“Today, I look at the people trying to come to America. They are no different from my ancestors who came. My heart goes out to immigrants. Particularly those who don’t have much and who had to give up their cultures, their traditions, their history to come some place new to try to start a new life and create a better opportunity for their children. That is what the immigrant experience is all about. We are all immigrants.”
I don’t know when exactly my ancestors came to America. My grandparents were from here. I know that I’m mostly Swedish and Dutch. I have lost a lot of my history because my mother and grandparents are all passed. My husband and I went to the Netherlands and it was awesome to see all those tall people!
My grandfather is adopted so we don’t really know his background. I have his olive coloring, the only one in my family. It’s kind of interesting to know that I have that piece of him. He died many years before I was born. My mom was a young girl when he died. I spent much of my childhood in Oakland, Nebraska which has a large Swedish community. It was completely coincidence because my mom and dad divorced and she just moved there. Everybody in the area had a role in the big Swedish festival every year. Lots of Swedish foods and parades.
My family’s heritage goes back to 1868 on both my mother and father’s side of the family. They actually immigrated together from Schaumburg, Illinois. They ended up there because they came from Schaumburg, Germany. It was part of the state of Hessia where you had the Hessian mercenaries. So I am probably a backdoor member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, only my people were foreign mercenaries who were fighting for the British against the colonists. I have actually gone back to Germany to see where my people came from and found a relative. My people didn’t have a last name until the 1600s. They had been in this area since the Anglo-Saxon migration to the British Isles, which was prompted by Attila the Hun moving into Europe. My people have always been serfs, peasants, and that’s why they didn’t have a last name until the Seventeenth Century.
My mother’s side came in 1847 and that was in part to avoid the unrest that was building with The Revolution in 1848. One thing peasants are good at is keeping their heads down so they don’t get shot. They have a very good survival gene. We actually have a letter that was written by the pioneer patriarch from my mother’s side that he wrote to his half sister after coming to America, and he explained the reasons. It was the mandatory military conscription, it was the fact that you had to pay high taxes for the wealthy to help fund their lavish lifestyle, and it was the fact that there was no possibility of social advancement. So they wanted to go someplace where they could achieve something on their own merits. On my father’s side, they immigrated in 1867 just before another war in Germany in 1868 that led to the reunification of Germany. To avoid the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, my ancestors on my father’s side immigrated when they were in their fifties. They brought the entire clan over so they could get their eldest son away so that he would not be conscripted into the military to fight in that war. They were draft dodgers.
Today, I look at the people trying to come to America — they are no different from my ancestors who came on over the Atlantic Ocean on a boat. Had there been an Ellis Island at that point they would have gone through there. My heart goes out to immigrants. Particularly those who don’t have much and who had to give up their cultures, their traditions, their history to come some place new to try to start a new life and create a better opportunity for their children. That is what the immigrant experience is all about. We are all immigrants.
I am a lifelong Nebraskan. I will never leave. It is completely different from where my ancestors came but it doesn’t matter. This is the place where they are going to carry me out with my boots on.