Whether your ancestors came through Ellis Island or were here to greet
the Mayflower, their origins are part of the American story—and your
story. Follow these tips to start discovering your immigrant and ethnic
Our immigrant and ethnic ancestors made American history. Their names may not appear in the history books, but they were there: the American Indians who solely inhabited the North American continent until the Spanish and English arrived; the Africans who were brought against their wills to plant and harvest the fields; the Germans and Irish and Italians and Poles and Chinese and others who helped build the cities, lay the railroad tracks and cultivate the farmlands. Do you know which of these nameless people in American history are your ancestors?
Everyone has immigrant ancestors. Whether your ancestors arrived in the 1900s, the 1600s or were here to greet the rest, all American ancestry leads somewhere else. Some archeologists have said that the North American continent has been inhabited only recently compared with other continents — when Asian migrants crossed the ancient "land bridge" of the Bering Strait. While descendants of these early "immigrants" have no written contemporary records to aid in tracing their ancestry, their forebears did leave physical evidence in the form of artifacts. For those whose ancestors arrived in America since the 1600s, a multitude of sources can help research those immigrant origins. And if you have American Indian ancestry, you'll find a surprising amount of information about numerous tribes since the "founding" of our nation.