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March 18, 2011

Musings About Immigrant Ancestors on a Rainy Friday

I've always wondered why many genealogists tend to say things like
"My ancestor(s) came over to Ellis Island (insert any country/port you want) in 1911 (insert any year)" 
For many (most?) of us this isn't a correct statement! Many of us are descended from different ancestral immigrants who arrived in various ports/countries in different years and from different countries. Of course some are first generation in our country of residence and so ca  correctly make the statement. But those who are not the first generation probably cannot.

Do researchers simply pick a favourite ancestor and not bother mentioning all the other immigrants we descend from?

Or do researchers pick a time frame and a port that appeals to them, ignoring all the other arrivals?

I get the impression  that many people in America want to have an Ellis Island arrival and a Mayflower arrival. I don't  care about having an ancestor that fits into either or both of those two categories and it's always interested me that many genealogists do.

I'm not criticizing, I'm just curious. 

My earliest immigrant ancestor that I know of was Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyke, a young Dutch lad who arrived in New Netherland (present day New York) in 1634. My most recent immigrant ancestors were my maternal grandparents who left England and arrived in Quebec Canada in June 1913.  I have many other ancestors who came to N. America at different times, and from different countries.

So what do I tell other genealogists or family or friends if asked? Do I choose my favourite time/port/country? Do I choose my earliest? How about my most recent? I've learned that when asked what I consider an imprecise question such as "when did your ancestors come to this country?" I can't give a detailed precise answer. If I do,  the questioner's eyes glaze over, they fidget, and I see them rapidly losing interest.

So I simply say
"My ancestors came over at different times but my very first ancestor to arrive was in 1634
It's an imprecise response to an imprecise question and being a bit of a nit-picker it bothers me. But it's the best I can come up with.


Christie said...

One of my pet peeves as well!

DianaR said...

Interesting - I never really thought about what I say in general. Usually something like, "Oh my ancestors came from many places although I have quite a bit of German & Scottish heritage."

Depending on the exact question I might say, "Most of my ancestors weren't here until after the Civil War" (which is true of the ones I KNOW about...there is an intriguing line on my mom's side though...)

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Nolichucky Roots said...

I certainly define myself by more recent immigrant ancestry (early 20th c.) because I knew those immigrants and have a keen awareness of scope of the journey they made (far further than mere miles or kilometers) from poverty and totalitarian rule to an entirely different world.

Equally, as an American, I also define myself regionally as having southern roots. My maternal family was entrenched in the Appalachian mountains for centuries. I don't know what countries they all immigrated from, don't even know who all the immigrants were. Like Diana, I might say they were Scots-Irish, English or German if pressed.
But in terms of traditions and heritage, what they were were Southerners.