On a Dream

Whether in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, or most other countries, each country has a story about European immigrants that began their new roots in the new land.

Before 1890, individual U.S. states handled immigration. (New York had EllisIslandOneCastle Garden.) After the Federal government took control of that process, Ellis Island became an important gateway to a new life.

From 15-year-old Irish girl Annie Moore on January 2, 1892 until 1924, the Ellis Island Immigration Center processed 12 million immigrants who serve as the foundation for over 100 million Americans today – including me – and all in the shadows of Lady Liberty’s words:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Ellis Island processed famous names as Bob Hope, Bela Lugosi, Max Factor, and Rudolph Valentino – and my paternal grandparents who passed through EllisIslandTwoits gates in 1919. While this Island of Hope served as a start for a new life for many, it was also the Island of Tears for the rejected 2% wanting to enter.

Once inside the country, many immigrants formed communities in their new world. For me, I enjoy visiting the ethnic neighborhoods (especially Italian) that remain today. Immigration dispersal is a story in itself as my city of Cincinnati has German and Irish heritage, while the roots in cross-state Cleveland are eastern European and Italian. Besides, I still don’t know the entire story of how a pocket of Italians ended in rural southeastern Ohio where I grew up.

Although Ellis Island served other purposes for its last 30 years (1924-1954), different immigration centers processed immigrants, including my mother in 1953, who (at the time) did not know English. Today, Ellis Island is a national monument serving as a national museum of immigration.

EllisIslandToday

The video below sparked this short reflection on immigration that actually deserves more than I’ve given. Not only does Peter Boyer’s music capture the feeling while celebrating of an important part of American history, the images reminded me of the stories of many that repeated across the country – including in my own family, which sought a dream in America.

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81 thoughts on “On a Dream

  1. You are so right, Frank. The path an swath of migration from different parts of the world is all around is in North America. I live near near Stratford on the Avon yet the original is thousands of miles away across the Atlantic. Here in Canada, our original Ellis Island was Saint John New Bruinswick, which seen Irish, Polish, Russian and Empire Loyalist, the later escaping the Republic Rebels. Then is was Halifax turn and more recently Montreal and Vancouver. Just as America, Canada owes much to immigration. Without it we would not have the riches of texture that we have now. I enjoyed this and will read a few times more. Thank you ever so much.

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    • Hudson,
      I never knew the Canada sight, so thanks for sharing that. I still recall my first trip to Toronto and noticing the different ethnic communities there, which was a big surprise to me (ignorantly so). Of course, the French influence in Quebec is quite profound. Many thanks for sharing the importance of immigration to Canada in that same time period!

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  2. my grandparents went through ellis island around 1910. we bought one of those bricks on which their names are inscribed. then lived in an italian neighborhood in jersey city where they met. i’m in the process of building a family tree on ancestry.com. it’s interesting.

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  3. Hi,
    A great piece of history to remember, a very interesting read and well researched, a great post.
    Just imagine all those people and each and everyone had a unique story, now passed on to the next generation who also have their own unique story. History is so very important, I feel we can learn so much from it.

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    • Mags,
      Well said. And to think that many didn’t come with much besides clothes. As I like to say about history, one can’t know where they are until they understand where they’ve been. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. I really enjoyed the video, Frank. The stories of the people who were processed through Ellis Island always captivate me. We have Angel Island in Northern California which is interesting to tour. It only processed about 1 million immigrants, but I think that’s where my grandparents came through from Scotland. I know it wasn’t Ellis Island. You’ve got me thinking. I need to call my dad! 🙂

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    • Debra,
      The video seems to have drawn you in like it did to me. Because you mentioned Northern California, the ethic communities in San Francisco have always impressed me … simply so diverse! Thanks for sharing a bit of your family history!

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  5. I have been to Ellis Island and it is wonderfully interesting. Many Finns went to New York in the early part of last century. I think there are quite a few Kolkkas from Sakkijarvi who went to USA. My grandfather came alone to Australia, and to my knowledge we are the only ones here.

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  6. Great post, Frank … we had whole villages that immigrated to US – and my grandma’s first husband too – so she divorced him in 1918, because she didn’t want to go with him – and became a single mum and in those days that was something major. Do you know that Seattle was founded by a Swedish immigrant, Nordstrom – he found gold and .. built Seattle, that later was given the name of the Indian chief Seattle.

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    • Viveka,
      Many thanks for sharing your story about immigration to the US. (For readers here, Viveka is in Sweden.) That was a bold move by your grandmother during those times! I knew Nordstrom as a department store in Seattle, but didn’t realize the name goes back to the city’s founder. My wife paternal grandfather immigrated from Sweden when he was a child. (I’m not sure from where). Thanks for commenting.

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  7. Interesting topic. I had some relatives made it through Ellis Island way back when. The question is why has modern immigration policy changed? Why is it so difficult now for people from for example ‘friendly’ nations such as Britain to get visas where as those from other countries don’t seem to have the same bureaucratic obstacles put in their path? It is a recognized problem, but no one seems to be addressing it.

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    • Fasab,
      Although I was also thinking about the current and the future while doing this post, I decided to focus on the past. However, I do want to point out an important distinction. The majority of these people were moving … establishing a new home, as opposed to just visiting. In terms of Britain, according to the link below, British are not required to get a visa as long as the visit does not exceed 90 days. http://www.immihelp.com/visa-waiver-program/. Nonetheless, you point about wondering of the history of the law is an interesting one. Thanks for stopping by.

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      • Yes, Brits can stay for 90 days and even extend that to 6 months without difficulty and that’s fine if you have a second home and just want to sit out the winter somewhere a little warmer AND you have lots of money to keep you because you aren’t allowed to work.
        The difficulty is made for people who would like some permanence in the US and who would be entrepreneurial in that they would create jobs not just for themselves but for others too, in other words they would not be a burden on society. A friend of mine has done this, but it was made unnecessarily difficult and even now with a good business employing about a dozen people there’s no guarantee he’ll be allowed to stay. That’s how it is and it’s not right. Once again where is the incentive to do the right thing when the alternative is to be an illegal and get an amnesty?

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  8. Fascinating, I love the faces. Isn’t it amazing how many people forget their roots started somewhere other than here? I know some of the history of both my biological family and my adopted family though both are muddled. My biological family, especially is muddled by several strange family stories I have never been able to untangle.

    My adoptive maternal grandparents both immigrated from Germany at young ages, my grandmother was orphaned and came when she was about 12 to live with her brother. My grandfather when he was still a teenager shortly after WWI and to avoid the rise of Nazisim and the youth corps. At least that is the story as I understand it. They met and married very quickly as my mother was born in 1920, their families had known each other in Germany. My mother grew up in Cleveland.

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    • Val,
      Fascinating is a great word that I too get from the images. That feeling of a myriad of emotions must have been something. Thanks for sharing the wonderful story about your adoptive maternal grandparents … a story that is repeated and repeated. 🙂

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  9. That is a wonderful video Frank and a very well written post to go along with it. I find it nearly impossible to look at the faces of those finally arriving at their destination and not think about the courage it took to not only relocate to a place they’ve never been before but also to make that,at the time, incredibly long ocean voyage. Truly the journey itself had to be as daunting as knowing one would not be returning anytime soon. My family, being of French/American Indian decent, came via a different route; Nova Scotia, then Quebec, then south Louisiana.

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    • Alex,
      Courage to leave what was known to a land of the unknown … simply amazing. The looks on the faces is incredible, so I glad you watched the video because it delivers a powerful story. Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey – after all, all of us have one. 🙂

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  10. Great post, Frank. Loved the photos. The wonderful richness of our country so stems from the open doors of that time period. The courage to come from across the seas and start a new life – it’s almost hard to imagine…

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  11. Lovely post that has me thinking about my own origins, Frank. My grandfather, with his three brothers, traveled from Italy to America through Ellis Island in 1909. I think he was about thirteen. From New York they eventually made their way to Chicago and in 1941, San Francisco. The entire family remains in the Bay Area until this day … except for one oddball that had to go to New York.

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  12. It is good to remember how much our nation has been shaped by immigrants and why, as a nation, we thought it important for immigrants to come here. And I wonder why, as a nation, we are afraid of immigrants now?

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    • Nancy,
      Our roots are powerful and shouldn’t be forgotten. And I agree – maybe a better understanding of one’s roots would aid in understanding to immigration today. Thanks for visiting.

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  13. Frank, this was wonderful. I’ve wanted to visit Ellis Island since it opened (well, re-opened) but haven’t been to NYC in a very long time.

    My ancestors a few generations back no doubt crossed through those doors. Only nobody would tell the next generation their story. Not a one of them. I’m therefore convinced I come from a long line of axe-murderers.

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  14. Wonderfully written post. It’s a shame that we all have these non-white immigrants now who all apparently want to commit crimes and sponge off the government rather than fulfill their dreams……………..

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  15. You always make us think Frank……My mother has researched and written two books on our various branches of the family tree and it’s so fascinating to think back about the people who worked so hard to get here, their journey’s. their struggles…..

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    • Leo,
      Glad you enjoyed the video, plus thanks for bring up the other half of the equation – emigration. After all, someone entering a new country also means they left a country, which is a worthy story in itself. Thanks for adding that piece.

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    • Tom,
      Another good view from across the pond. Besides, because you have been there, you are one up on me! Thanks for sharing … and for checking in on me … been a tad busy of late … but I’ll return.

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  16. I loved my visit to Ellis Island a few years ago, and I found it very educational. My elderly mom was with us, and she didn’t realise it was now a museum and national monument. She thought it was still in use. 🙂

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    • Paradise,
      With that visit, you are one up on me. … plus I appreciate your endorsement for visiting. On a note related to your mom’s thought, I was surprised how short its time was for being used as an immigration. Thanks for commenting.

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  17. I wish I could find which port my ancestors came through. The other problem is with all the name spellings and misspellings looking for my family tree does not go that far. Good recognition for how immigration built our great country.

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  18. I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped and wondered about the immigrant experience–or the hopes or horrors that must have inspired the drive to move–as an adult. We had to cover various articles in high school, but it was always academic, not personal. It’s awesome to be able to see it in this light. Thank you.

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    • Deborah,
      Whereas there are many who are not that removed from these people, there is also many who aren’t (which is ok) … so I’m glad this expanded your perspective. For me, it’s been interesting to see the comments from others that have similar stories in their family. Thanks for commenting.

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  19. What’s Bill Murray’s line from “Stripes”? “Our parents were kicked out of every decent country in Europe!” – or some such. (Actually, my wife’s family were kicked out of Russia into Western Europe, then booted again! 😀 )
    Just so long as your family name wasn’t Delaventuriani (or something similar) that got butchered by some clerk into “Brown”. 😉

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  20. The museum at Ellis Island is the best museum I have ever visited. Have you ever been there Frank? I tried to go there again when I was in NYC a few years ago but there was a two hour waiting line for the ferry at 9 am!

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