The Lives of Our Immigrant Ancestors

Bertha Krug with Son Paul

What was it like to come to America in the late 1800s or early 1900s? Wouldn't it have been nice if our ancestors kept detailed journals of their voyages to the United States. How did they cope with a new language? Did they get sick on the ship? How long did it take them to save up enough money to afford passage? Was a family member already in America that could help them get off to a good start in a new country? Hamilton Holt was interested in answering these questions for immigrants who did not write down their stories for themselves. In The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans As Told by Themselves (published 1906), he records the lives of many typical immigrants whose stories would have otherwise went untold. The book is available for free online thanks to the Harvard University Library. Holt's typical immigrants can help our ancestors' life stories come alive. Chapters include:

Do any of these descriptions fit your ancestors? Take a look and see if the folks Holt interviewed share anything in common with your ancestors.
One of my favorite life stories is the Italian bootblack. Raised in an orphanage in Italy, then forced to beg to collect money for a dastardly old man, he escaped a terrible life by coming to America. He left the old man's home as a child when he overheard they were going to break his legs to make him a cripple to look more pitiful on the streets resulting in larger donations as he begged. In New York he succeeded by starting a shoe-shining business.

Enjoy a fascinating read!

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