Where your Ancestors came from

Do you ever wonder who you are? What makes you different from your friends and co-workers? The answer lies in your origin or as one genealogist cleverly describes as your "link to the past." Your ancestors' genes are alive in your body. True, no one person from the past is responsible for you. Only a tiny part of each past direct relative has gone into making you the very special person you are.

To learn more about yourself, it's vital to have a basic understanding of the past. For example, why have generations of families lived in a certain city or state, province or territory? Was this their first home in the New World? Why did they leave their native land in the first place?

Perhaps the reason your ancestors left their homeland was economic in nature. Searching for a better life, many people left for the New World where the "streets were paved with gold." Others left literally for "greener pastures" where they could begin farming this new fertile land. Some were forced to leave their homes because they had been convicted of petty crimes. This was especially true in Australia which was actually first established as an English penal colony. Still others left for religious or personal freedom. In the New World they would be free to worship as they pleased. That spirit endures today as we have the freedom to choose our religion, our profession ... our very way of life.

Reaching the New World's shores was a long and perilous task. Conditions on most ships were incredibly bad. So bad, in fact, that many immigrants lost their lives during the long passage. For example, the schooner Leibnitz left Hamburg on November 2, 1867, and did not arrive in New York until January 11, 1868. From its original passenger list of 544, only 436 reached New York. 108 perished during the voyage and were buried at sea.

When our ancestors left their native land, they often settled into an area where others from their country had also relocated. As an example, over one-third of Pennsylvania was settled by Germans by 1776. Today, when a German makes his first trip across the Atlantic, he can go into almost any large city between southern Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes and feel right at home. He'll see people with similar physical characteristics and be able to relax in a German "Biergarten." Undoubtedly he'll meet other individuals who may share his surname and many who can converse with him in his native tongue.

The great New World "melting pot" is primarily made up of descendants of emigrants from the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. When arriving on our shores, our ancestors brought with them their national foods, their cultures, their religious beliefs, and yes, even national prejudices. We can find many Old World customs still maintained today, especially in the ethnic neighborhoods of our large cities.

Every ethnic group has been both superior and inferior at one time or another. In the history of civilization, power has passed from the elitists to the ostracized almost overnight. But even the most clannish of immigrants sooner or later had to mingle with their neighbors if for no other reason than to assimilate themselves in the New World -- to learn the language, to send their children to school, and to work at their trade.

Our ancestors brought their courage, their talent, and their potential to the New World. Regardless of the reason they chose to leave their homeland, they shared a common dream with every emigrant -- a dream of a new and better life in the New World.