Many of my ancestors came to North America with young families. That’s not unusual. Almost all immigrants were young, with the energy and drive necessary to succeed in a foreign land. And two hundred years ago it was even more mandatory to have the strength and will to pick up and travel thousands of miles to a completely unknown future.
Travel was dangerous as well – from harsh weather conditions and the potential for disease that might be spread among passengers on a crowed ship. Very often passengers perished on the trip over, the youngest being the most vulnerable. Settlement in North America really got established in the early 1600s, following a century of exploration, as people primarily from northern Europe and the British Isles sought to flee religious persecution, poverty and joblessness.
Married couples with children were among the largest group of émigrés, forced to leave homelands where work was scarce or non-existent. Their only opportunities for survival lay in the New World, where steady employment, land and freedom were the goals. There are many reasons for the mass movement of people and there are many periods during which it happened. In my family it appears economic considerations were of greatest importance. Many of my ancestors also emigrated from Britain in the early 19th century when times were tough there.
Because young families were involved to a large extent circumstances prevailed where there were siblings born on both sides of the ocean – and sometimes in the middle. I have several examples of this in my own family. The fact that families were on the move resulted in a dearth of documentation of births and deaths in many cases which makes it difficult to piece together an ancestral history.
1. Gilbert and Margaret (Maitland) Anderson (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1832. This date comes from information from census data, obituaries and published histories of the areas in which they settled. Their son, Robert Anderson, who I mentioned in my last post, was born in Glasgow, Scotland possibly while waiting for the ship to sail. Older siblings were likely born in Stirlingshire, just to northeast of the port; younger siblings were born in Canada, mainly in Lanark County but few records are preserved to confirm this. Gilbert was a weaver by trade who may have lost work due to the establishment of major printing and weaving factories in the region where he live, pushing local home-based artisans out.
2. John and Mary (Manson) Phillipo (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1836, shortly after the birth of my 2nd great-grandmother, Susan. Two older siblings had been born in England; four younger siblings were born in Brantford, Ontario. John was a farmer after he arrived in Canada. I have not yet found information about the family in England but it may be safe to say that the attraction of new opportunities to farm in the New World may have been the reason for their relocation here.
3. George and Mary (Tyler) Emerson (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1835 with my then three-year old 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth. Seven of her siblings had been born in Bottesford, Leicestershire, England. The youngest of these died crossing Atlantic. Six more siblings were born in Thorold, Ontario. Information from GENUKI about Bottesford indicated that “In the 1830s Bottesford families were encouraged to emigrate to save their being chargeable to the parish and were offered £1 plus their fare to emigrate. Village labourers had pay cuts and many local farmers agreed only to employ local men.” Part of the reason for this was likely that the parish could no longer afford to support indigent families.
4. Dr. Thomas and Ellen (Tunstall) Mayfield (3rd great-grandparents) came to US about 1811. Their two oldest children had been born in London, England; five more children were born in Baltimore, Maryland, including my 2nd great-grandmother, Hannah Tunstal. Thomas was a medical doctor, trained in England, who ended up actively supporting the Americans in War of 1812. Why he would have left a promising practice in London is still a mystery.
5. I am unsure about the family of John Conrad Miller, one of my 2nd great-grandfathers. He may have come over from Germany with parents and siblings but I have no information on passenger lists or familial relationships.
There were certainly immigrants in other family lines however they came both after the 19th century (grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, in 1907) and well before. I have not yet found definitive information that shows when the earliest arrived but it seems likely it was in the mid-1600s (George Keith, 8th great-grandfather).
A common thread among all my ancestors who immigrated to North America was that they were in search of a better life, especially for the young families they brought with them. In that, they managed to succeed for the most part, almost all prospering and becoming important members of their new communities, something they might never have achieved had they stayed in the land of their birth.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated