Coming to America

The US is a nation of immigrants, and as such, many of us grew up with stories of how our ancestors came here. In what I hope can be a friendly, Friday-afternoon atmosphere, the purpose of this thread is to allow people to tell stories about how and when their ancestors came to the US.

I can trace back three stories, some sketchier than others:

Irish Story
famine My paternal grandmother’s family all Irish stock from County Cork, who’d left during the Great Famine in the 1840s and settled in Iowa. Several men out of the next generation served the Union in the Civil War, and two generations after that, twin brothers Clare and Clarence, both priests, served as chaplains for US soldiers in the Great War. One of their sisters served as a nurse in the war as well.

With the Great Depression, my grandmother’s family lost their farm (born in 1910, he was working age in the depression as well) and they drove out to Southern California where my great-grandfather was a door-to-door salesman for much of the Depression until he struck on insurance and opened the first State Farm office in San Diego.

Scotch-English Story
My Scottish and English ancestors (from whom I get my last name) were a fairly disreputable lot, and thus hard to trace. There were in the US by the Civil War, when several fought for the South. By the 30s they’d made their way to Southern California. The best story I know is from the height of the Great Depression when my great-grandfather (“Pappy” Hodge) was riding home one day on horseback, when someone offered to buy his pants for a dollar. Always a man for quick bargain, Pappy sold them and rode home (another dozen miles) with a bare bottom — thus rendering himself unable to sit for a week.

Mexican Story
My mother’s whole side of the family is of Mexican extraction, and so far as I know they all came into the US in the late 1800s. Both sides of the family lived in New Mexico near Silver City until the Depression.

The main story I know regards an ancestor who was an officer in the Mexican Army. I remember as a child being shown a treasured picture of him posing in an ornate uniform circa 1870 or so. However, he found himself on the wrong side of one of Mexico’s periods of political turmoil, and had to high tail it across the border into the US. There he found work with the rail road as a laborer. One day, he was assigned to substitute for the record keeper of his work gang, who was sick. He got a piece of paper, wrote out a list of all the men’s names, and started writing down start times. The supervisor was so impressed that he could write (the usual record keeper kept a complicated tally with a grid drawn in the dirt and little stones for each man’s hours) that he was given the job permanently.

20 Responses to Coming to America

  1. Blackadder says:

    I actually don’t know much about my family history back before a couple of generations. We were Irish settlers in Oklahoma but we were protestants, which was unusual. My great-gandfather was a professional gambler, and almost got killed a couple of times on account of a card game gone bad.

  2. Julie says:

    I was wondering – do you know why your Irish ancestors went to Iowa? I have Irish ancestors who went to Ohio and then settled in southeast Iowa (where I live). I am curious as to why they went to Iowa. Thanks!

  3. jonathanjones02 says:

    Syrian and Irish/Welsh here!

  4. I was wondering – do you know why your Irish ancestors went to Iowa?

    No idea, I’m afraid. Though I gather that the town they lived in was pretty heavily Irish Catholic, so it may just have been looking for a familiar culture.

  5. Foxfier says:

    Hehe, the shortest one I have is my dad’s mom’s family.

    Great-Grandfather Ivie’s family got kicked off the land they’d been working as far back as records go because sheep were worth more, so they scraped up a few hundred dollars and he and his oldest brother, plus a friend named John, came to the USA– through San Fran, I believe. (Had to have $100 in your hand to walk through the gate for immigration.)

    They worked hard, got enough money to bring the rest of the family over and buy a lot of sheep. (although apparently they did walk down the fence and pass the money back through a few times to get everyone through. ;^p)

    Ivie married a very socially conscious lady, ended up owning a large chunk of Modoc county CA, and funded an “Indian School” while raising three lovely girls, all of whom went to college. (My grandma did so at 16– and MAN did that piss off my feminist history professor when I brought it up.) When Ivie died, he gave the majority of his land to the state, because he thought it was very important that EVERYONE have some ownership of land, and that was the only way he knew. (If you’ve been to the Smithsonian and seen the meteor that’s about hip-tall and is out for folks to touch, from Modoc County, that’s from one of the areas he donated– one of his sheep watchers found it)

    The friend John also got rich, then sold his share of the sheep business to the family and went back to Scotland– he wanted to own a pub. That would’ve been about the turn of the century, since it was before my grandma’s sisters were born.

    About 1990, a guy in a suit comes and knocks on my Grandma’s door and introduces himself– it’s John from Scotland, who had heard his dad’s stories all his life, had (of course) managed his money well, and wanted to meet the closest thing his dad had to family. ^.^ Awesome dude, too.

  6. I love to hear these stories. Yours and mine have a few similarities. I am part Irish/Scottish on my Dad’s side and I now live in Silver City, NM – – where part of your family started! My family came over in the early 1900’s and settled in the New York area. –

  7. Patrick Duffy says:

    On my father’s side, we’re all from dear old Ireland, Charlestown, County Mayo. My great grandfather left in black 47, a year after the town was started. When I was visiting Charlestown two years ago, the church had a cornerstone from the previous church embedded in the wall, one that my great grandfather would have seen before he left.
    He went to Indianapolis and became a vegetable farmer, later buying a boarding house in town. My grandfather came to Oregon, living about two blocks from the business I bought back in the ’80s. He started working as a grocery clerk and then became a bookkeeper for a lumber company. Eventually, he rose to president of the company. My father and his brother both became lawyers. Their sister married well, but died of cancer in the ’50s.
    I actually know more of my mother’s family, where I can trace ancestry back to the 1600’s. While most of her family is also Irish, she had a Dutch great grandmother and an Alsatian great-great grandmother, who met her Irish great-great grandfather while they were both on the boat coming to America. They settled in Latrobe PA and raised an enormous family Irish Catholic family, which also produced a similar sized family in the next generation. My great grandfather came to Portland to run the Union Pacific Railroad in the northwest, in the days when the Union Pacific was fighting the Northern Pacific for control of transportation in the west. We’ve been here ever since. It’s a bit unusual, though, that both my mother’s family and my father’s were Irish Catholic Republicans, an unusual combination, especially in the days of the Great Depression. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a State Senator and he would never say the words “Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

  8. Dminor says:

    The furthest relative I can trace is on my father’s side: John Crouch Sr. His son Jesse built a cabin which stood on family property in east Tennessee until about 1990, when it was restored. I can remember visiting my great-grandfather on the property, where, in his retirement, he grew tobacco. The property remains in the family to this day. Between Jesse and myself, there were a number of Baptist preachers. I wonder what they would say to my Catholicism . . . .

  9. Joe Hargrave says:

    I’m fairly certain my mother’s side has been Maronite Catholic for as long as there have been Maronite Catholics in Lebanon. My great-grandparents came here in the 1910s.

    On my father’s side, I know there was an officer in the Civil War who fought for the Union, even though he was from Texas. I’ve always been proud of that fact 🙂

    I always found it fascinating that there is a historical possibility my Anglo and Lebanese ancestors could have met through the Crusades.

  10. Dale Price says:


    On my father’s side, I know there was an officer in the Civil War who fought for the Union, even though he was from Texas. I’ve always been proud of that fact.”

    And well you should! 😉

    More seriously, there’s a great book about the large number of southern whites (as opposed to the obviously huge number of freed slaves and freedmen) who fought for the Union, “Lincoln’s Loyalists.”

    The surprising fact: Every seceding state except South Carolina raised at least one regiment that fought for the Union, Tennessee raising the most. In fact, one entire Tennessee cavalry regiment–to a man–went over to the Union during one of the early skirmishes in the war.

    I imagine that was rather disconcerting for the Confederate commander.

  11. Dale Price says:

    Oh, and on topic: My father’s side: hardscrabble English from Kent and south Welsh stock. Before Grandma Price passed, one of her sisters said they had second cousins still living in the vicinity of Canterbury. Not that they’d loan me money, so that’s that.

    Mom’s side has the same English/Welsh mix, along with Dane/Scot on her father’s side and Bavarian on her mother’s. The furthest anyone’s traced back is also on my mom’s side, to 17th Century Bavaria, a Protestant named Johann Garr eager to emigrate. It’s through Mom’s side we also claim descent from Daniel Boone through one of his daughters, though that’s a little murkier and might be Kentucky braggadocio.

    My kids have even more diversity, catching Irishness, and more direct Scottish and German (Alsatian) links.

    How we got “here” is always fascinating to ponder. Reminds me of the old Norman Rockwell “family tree” picture.

  12. Gabriel Austin says:

    “The US is a nation of immigrants…”

    And of natives, though we treat them badly.

  13. I don’t have much information on my mother’s side of the family — Vanderbilt, Dutch-Reformed, but no relation to the distinguished family. Both of my grandparents were Protestant missionaries: the Vanderbilts to Japan; the Blossers to China, then Japan when expelled by the Communists. (Grandma Vanderbilt’s father, Cornelius Kuipers, also served as a pastor to the Zuni Indians).
    My father took time to trace back the Blosser family line. Swiss-German Mennonites who can boast a number of ministers and at least 3 “bishops”. A compilation of our history was made here. We can trace our family back to Peter Blosser (Blaser, Bläser, Blasser — “a Mennonite family name found in Switzerland as early as 1710”); immigrated to America in 1739.

    Peter’s son, Peter Jr., was married at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. He moved to Virginia in 1776 and had a difficult time making a living, on account of having to hide, avoiding service in the military due to his religious convictions.

    We are descendants of his son, Jonas Blosser (1791-?). It was reported that Jonas “once got a laceration over a foot-long in his thigh and sat down and sewed it up himself”, and that a son, Abraham, was something of a speed demon in his horse-draw buggy, taking off at a furious gallop after church.

    Our particular line settled in Harrison, VA, then Concord, Tennessee and finally in Iowa in 1906. Many of them were farmers — one died gored by a bull; another drowned in a pond. Miracle that we’re still here. =)

    My grandfather’s maternal grandmother, Catherine (“Kate”) Shank 1855-1932 (A7), was born extremely prematurely and was so small that “a half dollar was large enough to hide her face,” “a kernel of corn would cover her hand,” she would have fit “in a quart cup and covered with a hand,” she “was fed with a medicine dropper, and was carried about on a pillow wrapped in a blanket until she was six months old,” and was kept warm “in the kitchen by the oven”; “but in spite of her smallness at birth she lived to have fifteen children”, and outlived her first husband by 28 years.

    My father was the first Catholic of the Blosser family that I know of — followed by myself and two of my brothers.

  14. cminor says:

    Interesting bit of Civil War (or preferred Southern equivalent) history, Joe and Dale.

    Though I can’t cite all the facts of the matter, I’m told my paternal grandfather’s family had a genu-wine Confederate deserter who was hanged for his dereliction.

    He was a small farmer who decided his field and family needed tending more than the looming disaster that was the Noble Cause.

    D neglected to mention it above, but it is rumored that he had an ancestor who actually was hanged for horse thieving! (I’ll keep him anyway.)

  15. Donald R. McClarey says:

    On my father’s side the family has been here since before the Revolution, except for the Cherokees who have been here since humans first came to this country. My mother’s side is pure Irish with her grandfather emigrating to Canada in the nineteenth century steerage class. He was a tough old bird who regarded both kneelers and pews as Protestant innovations. As a very old man he would take my mom to Mass and stand throughout the Mass in the back of the Church except when he was kneeling on the stone floor.

  16. Foxfier says:

    Gabriel Austin-

    My Indian ancestors were immigrants, too.

    Earlier waves, but still immigrants.

    There’s a great deal of interesting research out there about the various waves of immigration that passed through, usually detectable by folks being killed by weapons different from what they had. -.- Sometimes humans suck.

  17. Suz says:

    In the early 1900s my paternal grandfather emigrated from Syria as a teenager, alone, to an upstate NY community fairly well-stocked with Christian Syrians and Lebanese. About all I know of his pre-American life was that he had a white horse. Here, he worked as a sandblaster and janitor. My paternal grandmother was also Syrian, adopted, family unknown. Her work ethic, respect for education, and adoring zeal ensured that all four daughters (!) and of course my dad went to college. They all worked to pay for each other’s tuition. I have a photograph of my dad as a boy, surrounded by sharecroppers with huge bottles of beer.
    On my mother’s side, there is a combination of a whiff of French (Canadian & Catholic), some German (Lutheran), some Isle of Man, and two big helpings of Scots. One member of the family put together a thorough genealogy, now lost, tracing us back to William the Conqueror through the Argyll Campbells. Still have the paperwork for the discharge from the Union Army of a Campbell forebear, but beyond that, no clue as to how early we entered into American history.
    Curious tales from the maternal side of the family include a young female relative pushed off a bridge in the dead of night by the mob because she “knew too much” (the murderers left the Boston terrier she was walking tied to the railing, unharmed), and another female relative who went west during a Gold Rush and shot a mountain lion who tried to attack her while she was hanging out laundry.
    Like Joe Hargraves, I wonder sometimes if my ancestors crossed paths during the Crusades. My father is certain his family has been Christian since St. Paul arrived to convert them.

  18. Phillip says:

    Three of my four grandparents came from Mexico during the early twentieth century. My fourth (maternal grandmother) was from San Antonio. Her family there from the days when Texas belonged to Spain. She used to say, “Yo no soy Mexicana, yo soy Texana.”

  19. Joe Hargrave says:


    It might be. I was reading just the other day that 1-2% of Lebanese Christians have Western European genes, speculated to have been passed down by Crusaders.

    Moreover, my great-grandfather (from Lebanon) and great-uncle had light brown hair. As far as I know my family lived in the mountains of Lebanon since the days of the Phonecians. I could have some of that Crusader blood.

    And there’s even a possibility that this Crusader ancestor was also an ancestor on my father’s side, a common point in two family trees a world apart.

  20. Julie says:

    DarwinCatholic: Thank you.

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