Immigration issues? Do you know your immigrant ancestors?

President Obama’s reminders that we are a nation of immigrants made me curious about my immigrant ancestors.

What I thought I knew

For three reasons, I relate very much to the idea that I have German ancestors to be grateful for:

  • My Merkley (Markle, Merkle, etc.) name is of German origin.
  • Merkley family reunions are the only ones I ever attended.
  • Because I have a copy of my great-great grandfather Christopher Merkley’s autobiography, I know more about him than other ancestors.

Enlightened by a fan chart

A fan chart can put your ancestors in perspective. On this chart, I colored in the birthplaces of my ancestors and saw few Germans in my line. See where my ancestors came from.

Key: Green = Germany   Blue = England   Yellow = United States/Colonies      Purple = Denmark   Brown = Canada

Note: I created a fan chart by using which took data from my pedigree in Then I colored each ancestor by the country of birth.

Remembering the immigration of my ancestors

The Canadians: My father’s family has appreciated the ease of crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Although my father lived in the United States from the time he was 13 years old, he remained a Canadian citizen. Married to an American, he was only troubled by his “alien” status when it came to voting day. He would say to my mother, “Helen, go vote for us.”

The Germans: My Merkley ancestors left Germany many years ago, seeking religious freedom. In the Revolutionary War they were loyal to the British. After the war, one Merkley described how his family and other Loyalists evacuated. They left in a boat up the St. Lawrence River, and each family got off at their assigned plot of Canadian ground. Years later, the Canadian-born Christopher had no trouble coming back to the United States to join with members of a new religion. To avoid persecution, he then followed his Latter-day Saint leaders west to what was then the wilderness of Utah.

The Danes: I have Danish ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s side. My mother had the sapphire blue eyes (but never the silver hair) of her mother and her mother’s many adored sisters. The children of English and Danish immigrants, the Newton sisters lived in Ogden, Utah, a life rich in the joy of close and extended family relations, if not in the wealth of the world.

I once visited what had been the farm of my father’s great grandfather Babcock in Spanish Fork, Utah. George Babcock (descended from early American colonists) at the age of about 65, married a much younger Anna Cathrine Jorgensen, a Danish immigrant with 4 children. Together they had 5 children, the last one born about 4 months after his father died.

The English: My great Grandma “B” (for Babcock – one of two great grandmothers that I knew personally) emigrated from England and married the son of the Babcock/Jorgensen marriage noted above. She kept many of her English customs. She had beautiful tea cups and a lace table cloth, and late in life still liked the freshness of a chicken she would pluck and cook herself. Her father could not adjust to the wilder west of Utah, and went back to England, leaving his wife and children who chose to stay behind.

Some learnings:

  • Very little of me is German. A lot of me is English. Some of me is Danish A good part of me came from early American colonists. My father loved Canada and the United States.
  • I am the product of a mixed heritage. The heritage I have heard the most about is not a majority heritage.
  • As the Merkleys immigrated for religious and political reasons, they extended a helping hand to others.
  • My family has benefited from strong marriages involving different heritages.
  • I have much to learn about most of my immigrant ancestors. I wish I had their stories in their own voices.
  • It takes courage and determination to immigrate and settle in a new place. In the pioneering days most of the challenges were physical. Today there are many legal challenges.
  • My family and my country have benefited from the immigration of strong people seeking to build a better life and community for their families.

Do you know your immigrant ancestors? What have they taught you?

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