Immigration

Overview

This selection of resources complements Ancestry’s collection of resources and oral histories related to United States immigration. It highlights the evolution of the U.S. immigration system, including efforts to restrict migration, and explores how migration has shaped not only individuals, but also national identity.

More resources on contemporary immigration are available on request.

Classroom Resources provided by Facing History and Ourselves


Reading

What is Migration? An Explainer

Establish a basic understanding of key terms, statistics, and laws related to global migration.

Lesson

Finding Your Voice

How does each person’s story contribute to the larger narrative of United States history? Students begin by defining what it means to them to be American.

Reading

Journey to America: What's Your Story?

Explore the importance of understanding our own ancestors’ immigration stories.

Reading

What is a Nation?

Consider the idea of what makes a nation using the opinions of philosophers, historians, and journalists.

Reading

The Debate in Congress

This reading explores the debate over the 1924 Immigration Act (with discussion questions and audio available.)

Reading

​The “Immigration Problem”​

Learn about restrictive immigration measures established in the U.S. throughout the 19th century.

Lesson

Comparing Jewish Refugees of the 1930s With Syrian Refugees Today

Published with the New York Times, this lesson explores how studying immigration history can inform our thinking about contemporary dilemmas.


Professional Learning for Educators provided by Facing History and Ourselves


Webinar

Exploring Immigration: A Conversation with Journalist Sonia Nazario

Explore the importance of stories in understanding migration, past and present.

Webinar

World Refugee Day

Explore ways to bring World Refugee Day into the classroom using historical and contemporary resources.

Ancestry Resources


  • Passenger Lists. This category covers arrivals through major and smaller U.S. ports, as well as several large international ports.
  • Ellis Island Oral Histories. Listen to the stories of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. Their experiences can help shed light on what many of our ancestors went through on their journey to the United States.
  • U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960. Many immigrants found their way to the United States by way of Canada. At certain points in history, the UK subsidized travel to Canada, so it may have been a more cost-effective route. Additionally, when there were restrictions placed on immigration, many immigrants found less resistance when they traveled through Canada.
  • U.S., Border Crossings from Mexico to U.S., 1895-1964. This database contains an index of undocumented immigrants and some citizens crossing into the United States from Mexico via various ports of entry in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.
  • Citizenship & Naturalization Records. The collection of naturalization and citizenship records on Ancestry includes indexes, and some indexes are linked to images of the actual records.
  • U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925. Passport applications from 1795–1925 are contained in this database. The United States government has issued passports to American citizens since 1789 through several different agencies over the years. For the most part, passports were not required of U.S. citizens for foreign travel until World War I, but this collection gives insights into many individuals who were traveling abroad.

Ancestry Exercises


Listen to one of the Ellis Island interviews. Maria Von Trapp or Johannes Von Trapp.
  • What did you learn about life in the “old country?”
  • Why did they come to the United States?
  • What other records can you find on this person?

Explore passenger lists from the 1820s, 1850s, and 1900s.
  • What changed over the years? Why?
  • Who was coming to the United States during these periods?

Look at a passenger list from around 1900.
  • Where are the passengers from?
  • How many married men do you see traveling without their families? Why do you think married men would leave their families and come to the United States alone? What must that have been like for the wives and children left behind?