820-1957, the height of immigration through Castle Gardens and Ellis Island in New York. If your family immigrated to America during that period, these records present a fantastic opportunity to find them.


Over 3.3 million records that can help you to discover more about your ancestors who arrived in Philadelphia. These records tell you names, ages, citizenship, birth country, arrival year, arrival city and more. The beauty of arrival records is that they're not as limited by departure point as departure records, so these records contain details of people from all over the world.


If you're of British or Irish heritage, this collection of around 25 million records can be vital in tracing your first American ancestor. The information given in the records varies, however you can usually expect destination, port of origin, age, name and often the class in which they traveled and whether their intent was to stay in the US or return home.

Taken from the height of the Great Famine in Ireland, this collection of over 90,000 records is part of the history of the Irish in Boston. A record of people fleeing devastation in search of a new life abroad, this could be essential to understanding your Irish family history. Similarly, our Baltimore Passenger Lists – 1846-1851 are a part of the same story.


If your family arrived on the west coast rather than the east, you may find them in this collection of over 400,000 Californian passenger lists, showing the names, ages, birth places and arrival dates of passengers arriving in California.

This record set includes transcripts and images for over 1.5 million records, with details of those who came to Baltimore over a 137 year period. Discover names, places of origin, ages, dates of arrival and more.