Genealogy Primer: The Importance of Understanding Immigration (Migration) Theories
Today we are beginning a short series of posts on the importance of understanding migration theories in order to create your highest quality genealogy.
We hope you will enjoy this series and please let us know of any questions or ideas you have by leaving us a comment.
“Without an appreciation of the lands and the times from which the immigrants came, the ultimate story of their experience in America cannot be understood”
John Bodnar, “The Transplanted. A History of Immigrants in Urban America”, 1985, Indiana University Press, page 1
Genealogy is full of immigrants. To me it is a huge part of what makes genealogy so intriguing and fun. Ellis Island, Castle Garden, St. Albans, Galveston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and many more locations were gateways to America for a multitude of immigrants over the decades. Sometimes our gates were wide open. Sometimes they were slammed shut. Sometimes they were open for some and shut tight for others.
In the case of my family we are more recent immigrants. My wife’s grandparents and great-grandparents all came from Italy. My grandparents and/or great grandparents came to the U.S. from Bohemia on my mother’s side and from Cornwall on my father’s. They all left their homelands in order to establish a new life here. It took my Phillipps grandfather two tries before he made it. The others were lucky and made it on their first attempt. Other family members simply stayed home and did not try this great, but highly risky, undertaking.
We have all heard the theme of our ancestors leaving their homes for ‘better lives’, etc. Bodnar, in his book referenced above, makes the case that it was capitalism that drove immigration. But why did immigrants chose to go where they went? Was it chance, the economic forces of ‘push-pull’, or was there something else at work?
I place my bet on ‘all of the above’, but mostly something else, which is chain migration. Let me explain why.
First, there is ‘chance’. I like the following quote from Tim Elrick in his 2009 doctoral dissertation at Berlin University, in which he points out this fact about migration:
“Because migration is a risky investment, it can be assumed that only risk-loving persons or persons whose costs can be considered as low will migrate without the outlook of having a supporting social network abroad.”
That said, you can see it would be highly challenging to just pick up and go someplace willy-nilly. Certainly if you had a wife and children, perhaps parents, counting on you for financial support, just taking a ‘chance’ might not be the best option. My grandfather Phillipps did this. He saved up his money, bought a passage ticket for Cornwall to British Columbia, Canada, landed there, and sought a job. No wife, no children. What he found was no future too. He hated the isolation and the work, so he worked just long enough to save up enough money to buy his passage back home. Two years later he left again, this time for California via Cleveland where another single fellow and good friend from Cornwall had settled. He made it to Cleveland, ran out of money, got a job, met my future grandmother (also from Cornwall) and never left for California after all.
Tomorrow we continue with our discussion of migration theories and their importance to high quality genealogy.
Onward To Our Past