Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Immigration Story (Part II)

Today is Part II of a three-part series on the immigration experience of my own family from Denmark in the late 1860's to early 1870's, as written by my grandfather. In yesterday's excerpt, we learned of a spinning wheel that had been passed from my great-great grandfather to my great-great uncle, which was now worn out and broken. In a sense it represented both the struggles they went through to achieve something more, and the power of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Today, we get the story of how my family was able to arrive here.

To get back to the original story that thoughts of this old spinning wheel brought back to Uncle J***, I will start with Grandpa’s arrival in the United States. He was M**** B***, born in Denmark on October 5, 1849, and he landed in Canada in 1869. After arriving in the “New World” he got a job on a boat that worked the St. Lawrence River. From that boat he transferred to a boat that sailed the Great Lakes. His primary objective at this time was to travel until he found a place where he wanted to settle or where he could find a good job. When he got to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, he found a job at the “unheard of wage”, as Uncle J*** said, of four dollars a day. This job was in an open pit copper mine.

These good wages allowed him to save money rather rapidly and it was not long until he was able to send money to Denmark to bring his brother **** to the United States. **** also worked in the copper mine until the two of them heard of good jobs being offered at the Plano Binder Company in Plano, Illinois. (The Plano Binder was a hand tie forerunner of the McCormick Reaper.) The two of them went to Plano, but by the time they arrived all of the jobs had been filled, so Grandpa went to work for a farmer by the name of J**** L*****.
The story now goes back to Denmark and to my Grandma’s side of the family. Her brother J*** A**** had come to Plano to get his start and had saved enough money to bring his sister, my grandma, and his fiancee Tante M*** to the United States. The two of them were packed and arrived at the pier to board ship to come to the United States. However, at the last minute Tante Marianna lost her nerve and did not go, but Grandma made the trip by herself. She was sixteen years of age at that time. Tante M*** did come at a later date and did marry Uncle J*** A****.

Uncle J**** said that Grandma used to tell of the first sighting of the Statue of Liberty when all of the passengers went on deck and gave a great cheer for what was to become their adopted country.

Grandma was in a new strange country and could not speak the language. After the ordeal of going through customs she was trying to think of a way to order a meal in a restaurant when the waiter told her to talk Dane because he too was Dane. He not only helped her order a meal but he wrote notes for her to use in ordering future meals and making railroad transfers and the like. One side of the note was written in Dane, the other in English.

Grandma got to Plano and expected to meet her brother, but although he had waited for her for several days he had decided that he had to go back to work. Communications did not allow them to contact each other. However, they did get together and Grandma got a job working for a family by the name of A**** D****. My dad got his name from this employer, and I in turn have that name.

Grandpa and Grandma met in Plano and were married there on February 19, 1878. They rented a farm from J*** L**** and farmed in the Plano area for the next two years. Their oldest child **** was born May 21, 1879. (**** was my Uncle J***’s father.)

So, the history of how my great-great grandfather got here is somewhat vague. What is somewhat interesting here, is that he seems to have first come to Canada, then worked along the St. Lawrence river, and probably first arrived through Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Although there were no formal restrictions or quotas on immigration until 1924, the government was trying to document new immigrants, which is ultimately why Ellis Island was founded in 1892. So even though no law prohibited my ancestors' entry to the US, one could surely doubt whether their entry was documented or controlled in the ways immigration is now regulated. I imagine there are several thousand stories like this one in nearly every US citizen's background, and the hypocricy and prejudice that dominates the debate over immigration needs to be set aside in favor of reasonable arguments about National welfare (rather than the special interest welfare of certain interest groups).

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