Coming to America!

Ellis_Island_in_1905 I’m still working on my novel set on the Oregon Trail.  This has led me to think a lot about why people choose to leave the safety of their home for a new start in an unknown land in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  My husband’s family is newer to this country than mine, and came to America for many of the same reasons my characters are embarking on the Oregon Trail.  My husband’s family came to this country from Norway, traveled through Ellis Island, and eventually settled on the fertile prairie. My family came over in the late 1600s, long before Ellis Island existed.

Which brings me back to why.  Why did my husband’s family leave Norway? Why did my family leave Scotland?  Why did anyone leave Europe for America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?


Here are the top reasons, in no particular order.

  • The promise of fertile land.  This was true for many of the pioneers, but especially true of the majority of the emigrants from northern Europe.  The Scandinavians and others like them were mostly farmers.  Settling in the Great Plains made sense, especially the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  This area was often called “New Norway” since over eighty percent of Norwegian immigration settled there.
  • Heavy promotion by emigration agents and newspapers.  These entities worked tirelessly to advertise the benefits of a new life in the United States.  The impoverished liked what they heard and took a chance on the promise of a new life.


  • Railroad and mining companies promoted the stellar employment opportunities.  Jobs in American cities also offered more work at higher wages than was available in Europe.  Are we seeing a pattern here?  Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.
  • Handbooks were published and distributed throughout Europe, praising the climate and stellar living conditions in the United States.
  • Political freedom and the opportunity to vote.  Although there wasn’t universal voting in the United States in the nineteenth century, the right to vote in many European countries was only available to an elite minority of the population.  The majority of immigrants that came to the United States were not in the upper classes.
  • Word of mouth, or rather letters sent to friends and families back home.  The sender often urged the receiver to join them in America.


So, there you have it, the top reasons for much of the immigration to the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When did your family come to America? Did they come through Ellis Island or another route?  Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible for any book in my backlist.

In the meantime, it’s back to the Oregon Trail for me.

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17 thoughts on “Coming to America!”

  1. My in-laws came over from Hungary via Germany in 1951. They were kicked out of Hungary after WW11 even though their families had lived in Hungary for over 300 years. They could only take what they could carry. Many of them buried family treasures in the hopes of going back. Some young ladies were shipped on trains to Russia to work in the mines! In Germany the German families were forced to take them in. My in-laws did come through Ellis Island. Luckily, they had family in Milwaukee who came to NY and took them to Wisconsin. My in-laws did not speak English.

    My family- my dad’s relatives came over from England and Germany. My mom’s relatives from Germany and France(via Canada).

  2. Laurie G, what a sad way for your in-laws to get to America. Wars have displaced countless people, who eventually end up here. I hope once they finally made it to Milwaukee things began looking up for them.

  3. My ancestors came here, from Scotland, in 1682 on the ship Caledonia. Cool thing is I grew up and still live in a little town called Caledonia. The mascot for the town high school is the Fighting Scots. Very appropriate. 😉

  4. I think it’s fabulous you can trace your family roots back several centuries and even mark when they came to America. My Granddaddy has done a lot of work on my father’s side of the family tree and has traced our family back to England. I’m not sure when we came to America, but I think it was much later than your. Mid-1800s maybe?

  5. My father’s side of the family left Sweden in 1868, as did the majority of the ancestors that started the town of Lindsborg KS. (It’s known as “Little Sweden USA” today.)
    That’s what started my writing career with two of my book series, Butter in the Well and Planting Dreams- why my ancestors left and what it was like for the women to homestead on the Kansas prairie. It was a tough start, but better than what they had in Sweden.

  6. Karen, I think it’s great your grandfather has been able to trace your family back to England. Discovery our ancestory is a joy, makes us feel connected to the past. Maybe that’s why we write historical fiction? Something to do with that need to connect…well, that’s my story anyway. 🙂

  7. Linda, in my research I discovered that many Scandinavians settled in the Midwest, something to do with most of them being farmers and recognizing the opportunity in the fertile soil.

  8. Great info, Renee. Indeed the land of opportunity, but so sad the native Americans had to be decimated in the process. My mother’s people came from Germany in a wave of Lutherans in the 1830’s, my father’s through Ellis Island (from Russia) at the turn of the last century. (I’ve started an ancestry search; your post reminds me to get back to it LOL.)

    As a child, oh, I loved books about the Oregon trail and pioneers. As a college student, I got to see Chimney Rock! Best wishes with your new book!

  9. I have no idea when my family came to America. This is so sad, a person should know these things.

  10. The only one I know a little about was my great grandfather on my mother’s side came over from Sicily… vaguely I remember my grandmother also telling me someone came over on the Mayflower… some of my blood came from Ireland, Germany, etc.

  11. Very interesting writers we have. My Mothers family was a wealth of information for me. The earliest was 1635, when a family of Longs finally landed on Nantucket Island. 10 kids and 1 maid. Can you imagine? The next was 1645 and two brothers, Hipsley, came from England and settled in Baltimore and one in Ohio. There is one husband and father who perished in Barbados in 1500-something. Father being a ship captain. I can’t find out what the heck they were doing in Barbados at that time. I’ve been doing research for the last over 50 years.

  12. I have no idea. I wish I did but I submit. There needs to be a history for medical purposes sometimes, but we just wing it.

  13. On my dad’s side of the family, part came over to Canada as french settlers in the 1600’s and 1700’s. The others were more recent arrivals coming to Canada from Ireland during the potato famine. On my mom’s side, they were early french trappers that came over in the 1600’s, The king of France set up A/royal bride program and sent over young women to marry and form permanent settlements. There were a native american brides on both sides early on. The families moved across the border of Quebec into Northern New York in the early 1900s. My husband’s family is english in origin. A mix of early settlers in Georgia in the 1700s on his mother’s side and a set of grandparents that immigrated to New England in the early 1900s on his dad’s side.

  14. I know that my parents and their grandparents moved to Texas from the Carolina’s.But when I had a DNA ancestory test. It showed Mostly from Europe. The earliest showed the names originated in Wells, then Ireland. Some came in the 1840s. Still don’t know where they came in. I do know their is Indian blood on both my parents sides. Wish I knew more. I hate the people were pusher out of their home country, but then when people came to America, the native Americans were pushed out of country that had ben theirs. Maxie

  15. Wish I knew more about my family’s history. All I know is I’m from many different backgrounds. I am truly a product of the American melting pot. It is interesting to know why some of the people came to the US and it is still a reason to come today. We have a great nation.

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