I recently listened to a lecture by Julie Miller on the wonders of “Emigrant Guides” as tools to add color, context and narrative to an ancestor’s experiences. She shares that they are not necessarily the best tools to use to pinpoint dates, locations, or relationships for your ancestor. However, they are excellent if you would like to know what their world was like – the customs, the transportation means, the predominant culture and social lifestyle.
All of this leads me to the point of today’s post. Miller uses the word “emigrant.” So, what’s the difference between “emigrant” and “immigrant?”
The Meaning of “Emigrant”
Emigrant means to leave one country or region to live in another. The perspective of the person describing the migrant is that of the port of departing. The migrant is leaving. Hence the use in Miller’s discussed “Emigrant Guides.” These are guides designed to provide helpful information to someone who may be new to a country or region. My ancestors were emigrants both from “the old country,” specifically Germany, Bohemia/Austria, and Ireland to America. Additionally, they were emigrants from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri and New York to Kansas. They left one country or region for another. Emigrant Guides to America or Kansas were probably very helpful.
Another wealth of emigrant records I’ve mentioned in this forum are those compiled by Peter Coldham Wilson on emigrants, who were either indentured or transported as convicts to America from England. Wilson is compiling the abstracts and indexes based on British Public Office Records, which would naturally have the perspective of persons, who left England. The books are understandably titled, “The Complete Book of Emigrants.”
The Meaning of “Immigrant”
Immigrant on the other hand is coming to a country of which one is not native, usually for permanent residence. Ah ha! This is the conventional understanding of an immigrant – one who comes (not departs) to a new country. Witness the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free…” The immigrants are coming to America from destinations far and wide to make permanent settlement. As a result we have a wealth of immigrant records such as passenger manifests, naturalization records, Oaths of Allegiance, and passport records. The big distinction here is that the person is coming to a different country. That’s what constitutes an “immigrant.”
Whether your ancestors are emigrants, immigrants or both, I’m certain they have an interesting story to tell – well worth the time to find the records and now better understand what the records are telling you.