Knowing Their Story

“Welcome, welcome emigrante, welcome, welcome to my home……” Buffy
Sainte-Marie, 1965. Earworm, me, 2023.

As a child of early and recent immigrants, I have wondered about the
welcome they received when they arrived in this country. The welcome of
the 19th century immigrants would have been very different from that of the
20th century ones.

One set of grandparents arrived separately by ship from Europe in the late
19 th century. They came before Ellis Island opened in 1892, so online
genealogy web sites are not always helpful. My grandfather’s military
service record is somewhere in the stacks of the Veterans Administration,
but I found his naturalization papers; less is available about my
grandmother and when a census revealed that she had a younger sister
and brother I was as touched as I was surprised. A visit to my oldest cousin
yielded photos of my grandparents on their wedding day, along with a third
portrait of a nicely mustachioed gentleman. He may have been the itinerant
Lutheran minister who performed the ceremony or the ceremony witness;
that information has been lost to time.

My people were not famous or wealthy, just ordinary working stiffs with
mouths to feed and bills to pay. My grandmother’s cookie cutters are what I
have to show for their passing, along with the photos. How on earth did
they find each other? Did they ever want to go back to their home
countries? Did they miss their families?

When I come up from the research rabbit hole, I must ask myself what
difference does knowing their story make? I now have a personal stake in
the history of this country and the world events that brought them here, but
what parts of their story do I carry with me? And does it matter?
There is one thing this search has given me and that is gratitude: gratitude
for the serendipity of their meeting, gratitude for my grandmother raising
her children through the Great Depression, gratitude that they had the choice to come to this country. I think I’ll focus not on the hardships and
struggles, but on their successful result, humble though it may be.

“Welcome., welcome emigrante, to the country that I love…”

~Karen Smith

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1 Response to Knowing Their Story

  1. Peggy A says:

    I know very little of my family’s history. I love that you have taken the time to explore yours. Your conclusion to focus on the gratitude part really spoke to my heart. Thank you for reminding me to focus on gratitude in all areas of my life.

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