Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Immigration: The Greatest Genealogical Challenge, Part Two: Understanding the Objective


  • Photograph shows five women immigrants sitting on dock at Ellis Island. 
  • Bain, George Grantham, 1865-1944, photographer

  • For about three and half years, I worked on a Federal District Court attorney panel representing the "witnesses" in illegal alien "undocumented immigrant" cases. Over the years I was working for the District Court, I probably represented somewhere near a thousand people. I did not represent the immigrants individually. I was appointed to represent each group of immigrants that were "arrested" detained at the same time. The idea was that the "witnesses" had to remain in jail until the case against the smuggler or "coyote" was settled or went to trial. My representation consisted mainly of explaining to the immigrants why they were being kept in jail without any specific release date. I also interviewed them to see if they really had any useful information. This experience gave me a somewhat unique viewpoint about how the immigration laws worked in the United States. My frustration level was quite high because there was so little I could do for these poor people. 
Perhaps It helps to understand that at the time, I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. Not the Scottsdale of resorts and high-priced stores, but the Scottsdale next to the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community. Across our back fence, was government subsidized housing. Now, it might also help to understand that I had lived for two years in Argentina and another two years in the Republic of Panama. I had also graduated with a B.A. degree in Spanish and an M.A degree in Linguistics. I was also a relatively newly graduate of the Arizona State University Law School. From that time, to the present, I have consistently been involved in speaking and teaching in Spanish. I also spent a couple of years teaching English to those who spoke Spanish. 

Let's just say that during some of the time I lived in Arizona, the politics towards immigrants were dominated by Maricopa County Sherrif Joe Arpaio. See “Joe Arpaio.” 2022. In Wikipedia. Sheriff Joe, was the Maricopa County Sheriff from 1993 to 2017. 

You might be able to understand from this description that I could have some strong feelings about immigration. I can only assume that despite the primary subject of genealogical research that some of my feelings might creep into my writing from time to time. That said, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand the immigration process and all the associated documents. 

Although there are rich and well-educated immigrants, most of them from the earliest times were ordinary people who came to America for jobs, land, or to escape war and persecution. My own ancestors came as early as 1620 from the Netherlands on the Mayflower and as recently as 1866 from Denmark. One of my great-grandfathers was an immigrant and additionally, six of the great-great-grandparents were immigrants. 

One of my first seemingly impossible immigrant issues reinforces the basic objective of immigrant research: finding the exact place of an event in the immigrant's place of origin. My Great-great grandfather Samuel Linton was from Northern Ireland. His daughter, who was born in the United States, was a genealogist. See “FamilySearch Catalog: Mary Ann Linton Morgan Documents — FamilySearch.Org.” n.d. Accessed November 26, 2022.

What happened is that his daughter recorded his birthplace in Ireland, but the name of the place did not exist. I spent about 15 years, off and on, looking at maps, searching for similar place names and generally not making any headway. This scenario is a common genealogical situation. If you happen to have an exact place, not Germany or Ireland, for your immigrant you have likely already traced his or her family in the country of origin. Finally, after years of looking, I found a marriage record where Samuel Linton had signed his name and written his birthplace.

This example summarizes the entire objective: searching for the place of origin. 

1 comment:

  1. So are you going to tell us where Samuel Linton was born? I'm on the edge of my seat ,....