Did your family tree grow in Syria, Lebanon or another Middle Eastern country? Let us be your ally for tracing Arabic ancestors.
If you have Middle Eastern heritage, your connection with the Western Hemisphere goes back much further than your ancestors' first landing on American shores. It stretches back even earlier than 1777, when Morocco was the first nation to recognize the nascent American government, or 1492, when Columbus set sail with an Arab translator in anticipation of meeting East Indians. Some petroglyphs and ancient writings archaeologists have found in the US Southwest bear similarities to hieroglyphics and Arabic letters from the same era — suggesting Phoenicians and Northern Africans may have beaten Columbus to the punch by at least 2,000 years.
These early contacts set a standard of sorts for the Arabs who began settling here in the 1870s, and it applies today to most everything in Arab family history: Defy expectations. Ninety percent of early Arab immigrants to North America weren't Muslims, but Christians from the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches. Many came from Greater Syria, with liturgical languages including Greek and Syriac as well as Arabic. Even the meaning of Arab is up for debate. Some use it to describe a native Arabic speaker from Syria, Lebanon, Algeria or another traditionally Arab country in the Middle East or North Africa. But others point to the region's many distinct ethnic, cultural and religious groups: Assyrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Copts, Maronites, Syriacs and Druze, among others, some of whom have asserted their non-Arab identities. To further muddy the waters, Maronite and Assyrian immigrants hailed mostly from the rugged Mount Lebanon range above Beirut, and began identifying themselves as Lebanese after World War I, when France carved out Lebanon as a separate state.