Immigration and Migration


This selection of resources complements Ancestry record collections and oral histories related to United States immigration. The resources help students explore the concepts of identity, membership and belonging, inclusion and exclusion, and the implications of policies and laws through the lens of immigration and migration.

They invite reflection on key questions such as how the United States has determined who may enter the nation, who is considered American, and how those decisions and definitions have impacted people and the course of American democracy. The cases also provide connections for exploring contemporary realities of immigration in the United States and how the choices and actions of immigrants have shaped ideas about freedom and democracy and influenced what it means to be American.

More resources on contemporary immigration are available on request.

Classroom Resources provided by Facing History and Ourselves


What is Migration? An Explainer

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


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.


Journey to America: What's Your Story?

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


What is a Nation?

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


The Debate in Congress

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


The “Immigration Problem”

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


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.


Teaching Current Events: Global Immigration

These teaching ideas will help students make contemporary connections to the policies, debates, and human stories of migration and immigration around the world.

Professional Learning for Educators provided by Facing History and Ourselves


Exploring Immigration: A Conversation with Journalist Sonia Nazario

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


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.
  • Angel Island Immigration Station. Historical newspaper articles about this main West Coast entry point for immigrants to the U.S.
  • Ellis Island. Historical newspaper articles about New York's famous immigration station.
  • Irish Potato Famine. Historical newspaper articles about this significant driver of immigration to the United States from Ireland.

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.
  • List a few things that you notice changing over the years? What do you think accounts for these changes?
  • Who was coming to the United States during these periods? Where were they from, and where were they headed?
  • Who were these passengers traveling with?

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?