When I first decided to begin researching my family tree I spent most of the first year not just learning about all the resources that were available to me at the time but also unlearning heaps of assumptions I had about emigration.
One of the first things I learned that there was a difference between immigration and emigration; immigration being the act of going to a country whereas emigration refers to exiting a country.
One of my next big surprises was when I read an article that said that one-third of immigrants to America eventually returned to their native countries. Up to then I had vaguely assumed that all immigrants had arrived via Ellis Island and promply kissed the ground of the promised land and in spite of early hardships eventually found their feet and they all lived happily ever after. How green can one be?
But this article hit a cord with me. "Immigrants Who Returned Home" by Donna Przecha This was of particular interest to me because I had even back when I had barely begun to get my feet wet so-to-speak I began to wonder if my Great Grandfather might have done just that. There were too many things about him that just didn’t add up.
For one thing in spite of many, many hours pouring over census records, vital statistics and passenger lists I could only find one actual record that proved that the guy had even existed. He did marry my Great Grandmother. Other than that it was all vague stories passed from my Grandfather to my Father. And as my Father was an expert on revisionist history none of his stories were ever taken very seriously by the family.
But two good things came to me from reading that article. I learned what I considered very interesting facts about the immigration/emigration patterns that took place in the 17th through 19th century in this country and I was able to take a bunch of highly suspect family legends and weave them together to create a fanciful history of my Great Grandfather’s life. It’s pure fiction of course and I have indicated that in the biographical notes in my family history software but it was fun making it up. I did inherit my Father’s over active imagination but like to think that I have been able to keep a firm grip on reality in spite of where my head might be at the time.
According to the information in the article I read there are many reasons why people returned home. The US didn’t start keeping records on departing passengers until 1908 and I haven’t been able to even find any official statistics. Before 1908 the records that were kept didn’t indicate the reason’s why the person was returning or whether or not the person was leaving permanently, for business or for pleasure such as a visit home or simply a vacation. They also don’t indicate if the trip is the first arrival/departure to/from the US or if the traveler made multiple trips. So even if you do suspect that an ancestor might have thrown in the towel and went home there is really no easy way to prove it other than to search through thousands of records to see if they show up again. It was just more effort that I care to put into finding him. But the question remains floating around in the back of my mind.
My purely made up out of mostly thin air hypothesis is based on the one solid fact I have. His marriage to my Great Grandmother. He was 19 years old and she was a 47 years old, and a fairly well off widow. He fathered two children by her (she already had nine by her first husband) blew all her money and then disappeared into thin air. I am conjecturing that his Daddy bought him a one way ticket over here (family legend is that he imigrated to avoid military conscription) and after Daddy died Mommy sent him a one way ticket back. This saves me from putting any more effort into researching him. Of course he could have changed or altered his name and started another life and family some place else or just disappeared for any numbered of reasons. I briefly considered time travel or being beamed down and then back up by the Starship Enterprise but even my imagination has it's limits.
If, in the future any of my descendants want to pick up on this and try to find him themselves, well I wish them the best of luck.