“Immigration: An American Story” Exhibit and Immigration Research Tips

For the month of April, the second floor lobby at the Main Library is hosting the “Immigration: An American Story” exhibit. Stop by and see the exhibit!

The Sherman Room also has resources to help research immigration in your family and historical immigration in the Richland County area. So here is a brief guide to some resources that are available for researching immigration at the Sherman Room and for Richland County.

Census Records

Oftentimes, a good starting place for immigration research is the United States Census. The Census asked questions regarding a person’s country of origin starting in 1850 and the country of origin of their parents as far back as 1880. Less specific information was sometimes included in earlier censuses, such as counting the number of “foreigners not naturalized” in each household in 1840 and asking individuals if their parents were born in another country in 1870 instead of asking for the mother’s and father’s birthplaces more specifically. See the appendix at the end of the post for a chart of what birthplace and/or immigration information each census that is publicly available (up through 1950, at this point) included. Census records are available through websites including FamilySearch, Ancestry, HeritageQuest, and more.

Even if the census does not give you a person’s specific naturalization or arrival year, it is very helpful in identifying where to start looking for naturalization records and other information. First and foremost, finding someone on the census helps you know where to begin a search for naturalization records, which were handled at the county level until 1906, at which time they began to be taken over at the federal court level [1]. Since the censuses are usually available with keyword-searching capabilities or are well indexed, they are often a convenient place to find basic information about someone before digging deeper.

Index to Ohio Richland County Probate Court Naturalization Records, 1852-1906

George Nilsson, a Swedish immigrant, stands in front of the Coney Island Restaurant. Sherman Room Photo File.

Naturalization is the process by which a person becomes a United States citizen when they were not born to a parent who was a U.S. citizen or born on American soil. The process is a long one, usually taking at least five years, and involves two separate forms submitted to the Probate Court of the county in which the person resides (prior to 1906, at which time it transitioned to the federal courts). After two years in the United States, a person would submit a Declaration of Intention to naturalize, and after five years in the United States, they would submit a Petition for Naturalization and be given a certificate of naturalization. After receiving their certificate, a person was a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.

The Sherman Room has copies of the index for the Richland County Probate Court Naturalization Records from 1852 to 1906, and has microfilm of the Richland County Probate Court records of Declarations of Intent from 1852 to 1906 and the naturalization records (Petitions) from 1892 to 1906.

Naturalization Records and Indexes on Family Search (free account required)

A petition for naturalization [2]

The naturalization records for Richland County were transferred to the Ohio Genealogical Society Library in Belville in 2015, so they are no longer available through the county courthouse. However, many of these records between 1852 and 1906 were microfilmed by the Church of Jesus of the Latter-Day Saints in the 1980s and are available on FamilySearch, with a free account. These records include both Declarations of Intent and Petitions for Naturalization, but remember that if the person moved in the years between the Declaration and the Petition, the documents may be filed in two different counties or even states, and Family Search may or may not have digitized or microfilm records for the second location.

Passenger List Index Volumes

If you have a good idea of approximately when and from what country a person came to the United States, there are sometimes additional resources available to help you find more specific information about their arrival. Some of these include published indexes to arrival records. These often extract basic information from arrival lists and other primary sources documenting people coming into the U.S. and indicate what the original source of the information was. Once you have identified what source contains your ancestor’s arrival information, you can then begin to find out if the source is published, digitized, or otherwise accessible. Some published passenger and immigration list indexes we have at the Sherman Room include the following:

  • Passenger and Immigration Lists Index
    • Originally three volumes published in 1981
    • The Sherman Room has the first three volumes and all the supplements through 2021
    • ” A guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries”
  • Germans to America, Series I, Volumes 1-63
    • Indexes arrivals from 1850 to 1890
  • Germans to America, Series II
    • Indexes arrivals in the 1840s
  • Italians to America
    • Indexes arrivals from Italy from 1880 to 1905

For Questions or Research Help

If you want to learn more about any of the information included here, or get help with your genealogy or local history research, please visit or contact the Sherman Room! You can find online resources and current hours here.

Appendix: Table of Relevant Census Information by Year

Please note, terminology is transcribed from the questions asked in the census.

Census YearBirthplace and/or Immigration Information
1840Tallied number of “White foreigners not naturalized”
1850Birthplace (U.S. state or country)
1860Enumerator could list birthplace, but was not required to
1870Birthplace (U.S. state or country); asked if father was foreign-born; asked if mother was foreign-born
1880Birthplace; father’s birthplace; mother’s birthplace
1890 [Census records no longer extant. They were lost to a fire in 1921.]
1900Birthplace; father’s birthplace; mother’s birthplace; year of immigration to U.S.; length of stay in the U.S.; naturalized or not naturalized
1910Birthplace; father’s birthplace; mother’s birthplace; year of immigration to U.S.; naturalized or alien
1920Birthplace; native language; father’s birthplace; father’s native language; mother’s birthplace; mother’s native language; year of immigration to U.S.; naturalized or alien
1930Birthplace; father’s birthplace; mother’s birthplace; language spoken in home before coming to U.S.; year of immigration; naturalized or alien
1940Birthplace; if foreign-born, citizen or non-citizen
In supplementary questions (asked of a certain percentage of the population): native language; father’s birthplace; mother’s birthplace;
1950Birthplace; if foreign-born, naturalized or not naturalized
In supplemental questions: where person was living a year ago (county, state or foreign country); country of birth for father and mother
  1. “Naturalization Records.” National Archives, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 17 May 2021, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/naturalization.
  2. “Ohio, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1977”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPW2-9C3R : 13 February 2020), Carl Heitz, 1894.

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