Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Immigration Dreams, Part I

I've been living in the past lately. My family's immigrant past. Passenger manifests. Naturalization cards. Census records. Marriage licenses. Following their paper trail. You can learn almost everything. Except for this one thing: What hopes carried them along? Were they pursuing some lofty ideal of freedom?

I wish I knew.

My Scottish father died eighteen years ago, so I can't ask him. Besides, he was just a little boy when his family settled in the United States in the 1920s, so he might not have known. The Kilpatricks were, as far as I can tell, a respectable working class family in Glasgow. Not oppressed, but looking for something better.

For my mother's Slovenian family, I have to go back farther. The facts seem starker. Especially for the women.

My great-grandfather, Alois Adamič, a 30-year old farmer, left Ponikve, a village in Slovenia, in 1898. He passed through Ellis Island and ended up working as a miner in Ely, a small but booming town in Minnesota's Iron Range, where he had a sister.

In 1899, a 19-year-old Slovenian girl named Jožefa Strukelj left a little village called Maćki. According to the Ellis Island ship manifest, her destination was also Ely, Minnesota, where she had a brother named Janez. In America, he was known as John Strukel. He was also a miner.

Six weeks after Jožefa arrived in Ely, she was married to my great-grandfather. A local Catholic priest performed the ceremony, two days after they got the license.

"It must have been an arranged marriage." That's what my mother said, when I presented her with this surprising fact about her grandparents.

In 1902 Alois and Jožefa (now Louis and Josephine) had their first child: Mary, my grandmother, who was baptised Maria.  She was the first of my family--on either side-- to be born in the United States.

Mary and her parents soon left Ely for another mining town, in eastern Pennsylvania, where her brother Joseph was born. Eventually, they settled for good in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the largest Slovenian community outside of Slovenia itself.

Louis and Josephine got divorced when their children were young. After that, my grandmother and her brother were "treated like bastards" in their community. At least that's what my mother was told.

The story continues here.

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