Genealogy: Coming to America

Genealogy: Coming to America
Ida Mckinley: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two Weeks


Ida McKinley’s great grandparents immigrated from England, Scotland and Germany prior to the opening of Ellis Island as an immigration depot.  Ida McKinley’s great grandparents may have been processed through Castle Garden which opened as the first official immigrant processing center on August 1, 1855.  Prior to Castle Garden, the Port of New York received immigrants, beginning in 1820.  The immigrants received at Castle Garden and the Port of New York were only those going to New York.  Prior to 1890, individual states regulated immigration; the establishment of Ellis Island made immigration processing federally regulated.


In this lesson, students will learned about the history of their family as it relates to the history of the United States and the history of the world.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet and/or access to a public library.


Prior to this lesson, teachers are advised to review the sources below, especially the Internet sites.  Some of the sites are commercial in nature, but can also help students with their research.  Teachers are also advised to limit student research on the Internet to class time. This will allow the teacher to supervise students and prohibit students from unnecessarily sharing personal information on the Internet, as well as restricting all commercial endeavors.  

Begin the lesson by explaining to students that the United States is a land of immigrants and that every citizen of the nation has roots in other countries.   Archeological evidence suggests that people existed in the United States as early as 13,000 B.C.   

It is believed that Native Americans arrived in what is now known as the United States by walking across the Bering land bridge from China.  Thus, it could be argued that Native American roots trace back to China.   

The ancestry of many African Americans is easy to connect to the continent of Africa, but it is much harder to determine the actual country.  This is due to their ancestors being forced immigrants through slavery.  

Then explain to students that through genealogical research we can each trace our ancestry and find our family’s location and contributions to history.  

Direct students to begin this research by interviewing family members, especially older family members.   During these interviews students need to obtain the names of ancestors, as well as dates and locations of births, marriages, and deaths.   

African American students should also be advised to get names and dates associated with slavery and their family.  For example, who was the first family member to gain his or her freedom?  When did family members obtain freedom?  What was the name of the family who owned their ancestors?  

Native American children should be advised to obtain information tied to their tribe and Indian boarding schools.  Does the tribe keep genealogical records?  What is the history of the tribe?  When did the tribe go on a reservation?  Did the ancestors attend an Indian boarding school and if so during which dates?  Was the ancestor’s name changed in the Indian boarding school?  

Recent immigrants should be advised to study the history of their country of origin, as well as the immigrant history of that country.  What ethnicities immigrated to their country of origin?  Were there waves of immigration?  How far back can their ancestors be traced in their country of origin?  Do they still have family members in their country of origin?  

After interviewing family members, students will research their ancestry as far back as they can go.   

Once students have gone back as far as they can go, have them do further research on what was going on in their country of origin, as well as what was going on in the United States during that year.    Have students give an oral report to on the findings of their research.

Extending the Lesson:

To extend this lesson, have students create a family history book based on the findings of their research. 

Sources & Resources:

   Kolchin, Peter.  American Slavery: 1619 - 1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. 
   Franklin, John Hope and Moss, Alfred A. Jr.  From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans.  New York: Knopf, 2000. 
   Meltzer, Milton.  Slavery: A World History. New York: Da Capo Press, 1993. 
   Newman, Shirlee P.  The African Slave Trade.  New York: Franklin Watts, 2000. 
   Perry, John Curtis.  Myths & Realities of American Slavery: The True History of Slavery in America.  Shippensburg: White Mane Publishing Company, 2003. 
   Smallwook, Arwin D. and Elliot, Jeffrey.  The Atlas of African-American History and Politics: From the slave Trade to Modern Times.  New York: McGraw Hill, 1997.

    Carmack, Sharon.  Organizing Your Family History Search: Efficient & Effective Ways to Gather and Protect Your Genealogical Research.  Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 1999. 
   Carmack, Sharon Debartolo.  Your Guide to Cemetery Research.  Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.
Fleming, Ann Carter.  The Organized Family Historian:  How to File, Manage, and Protect Your Genealogical Research and Heirlooms.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003. 
   Hendrickson, Nancy.  Finding Your Roots Online.  Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2003. 
   Porter, Pamela Boyer.  Online Roots: How to discover Your Family’s History and Heritage With the Power by the Internet. New York: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003. 
   Renick, Barbara, National Genealogical Society. Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family History and Heritage.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003. 

   Bode. Janet.  New Kids in Town: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens.  New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 1991. 
   Chermayeff, Ivan, Wassserman, Fred,  and Shapiro, Mary J. (eds.) Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience.  New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1991. 
   Daniels, Roger.  Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2002. 
   Giuliani, Rudolph. I Was Dreaming to Come to America: Memories from the Ellis Island Oral History Project. New York: Puffin, 1997. 
   Levine, Ellen and Parmenter, Wayne.  If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island. New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 1994. 
   Maestro, Betsy and Ryan, Susannah.  Coming to America: The Story of Immigration.  New Yor: Scholastic Press, 1996.
Native Americans: 
   Adair, James and Braund, Kathryn E. Holland.  The History of the American Indians. 
Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005. 
   Josephy, Alvin M.  500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians.  New York: Gramercy, 2002. 
   Nies, Judith. Native American History: A Chronology of a Culture’s Vase Achievements and Their Links to World Events.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1996. 
   Pritzker, Barry M.  A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 
   Waldman, Carl and Braun, Molly.  Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes.  Checkmark Books, 1999. New York. 
Geneology (General):

  1. National Archives/Geneaology
  2. Family Search
  3. USGenWeb
  4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
  5. U.S. Immigration
  6. Immigration History Research Center
  7. Ellis Island Foundation

Genealogy (African American):

  1. History of African Americans
  2. Slave Data Collection
  3. African American Genealogy
  4. Slave Trade History

Genealogy (Native American):

Native American Indian Geneology


This lesson was written by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.