“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.

1950 Census Released!

No April Fools here, just excited genealogists!

The long-awaited 1950 census has been released in a dedicated website by the National Archives! Per National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) policy, only the censuses from 72 years prior are available to the public. These records are invaluable for genealogical and local history research, often serving as an anchor point for research into an individual’s residence, relationships, and occupation. Over time, the process for enumerating the census and the information that has been recorded have evolved, from listing only the head of household and tally marks in appropriate columns for other household members to providing general life information about every member of the household including age, schooling, and occupation [1].

NARA has established a dedicated website for the 1950 census, which you can find at 1950census.archives.gov. You can find additional information here, including some webinar sessions hosted by NARA experts about how the census was conducted and how the records can be used for research.

So there’s a census website….now what??

If you are raring to go and ready to find some folks on the 1950 census right away, you may have a couple of extra steps compared to the earlier censuses that are accessible through online resources like FamilySearch (available to anyone after creating a free account) or AncestryLibrary (available in person at Main Library only). While the 1950 census is digitized and has automated text transcription (known as Optical Character Recognition, or OCR), the transcription will likely be somewhat prone to error, as handwritten records are still a challenge for OCR technology. So you may or may not be able to do a text search for the name you are looking for and find it right away- the computer system may not have “read” that name right yet.

If you are not able to find a head of household by searching their name, you can also browse through the census records for their enumeration district. To find this number, you will need to locate the household on the enumeration district map, like this one to the right. If you do not have their address, you may be able to find it by consulting the city directories in the Sherman Room.

Once you have the address, you can then review the census records from the enumeration district where the address falls to visually scan for the household you are looking for. If possible, it also helps to have an idea of what families lived nearby, so that if you see them you know you are on the right track.

The Mansfield enumeration district map for the 1950 Census. National Archives and Records Administration. [2]

As an example, on the left is an image from the Mansfield Enumeration District Map. The Mansfield/Richland Public Library is located on West Third Street, between Main and Weldon. This puts it in the 70-56 enumeration district. So if it were a residence and you were looking for a person who lived there, you could go to the population schedules (P-10 forms) for that district and look through for the names you wanted to find.

The enumeration districts for Mansfield for the 1950 census are 70-26 through 70-80 and the Shelby districts are 70-6 through 70-16. On the census website, you will need to select “Ohio” before searching by an enumeration district number to see the relevant census records, or you might end up with results from a similar enumeration district number in another state. Within the city of Mansfield (or Shelby), most of the census enumeration records will be on the P-10 sheets, but in the countryside there will be households that were enumerated on a P-11 form, which was a separate form for farms and residences on lots greater than 3 acres. If this is the case, there will be a notation in the regular enumeration forms indicating that there is a separate P-11 form, and the separate P-11 forms will be found after all the P-10 forms for an enumeration district.

Need further help?

If you would like further help finding a person on the census, the Sherman Room will be open to assist with genealogy and local history research! See the Local History and Genealogy page here for current hours and resources.

  1. “About Census Records.” National Archives, 28 Mar. 2022, https://www.archives.gov/research/census/about.
  2. National Archives and Records Administration. 1950 Census Enumeration District Maps – Ohio (OH) – Richland County – Mansfield – ED 70-26 to 80. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/27865011
  3. National Archives and Records Administration. 1950 Census Enumeration District Maps – Ohio (OH) – Richland County – Shelby – ED 70-6 to 16. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/27865015

Genealogy: The Family History Interview

This month the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library is celebrating the 30th Annual Black History Celebration. This year the event is completely virtual and a web site has been created where you are able to contribute your story to an archive of African-American history in Richland County. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about your own family history. One of the best ways to do this is through a family history interview. You may be able to find documents that say Grandpa and Grandma moved Richland County in the 1960s, but it is only by sitting down and talking to them that you will be able to understand why they moved. Below are some tips to get you stared on your family history interview.

Getting Prepared

Make an appointment. A lot of times these conversations happen organically. A relative will tell you a story out of the blue you never heard before, but, if possible, it’s best to be prepared and create a set time to conduct your interview. This will also give you time to prepare a list of question for the interview. Sample questions to ask can be found here.

Bring a pen and paper. This may seem straight forward, but you will want to take notes while you are talking. At some point the interviewee will say something that will make you think of another question to ask. Taking notes is a good way to organize your thoughts in the moment.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Bring your list of questions. Print out the questions you plan to ask and an outline of the topics you want to cover in the interview. You can even give these to your interviewee early so they can know what to expect on the day of the interview.

Bring a recording device. Most phones today came with a recording app. iPhone has the Voice Memo app, Google has an app called Recorder, and there are many others which can be downloaded. Many will automatically transcribe the conversation. It may be worth paying a couple dollars for an app with extra features. You may also want to invest in a microphone to connect to your phone for better audio quality.

Note: Always be sure to ask if your interviewee is comfortable being recorder and get their consent.

Bring Photos and a copy of your family tree. Some people may feel uncomfortable opening up at first. Sometimes looking at photos and or some other objects will get them talking. Asking who else is in a photograph or where they were when the photo was taken can help the interviewee remember stories and feel more comfortable.

Don’t be shy, but respect boundaries. This process cannot only be intimidating for the interviewee, but the interviewer can have some hesitation. Remember they agreed to this, which most likely means they want to share their story. There will always be topics the interviewee doesn’t want to talk about. Unfortunately, these may be the very stories we want to hear, but it is important to respect their boundaries. Maybe when you come back for a second or third interview they will feel more comfortable and tell the more scandalous stories of your family’s past.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Finally, don’t expect to complete your whole list in one sitting. For many people this process can be mentally exhausting. With their stories come feelings and emotions they may not have experienced for some time. If your interviewee wants to end the interview respect their decision and set up a time to meet again.

When you finish, be sure to back up any audio or video recording you made. They can be backed up to the cloud with services like Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox, or make additional copies on USB drives. Look through the new information you have, treat it like any of genealogical source and look for documents to back up the new information.

Below is a sample outline of topics to be covered in a family history interview from the UCLA Library. To download a PDF of this outline and other tips go here.

I. Early Childhood and Family Background

A. Parents and Family

  • Ask when and where they were born and then start off with a general question: “Tell me about your parents” or “Tell me about your family background”
  • Where was family originally from? What do they know about that place? Have they ever visited it?
  • What stories did they hear growing up about earlier ancestors whom they never knew?
  • What parents did for a living? As a child, did they contribute to the family income or help parents in their work in any way?
  • What was parents’ religious background? How was religion observed in their home?
  • What were parents’ political beliefs? What political or other organizations were they involved in?
  • What other relatives did they have contact with growing up?
  • What do they remember about their grandparents?
  • Describe their siblings and their interactions with when they were young. What did they do together? What conflicts did they have? Who were they closest to?
  • Describe the house they grew up in. Describe their room.
  • What were family’s economic circumstances? Do they remember any times when money was tight? Do they remember having to do without things they wanted or needed?
  • What were their duties around the house as a child? What were the other children’s duties? How did duties break down by gender?
  • What skills did they learn (e.g., cooking, carpentry, crafts) and who taught them? What activities did the family do together?
  • Any special food they remember from their childhood? Do they currently make any traditional family foods?
  • What did they do on Christmas? Thanksgiving? Birthdays? Other holidays?

B. Community Grew Up In

  • Describe the community they grew up in and especially their own neighborhood.
  • Races and ethnicities in neighborhood, what people did for a living, class differences.
  • Where did they shop? What was the largest town or city they remember visiting when they were young and what were their impression of it.

C. Early Schooling

  • Description of school they attended. What was school like for them? What did they like about it? What was hard about it?
  • Friends. Favorite teachers.
  • Favorite subjects.
  • Special activities.
  • Discipline.
  • Any teasing or bullying.

D. Friends and Interests

  • What did they do in their spare time?
  • Who were their friends and what did they do when they got together?
  • Hobbies? Favorite stories? Favorite games or make-believe?
  • What did they want to be when they grew up?

II. Teenage Years

A. Changes in Family

  • How did relationship with parents change when they became a teenager?
  • Additional responsibilities, chores?
  • If they had conflict with parents, what was it over?

B. School

  • Favorite subjects? Particular interests?
  • Least favorite subjects?
  • Memorable teachers? Describe their teaching style. How did they influence them?
  • Different groups in school? Which did they belong to? How do they think they were perceived by others?
  • Extracurricular activities.
  • What were their plans when they finished school? Education? Work?
  • What did their parents think of their plans? What did their friends plan to do?
  • Did the boys and girls in the family have different plans/expectations?

C. Work

  • Jobs during teenage years.
  • Contributing to family income? If not, how spent money?

D. Social Life and Outside Interests

  • Who were their friends and what backgrounds did they come from? What did they do together?
  • Age began dating? Kind of activities? Describe first date.
  • Parents’ advice/rules related to dating/contact with opposite sex? Advice from church or school? Peer group’s norms with regard to dating and relationships with opposite sex?
  • Hobbies/interests? Books read? Music listened to? Sports played? Crafts participated in?

III. Adulthood

A. Further Education

B. Marriage or Formation of Significant Relationships

  • How met. What drew them together
  • Describe decision to marry/move in together
  • What was most difficult being in a relationship originally? What was most satisfying?
  • Changes in relationship
  • Break-ups, divorces, deaths.

C. Employment

  • Who worked in the household and how did they support the family?
  • Specifics of their employment: positions they held, duties, part-time employment or self-employment
  • Difficulties and stresses on the job/Rewards
  • Balancing work and family

D. Children

  • Describe the birth of children.
  • What they were each like when they were young. How they have changed or not changed.
  • Relationships with when young and now
  • What activities did the family do together?
  • Family traditions.
  • What was most satisfying to them about raising children? What was most difficult?
  • What values did they try to raise their children with? How did they go about doing that?
  • What forms of discipline did they use and why?

E. Church, political and other involvement: specifics of, reasons for and passions behind

F. Ongoing interests and hobbies

IV. Overview and Evaluation

  • What has provided them the greatest satisfaction in their life?
  • How would they say the world has changed since they were young?

In addition, don’t forget to ask people about historically significant events they lived through:

  • How was their family affected by the Depression?
  • Did they or anyone close to them serve in World War II and what do they remember of that experience?
  • Did they support or were they opposed to the war in Vietnam or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how did they express their political opinions?
  • Did they participate in or do they have any memories of any of the movements that came out of the fifties, sixties, and seventies-the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation movement, and so forth?
  • If the interviewee belongs to a group that has traditionally been discriminated against, ask them what they were told, both positive and negative, about their group inside their family and outside of it. Ask them about discrimination they experienced and also who their role models were.
  • If the interviewee is an immigrant or their parents or grandparents were immigrants, ask them to describe what they know of the country they came from, why they immigrated, how they immigrated, and the specifics and difficulties of beginning a life in a new country.
  • Do they remember their first contact with such significant inventions as radio, television, personal computers, etc.? When did their family first buy them and how did the family use them?

Beginning Genealogy

Download a copy of the Sherman Room’s Genealogy Starter Kit here.

Are you beginning to think about exploring your family history?  Need some help getting started?  This starter kit will introduce you to many of the tools available to begin your genealogy journey.

Genealogy can be both rewarding and frustrating.  When you answer one question, two more seem to appear.  Being organized and knowing where to look for information can help ease some of those frustrations.  Below are some books, internet resources and databases to help you get started.  Also included in this kit are forms to help you get started.  Stop in to the Sherman Room at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, we would be happy to help you on this journey.


Internet Resources

  • Cyndi’s List
    • Cyndi’s List is one of the most comprehensive genealogy websites.
  • FamilySearch
    • FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, education, and software. It is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is closely connected with the church’s Family History Department. A great free alternative to Ancestry.com.
  • American Ancestors
    • Founded in 1845, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is the country’s leading resource for family history research. For more than 150 years, NEHGS has helped new and experienced researchers trace their heritage in New England and around the world.
  • National Genealogical Society
    • The National Genealogical Society is a genealogical interest group founded in 1903 in Washington, D.C.. Its headquarters are in Falls Church, Virginia.


  • African American Heritage
    • A comprehensive mix of resources, records, and tools specifically pertaining to African American genealogy that can also connect users to a community of research experts, who offer mentoring and research assistance.
  • Ancestry Library Edition – Now Available remotely through December
    • Vast genealogical resource focused mainly on the United States and the United Kingdom, including census, vital, church, court, and immigration records, as well as record collections from Canada and other areas. Including census, vital, church, court, and immigration records.
  • Fold3 Library Edition
    • The premier collection of historical military records, including the stories, photos, and personal documents of the men and women who served from the Revolutionary War through recent conflicts. It contains millions of records from world-class archives, many of which are exclusively available on Fold3 Library Edition.
  • Heritage Quest
    • With an essential collection of genealogical and historical sources for more than 60 countries, with coverage dating back as early as the 1700s, this collection can help people find their ancestors and discover a place’s past, while also providing a comprehensive treasury of genealogical sources rich in unique records, local and family histories, and finding-aids.
  • Mansfield News Journal Index (ProQuest)
    • This online newspaper index not only includes articles and obituaries from the News Journal, but also companies, people, products, and more. From 2002 to the present. 
  • Newspaper Archive (Temporary remote access until December 31, 2020)
    • The largest historical newspaper online database with more than 70 million newspaper pages and more than 80,000 pages being added per day.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
    • Large scale street plans and property and land use maps of everyday life produced by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company from 1867 to 1970.  Includes more than 660,000 large-scale maps of more than 12,000 US towns and cities

Forms and Charts

Five Generation Chart

This basic “pedigree chart” is a perfect tool for recording and referencing key facts about your family tree and a great starting point. On it, you’ll document names and birth, death and marriage details for five generations of your family. Begin by filling in what you know, starting with yourself. Continue by adding your parents and grandparents. After filling in the information you know you can create a plan to find the missing information.

Family Group Sheet

Simply put, a family group sheet is a form which list a husband and wife and their children. In addition to this there is also space for birth, marriage, and death information. This is another great tool to list and entire family unit and see what information you are missing.

Research log

A research log is a comprehensive list of what you have searched and what you plan to search for an ancestor. It can tell you what you found or didn’t find, and save you time because you don’t need to search the same resource again. You can have one research log for each ancestor or a research log for each repository or website you have searched. There is not one way to do this, the most important thing is that it makes sense to you.

Good luck on your genealogical journey and if you ever need help feel free to contact the Sherman Room at 419.521.3115 or genealogy@mrcpl.org.

Or stop in and see us at the main library located at 43 West Third Street, Mansfield, Ohio 44903.

Our hours are currently Monday 10-8 and Tuesday thru Thursday 10-5.