Ours is a family of immigrants


Last updated 12/11/2019 at 4:28pm | View PDF

More than 10,000 years ago, people began migrating from Eurasia to North America. Because sea levels were low, they could walk across a small landmass where the Bering Straits are today. Over millennia, their descendants spread throughout the Americas.

Much later, after Columbus, the first Europeans resettled in what is now the United States. In time, people who left foreign countries as voluntary migrants or refugees to seek a permanent home here or elsewhere became known as "immigrants."

Recently, my brother and I pored over family documents that illuminated much of our own immigration history. We learned that, in the 1720s, one branch of ancestors arrived from Germany to the American colonies. Most others emigrated from England and Germany before 1860, perhaps seeking economic opportunities or fleeing tumultuous conditions. Unfortunately, despite my brother's persistent efforts, we have little information about Dad's paternal lineage.

Our son and daughter-in-law's research echoed many findings and added details about my husband's ancestors. Big picture: Most arrived from England and Germany in New York between 1818 and 1870, including at least one who fought in the Civil War. His mom's relatives were perhaps in Connecticut by the 1770s, but with "Smiths," it's hard to be sure.

In addition to our ancestors' journeys are stories of those who arrived more recently, all of whom eventually became citizens.

Our son-in-law moved with his family from England to the Yukon Territory. He later moved to Montreal and then to Chicago in 1996 for a new job. Our daughter-in-law told us that her mom's family fled poverty in India in the late 1800s by going to Trinidad as indentured servants. Her mom arrived here in 1961 after marrying a man from Peoria.

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Our family also includes a sister-in-law who, in 1955 at age 7, came here alone from her impoverished Irish family to live with relatives who had lost a child. She missed her brothers and sisters terribly but eventually reconnected with them. Years later, her daughter married a man from Nigeria who traveled to New York City in 1982 when his father worked at the Nigerian Consulate.

Many in my family are here because our forebears made brave, perhaps desperate decisions to leave their homeland for a better life. Others, as we've seen, arrived in various circumstances. At its very core, ours is a family of immigrants, which is why I find it impossible to imagine our country without sustained robust immigration.

- Sally Hartmann of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected]


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