Tuesday, July 22, 2014
It’s Tidbit Tuesday. Elaine here with an historical tidbit that affects us all. Immigration is one of the top news topics today. Every politician calls for a so-called comprehensive immigration plan, but for some reason or other, it never gets done. Reminds me of everyone complaining about the weather, but nobody doing anything about it.
When I was researching my western historical series I found some interesting things about immigration. The ranch in my story is based loosely on the huge 101 Ranch in Kansas, but Kansas didn’t fit into my plot, so I moved north to Nebraska. My research began with a 900-page book written by the people who settled the land.
A large number of these settlers came directly from Germany. It made sense. The Germanic people weren’t that far removed from serfdom, so the opportunity to own land was a compelling dream. They had to work hard. Under the Land Act, settlers had to produce a viable farm from virgin prairie within five years to claim ownership.
Many failed and went to the cities of the east or back to their home lands, but those who toughed it out turned this country into the breadbasket it is today.
Before the mid-1800s most immigrants came from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Africa. Between 1881 and 1885, when my series is set, over a million Germans immigrated to the mid-western states. During the 1890s into the early 1900s over five million Italians and one and a half million Swedes and Norwegians immigrated. Lauraine Snelling wrote the Red River of the North series about a Norwegian family settling in North Dakota. One of the best Christian historical series written in my opinion.
Immigration law has a checkered past. Until 1875 states passed their own immigration laws. The first federal law, the Page Act, was passed mainly to restrict Asian immigration. All the laws passed afterward were used to restrict or encourage immigration from one place or the other. In spite of the lack of law, immigration was generally an orderly process with most immigrants coming through Ellis Island.
Some of the immigrants tried to stick together, like those who settled into the industrial centers, but those who prospered most quickly acclimated into American society. The mid-western settlers are proof of that. They brought their religion and customs, but sent their children to little one-room schools and joined with other farmers in church and community events. Within a generation, no one could tell where these settlers came from. Even in the larger cities, the shop keepers and craftsmen, those who dealt with society, did better than factory workers.
I’ve never studied my ancestry, but I have German roots from my father’s side and English from my mother’s side. Honestly though, I’m a mutt and proud of it.
How about you? Do you know where your ancestors came from? Where they settled?
Comment anytime this week to win The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky.