Category Archives: immigrants

5 Reasons Immigrants Came to America

I wrote this post two years ago on an older blog. It has received so much attention that I thought I’d post an updated (and better edited) version here. If you know something who might enjoy this, please pass it on.

Students at Ellis IslandIf you have immigrant ancestors, you’ve probably wondered why they came to America. There were many reasons, but here are a few to consider:

  1. They came to escape poverty.

Irish famine immigrantsThis was probably the BIGGEST reason. For the Irish, famine, particularly the Great Potato Famine–an Gorta Mór– in the 1840s to early 1850s, compelled people to seek their living in another place. Throughout the centuries there have been other seasons of failed crops and/or disastrous weather conditions that drove people to leave their homelands. If you know the year your ancestors left, look for what else may have happened during that time to get a better look at possible motivations.

 

  1. They came for religious freedom.

Mayflower 2

photo by Glenn Marsch

We’ve all heard that this is why the pilgrims came to America. Many of our ancestors’ narratives passed down contain this reason. But don’t forget that in centuries past the church ran the government, so in a sense they were coming for liberty. However, religious freedom is one of our rights we cherish in America. Today we refer to this as people being marginalized. When a group of people feel that they are in the minority in terms of something that is of major significance to them, they are likely to seek a more hospitable place to live.

 

 

  1. They came to avoid prosecution.

I’m sure that reason does not appear in any family Bibles, but the practice was feared enough at one time that the US government put in place stringent immigration rules in an attempt to avoid harboring all the world’s criminals. This did not appear to be a widespread problem at the turn of the 20th century, however, according to this paper. I’m sure there are some good stories out there, though, about folks who ran from the law.

Serbian Immigrants

  1. They came because a relative was already here.

Among certain immigrant groups, like the Italians, men would often come first, get a job, earn money, and then send for their wives and children. Or older children in a family would come first and prepare the way. Many Irish girls went to America and then saved money to bring their siblings over. Some immigrants had uncles waiting to help them get a good start. I’m sure many people have stories in their families about reunions at Ellis Island and other immigrant stations. At Ellis Island, in the room where folks rejoined their families, there was a pillar referred to as “The Kissing Post” because so many loved ones had been reunited there.

 

  1. They came not to stay.

photo source: Wystan

photo source: Wystan

This was particularly true of some Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. They brought no family, sent for no one, and came over just to work and save enough money to buy their own businesses or farms back in their native country. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution. They built the railroads, worked in mines, built the skyscrapers. America needed workers. These immigrants put up with squalid living conditions so that they could hoard as much as they could to send home to their families and to invest in businesses.

Immigrant tenement

Photograph taken by Jacob Riis of a five cent lodging house in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century.

This is not a story you hear very often when you look at those tenement pictures. I’m not saying everyone who came chose that kind of life, but some did. Many used the Land of Opportunity to get a better financial footing back home. However, there were some who had planned to stay temporarily but ended up never going back.

 

What stories have you heard? Why did your ancestors immigrate?

 

Books by Cindy Thomson

Writing Globally

Recently on Twitter I saw this picture:

On Twitter

American Politics Abroad

And it immediately reminded me how many people we met while in Ireland who asked about how we felt about the Clintons or about Obama or Bush. They wanted to know how Americans felt, and I quite honestly said that I didn’t feel right speaking for all Americans. Perhaps it’s the size difference in countries or how they view politics. I just didn’t understand it. So, when I saw this, I posted a response saying how I didn’t understand why other countries jump into our politics.

Maybe I should have worded it differently. Maybe it sounded snooty. I meant it literally. I didn’t say this but looking at that tweet I wondered… “their” candidate? As I said, I don’t get it. And for me, I dread the upcoming election. I’m tired of politicians and their games. Why would you want to get into this when you didn’t have to? (I know lots of people are politically active. No criticism intended.)

And then I got this:

On Twitter

 

Woo. I tried to keep the conversation going, saying, no, I am puzzled. But David, it seemed, was finished. I’d been judged.

To Whom Does a Country Belong?

To Whom Does a Country Belong? Click To Tweet

And of course, this got me thinking some more. I have never claimed to be anything but American. We know because of a current ethnic denial that the public looks down on this sort of thing, for the most part. I know I’m American. My research has shown my family has been in America long before we were even a country, about 150 years before in one line. Sometimes at book signings people ask me if I’m Irish and I reply that I have Irish roots way back.

af90c-dunluce-meme

How do you define your ethnic connection? Does it matter? Author Cindy Thomson discusses on her blog. Click To Tweet

So why write about a country that you personally are not from? Well, if I wrote about Kansas, where I was born, I wouldn’t know much about it. I only lived there the first three months of my life. I haven’t done the research. But I have researched Ireland because of my genealogy search and just because it interests me, greatly. Is that wrong? I never thought so. I still don’t. David on Twitter was just spouting off. I’ve met plenty of people from Ireland who seem to appreciate my work. My first two Irish books were published by a British publisher. They didn’t mind I was American. If you research, you can write about any country in the world, and in fact, by doing so you help enlighten the people in your own country, who will be primarily the ones who read your stuff anyway.

I have a friend who lives in Northern Ireland. Most of his writing is about Americans with Irish roots. He has traced their history here, and he knows a lot about it, more than most Americans know. He is writing often about his kin, those who left Ireland and came here, and I am doing just the opposite when I trace my line from here back there.

America is a Melting Pot That Some Want to Deny

Students at Ellis IslandA few months ago I was scolded by a Scottish man for claiming a connection to Scotland (He might have had too much whiskey because his posts consisted of scattered thoughts.) Well, it’s a historical fact that at least one of my ancestors was born in Scotland, moved to Ireland, and then on to America. I do have a Scottish connection, whether he liked it or not. (You can search for his comments here on this blog if you’re interested. I’m not going to link to it because….well, it was just silly.)

Here is where I think the misunderstanding comes from. The United States is by and large a country of immigrants. And as such, we identify with many other countries. In contrast, those whose families have lived in an area for many generations, as far back as can be remembered, identify themselves as wholly that–Irish, Scottish, French, German or wherever they’re from…and some of them have a strong dislike for Americans who seem to want to say they are one of them. They aren’t at all, in their minds. I’m all for pride in one’s heritage, but I think that’s taking it a bit too far.

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taking at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

To be fair these people who pop up on Twitter or Facebook or even this blog are few compared to those who are welcoming, helpful, and interested in the stories from Americans about those who immigrated. I’m thankful for that. It helps lead to understanding and peace, no matter their political preference.

What do you think?

Why I Chose to Write About Ellis Island

Ellis Island, Grace's PicturesYou would be surprised how many times people ask me that question. Well, maybe you aren’t surprised. Maybe you would ask it yourself because you are curious how an author decides what to write about. Fair enough. But it surprises me because…why wouldn’t I? Ellis Island is iconic. Immigrants to the island passed by The Statue of Liberty and thought about what it would mean to live in America. It’s American pride in our heritage, in the struggles our ancestors endured to come here.

I Am Not From This Tradition

So far as I have been able to research, I have no roots coming through Ellis Island. The first line in which I was able to trace an immigrant ancestor marked his immigration from Ireland as coming in 1771. Ellis Island opened in 1892. The next line I traced back to the Massachusetts Bay Company. He came over from Wales around 1640. I’ve also been told of a possible connection to the Mayflower. There are more lines to trace but it seems pretty obvious I’m not going to find an Ellis Island ancestor.

Cindy Thomson's Ellis Island Series

So this answers another question I often get. Grace and Annie and Sofia–the main characters of my books in the Ellis Island series–are not based on my ancestors. So, why write about Ellis Island? I believe those immigrants, the ones who came over during the late 19th century and early 20th century, contributed greatly to the world we live in today and I wanted to honor their sacrifices by helping people to remember.

They Built America

Serbian ImmigrantsThe railroads, the Industrial Revolution, modern roadways, the Unions, Women’s Rights, motion pictures, subways…I could go on forever but most of these things were built and created and invented by Ellis Island immigrants or by those who came in the decades right before the immigration center was built. So, they are a part of all of America, a part of the past of all of us.

New York City History

1900s ManhattanAnother answer is the fascinating history of that era in New York. It was definitely something I was interested in. The vast divide between the poor and the rich. The corruption of the police department. The fledging publishing industry. The melting pot of first and second generation immigrants. Sofia’s Tune will end this series, and I’ll feel a little sad to let it go. I’ll probably be reading other novels set in that era and continue to think about those Hawkins House girls.

Are you interested in Ellis Island? Tell me why. 🙂

C’mon People Now, Smile on Your Brother

In light of being called a bigot for writing about the Scots Irish, I decided to reflect on the attitude held by some of those whose ancestors never left the homeland toward those of us living in the immigrant melting pot called America.

Students at Ellis IslandLabeling our Ancestry

If your ancestors have lived in a country or region for hundreds of years, you might feel a sense of pride in your heritage. You might resent others who claim that heritage but who were never born in your country, but if you do, you are surely short-sighted, or at least, uninformed. America was populated for the most part by people who came from other countries. Some recently, but many from the 18th century to the massive immigration period of the 19th century. That means we have a short past on the North American continent and are likely to identify with the countries from which our ancestors came. Immigrants

Some like to call themselves Irish, English, Italian, or whatever, but what they really mean is they have roots in those countries. If they themselves were born in America, they are American. They might say they are Irish-American, African-American, or Chinese-American, but if they do, they are only referring to the land where their ancestors were born. This is not meant to defame any native born people. I wish people would not take offense. (Personally, I only say I’m American or sometimes American with Irish roots, or Scots-Irish roots, or Welsh roots, because I can positively trace my ancestors to those countries.)

What This Labeling Really Means

Irish famine immigrantsIt means we appreciate the sacrifices those ancestors made. It means we respect their decision and we understand how much they missed the land of their birth. But perhaps even more important, it means we recognize there was family left behind. Sometimes we long to reconnect what our ancestor was forced to sever, even if we can only do it in a small way.

This sums that up so well: Letter to My Irish Ancestor

What the Labeling Does NOT Mean

Flag of the 89th OVI Civil WarIt does not mean we aren’t proud to be Americans. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that. Ever. We live in the land of the home and the brave, the land so many people come to to seek freedom, the country so many people today depend upon to protect democracy or to bring humanitarian relief all over the world.

American Flag

Lee Coursey

We ARE Americans, first and foremost. But to ignore where our ancestors came from would be to ignore part of ourselves. Some do, of course. They are not interested in genealogy. But many, many others care very much.

We Are Family

Truly the entire human race is connected somewhere along the way. Who can truly say he/she is native? People have moved about since the beginning of time. Can anyone truly hold on to his/her ancestry and say it only belongs to those currently living in a particular country? I don’t think so. And if you think so, I say let’s compare DNA. Let’s start living as though we are all long-lost cousins, because in fact, we are.81fa7-congregationpast350

That’s my view.

Getting Out There to Learn About the Scots-Irish

Part Two from Finding Help With Your Scots-Irish Line originally appearing in Tracing Your Irish Roots, Moorshead Magazines Ltd., 2012 ©Cindy Thomson.

 How Ireland Can Help Researchers

Family Tree. Tracing your Scots-Irish roots.Tracing a family line back as far as the 17th century might seem daunting, but records do exist. And where better to get help and learn about this group’s culture than a society established for that purpose?

A special school for genealogists researching Northern Ireland roots is offered in conjunction with several Northern Ireland agencies, such as the Ulster Historical Foundation; the University of Ulster; Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone; and local historical societies. Past participants came from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, The Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland, to enjoy a holiday researching with the help of local experts. Billed as “An Activity Holiday with a Difference”, the program stretches over a week and involves local history lectures, research visits to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, and visits to historical sites. It is these visits to important sites within the homeland of our ancestors that help make this school intriguing to many, but the value of having access to local historians and genealogists should not be underestimated.

Previous students have enjoyed touring Belfast City Hall and Parliament Buildings. They

Tracing Your Scots-Irish Roots, Cindy Thomson

Ulster American Folk Park

also visited historical locations in the countryside, such as Sentry Hill House, and the Ulster American Folk Park and Centre for Migration Studies at Omagh. The Duke of Abercorn gave a personal tour of his home at Barons Court.

[Since this article appeared, I’m not sure the school is still running. But for research assistance options, check this site.]

One benefit is that because this effort is being supported by the University of Ulster, registrants will have access to that university’s library and electronic resources for genealogy research.

Short of making the trip, there are some materials available that can aid your research. Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors by William Roulston, published by the Ulster Historical Foundation, 2005, is said to be the first comprehensive guide for family historians searching for ancestors in 17th and 18th century Ulster.Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors

The society also offers two pocket histories/fold out maps entitled “The Scots in Ulster Surname Map and Pocket History” and “The Plantation of Ulster: The story of the Scots, 1610-1630.” You can order these for only the cost of postage and handling through these links: Surname Map    Plantation of Ulster

An online resource worth plugging your surname into is the Scots in Ulster. I found several hits for Thomson in this database, which could provide some clues for own research.

Closer to Home

In America, researchers should not overlook local organizations where help may be found, such as The Ulster-Scots Society of America, whose stated purpose reads: “The Ulster-Scots Society of America is primarily an educational and social organization committed to the promotion of the Ulster-Scots history and heritage, especially as it pertains to the nearly quarter of a million immigrants who left the north of Ireland (Ulster) during the 18th century and settled in America (often referred to as: The Great Migration).”

The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America is another group to check into. From their website: “The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America was founded to promote and preserve Scotch-Irish history and culture of America’s Scotch-Irish heritage and to keep alive the esprit de corps of the Scotch-Irish people. Membership in the Society is available to United States citizens, and to legal permanent residents of the United States, who are of Scotch-Irish descent.” The Center publishes issues of the Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies.

[I had more links in the article, but since links are hard to keep up to date, I won’t repeat them all here. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments. And by the way, did anyone else find it amusing that the Scotch-Irish Society used French to describe themselves, or is it just me?]

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taken at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

These are just some of the resources available, but by consulting those who have gathered together to promote research and understanding of the Scots-Irish people, you will find like-minded people who can help you along your research journey.

Scots-Irish?

This article first appeared in Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 2012, Moorshead Magazines Ltd. ©Cindy Thomson

In genealogy research, as in most things in life, it’s helpful to have a guide. That is what magazines such as this one seek to accomplish. But when it comes to real hands-on research, there is no substitute for real, live contacts who have made this work their main occupation. So, if you are among the 22 million Americans, or several million Canadians, who have family lines labeled Ulster-Scot or Scots-Irish, go where the records and events exist.

Who Were the Scots-Irish?

Learning about the Scots-Irish with author Cindy ThomsonThese ancestors were Irish, but they were Scottish as well, and perhaps, even English. They are identified as an ethnic group coming from the English-Scottish border to Northern Ireland (Ulster) in the early 17th century.

In the 18th century, many of these people came to America because of economic or religious reasons. To understand this migration, you have to go back to the 17th century, when Scottish and English land-grant owners sought tenants to populate the northern region of Ireland and drive out the native Catholics. The Lowland Scots fit the bill. They were Protestant, mainly Presbyterian, and they spoke English. The down-trodden Lowlanders had suffered endless cattle raid, had, themselves, resorted to such raids because of their poverty, and had lived on infertile, over-farmed land for centuries. The prospect of large, bountiful tenant farms in Ireland, a short jaunt across the Irish Sea, was more than appealing. But as the decades passed, the transplanted Scots because known as dissenters. They did not vow allegiance to the Church of England, detesting tithing to a church they didn’t support, and were governed by the Penal Laws, which oppressed them as well as the Catholics. The British government gave these statues the title: “Law in Ireland for the Suppression of Popery”, but they were commonly known as the Penal Laws and prevented dissenters from voting, bearing arms or serving in the military. Dissenters could not be married, baptized or buried with the assistance of any minister who was not ordained by the official church of the state; thus, their own church sanctions were invalid and illegal.

Inch Abbey. Learn about the Scots Irish with author Cindy Thomson

Inch Abbey, Downpatrick, County Down

Even so, by the time many of these people came to North America in the 18th century, some of the restrictive laws had loosened. The damage had been done, however, and the dissenters were bitter. To further aggravate the situation, when rents came due on many of the farms they lived on, the cost doubled, or more, in a practice called rack-renting. Those who worked in the linen industry also suffered at this time, because the Crown had begun to prevent the Irish from exporting their product anywhere but to England.

Family members who had already ventured to the New World sent back glowing reports about the ample, fertile land. Ship owners dispatched men to Ireland’s countryside peasants to extol the benefits of emigration. While some departed seeking adventure, most Ulster men and women did not want to leave Ireland, but their backs were against the wall. Ireland held no opportunities for these families.

When Did They Come?

Antrim Coast. Scots-Irish with Author Cindy Thomson

Antrim Coast

There were five time periods when the Scots-Irish emigrated in large numbers: 1717-18, when a destructive drought killed crops, the linen industry was crippled and rack-renting prevailed; 1725-29, when continued rack-renting and poverty prompted such a massive departure that even the English Parliament because concerned it might lose the Protestant majority in the area; 1740-41, when a famine struck and letters from relatives living in America were persuasive; 1754-55, the time of a disastrous drought; and 1771-75, when leases on the large estate of the Marquis of Donegal in County Antrim expired and the tenants could not afford to renew them. Years when economic pressures in Ireland were the greatest was when large exoduses occurred. The numbers dropped during the years of the French and Indian Wars (1754-63) and came to a crashing halt at the onset of the American Revolution. The Scots-Irish of the 18th century considered themselves Irish. Many came from families who had lived in Ireland for 150 years. It wasn’t until the Irish immigrants of the 1845-49 potato famine era arrived, that this group began distinguishing themselves as Scots-Irish. Today, the distinction helps researchers identify the group.

Where Did They Settle?

The early Scots-Irish pioneers to America settled in the western part of Pennsylvania where they found the Quakers more to their liking than the Catholics in Maryland or the Anglicans in Virginia. By 1730, the Scots-Irish had made their way into the lush Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the most western region of the British Colonies. The Scots-Irish, serving as a buffer against the Indians, enjoyed religious freedom because they were virtually ignored by the tidewater Virginians. A large number settled in the area covered today by Augusta and Rockbridge counties.

Always on the move, the Scots-Irish populated the Piedmont country of the Carolinas in the mid-18th century. Many of these settlers were new arrivals from Ulster who found Pennsylvania and Virginia too crowded for their liking and moved southward. Some were previous immigrants, pulling up roots for the second, third or even fourth time.

After the war with England ended in 1783, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which had declared lands west of the mountains off-limits to white settlers, was ignored. The restless Scots-Irish led the way behind such trailblazers as Daniel Boone.

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the article and learn where to find out more about this immigrant group.

Stepping Into the Past

Deadman's Curve NYC, www.cindyswriting.comHow to Go Back in Time

How many of us have remarked that we wished for a time machine. We have to see and experience things ourselves to truly understand them. But since that’s not possible, we can do the next best thing (something I always try to do when writing historical fiction) and read the words and thoughts of those who lived before us. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

Read Their Words

ThomsonFamilyBook

Thomson Family Book

There is nothing like a diary or journal to get into the mindset of the people of the past. Did you know John Adams kept a diary? Here is a fascinating list of online historical diaries. There are slave narratives (audio believe it or not) on the National Archives web site.

You can find more at local historical societies and libraries. Sometimes they are hard to read but worth the effort. My husband found a hand-written genealogy written in 1888 by one of his relatives. It’s not just a genealogy, though. It has memories and stories that relatives told as well, including one man who was a chaplain in the Union army and accompanied the troops on Sherman’s march to the sea. It has remembrances about how one man’s mother was distressed when he joined a different church until a pastor set the mother straight, and even one interesting story about a trip to a fortune teller.

Live in Their Society

Nothing beats contemporary newspapers for learning about the world our ancestors lived in. Of course you can look for names and dates, but to get a feel for how they lived their lives and what events influenced them, read newspapers and magazines. The magazines often contained serial fiction that later was put into books that you’ve probably heard of. In my novel Annie’s Stories I talk about Harper’s doing this, and you can even read some issues online here. For historical newspapers look here.

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island, www.cindyswriting.comLook at Photographs

There are many sites where you can find old photographs, and just doing a Google search will bring up many. If you’ve ever seen photographs of immigrants at Ellis Island, you’ve probably seen Augustus Sherman’s photographs. He makes a cameo appearance in my novel Grace’s Pictures. I love to study the expressions, but you can also learn a lot from the clothing (were they rich or poor?) and even from the setting (in a studio, at home, outside?) Those Ellis Island photographs often depict people in their native garb, something they may have quickly discarded once they stepped foot in Battery Park when relatives met them with more American clothing (so they wouldn’t stand out.)

Dutch Immigrant at Ellis Island

These are just a few things that help me go back in time. What other ideas do you have?

Living in a Land of Immigrants

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Scottish immigrants at Ellis Island

The Melting Pot

Once when I was at a bed and breakfast in Ireland sitting at a table with folks from other countries, a German photographer noted that while both America and Canada are populated by immigrants, America is different. He didn’t quite say what he meant by that because the conversation drifted to 9-11 and Obama and other subjects that non Americans seem to want to hear about from Americans. While I didn’t ponder further at the time about why Canadians and Americans are different (I’ve met many Canadians and don’t consider them THAT different from me, eh?) I did think about living in a land of immigrants. I wonder if that’s why genealogy is such a popular hobby. Everyone seems to want to get back to their “immigrant ancestor”–the one who came over.

How Did We End up in America?

Well, I was born here, but only because my ancestors came over. There is some rumor about a bit of Cherokee blood, but mostly I believe I’m of Celtic descent. Really must do a DNA test sometime. Have you done one? (Please share in the comments.)

There are several reasons our ancestors might have come over, not to mention the different time periods when North America saw waves of immigrants. I’ve written a lot about Ellis Island immigrants because of the setting of my latest novels. My ancestors, however, came over earlier. One branch came from Ireland right before the Revolutionary War. There were several periods of Scots-Irish immigration in the 18th century. I wrote about that here. Of course many people can trace their Irish ancestors to the middle of the 19th century and the Potato Famine. I recently found another branch on my tree that came over

Immigrants--author Cindy Thomson

Irish famine cottage eviction

much, much earlier, in the 1680’s from Wales. Once you know when your ancestors came over, you can probably determine why just by looking at history. They didn’t come over on a fluke. They were driven by famine, crop failures, and political unrest. Some, like many Italian immigrants, came to seek their fortune and then go back home. (Some stayed on even though it wasn’t their initial intent.) Once you hear these stories, you’ll better appreciate how they paved a way for you.

Why Keeping the Culture Alive is so Important to Us

For Americans, it’s always been important to celebrate the culture from our mother country. Festivals and feast days, ethnic neighborhoods, food, dance, song, stories….

I have attended several Irish festivals to promote my books. Groups from Ireland, especially Northern Ireland and the Saint Patrick Centre–say they have nothing quite like this at home. They have attended these festivals and encouraged tourists to come visit them. It worked on me!

Dir of Saint Patrick Centre Tim Campbell with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell, Director of the Saint Patrick Centre at Milwaukee Irish Festival in 2007.

Tim Campbell, Dir of Saint Patrick Centre with Author Cindy Thomson

With Tim Campbell at the Saint Patrick Centre, Downpatrick, Co Down, in 2010.

Get Involved in Preserving Culture

There are so many clubs, cultural organizations, genealogical societies, and groups I haven’t even thought of where you can get in touch with your roots. I think that’s mainly an American thing. Correct me if I’m wrong. But our roots are shallow in this country, so I think it’s only natural that we seek our immigrant ancestors.

Celebrating Culture--author Cindy Thomson

San José Library via Flickr

What groups are you involved in?

Stepping into the Immigrant’s Shoes

This documentary clip does an excellent job of giving you the feeling of having stepped into the immigrant’s shoes as he or she comes through Ellis Island. You can hear their words and see what they would have seen (although in black and white.) I thought it was powerful so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

Places in My Novel Grace’s Pictures

One of the places in my novel (Grace’s Pictures) where a lot of the action takes place is Battery Park.

Not only is Battery Park a beautiful place to visit where you can watch boats and observe the Statue of Liberty, it is full of history–the very spot many of our ancestors first embarked after leaving Ellis Island.

Immigrants arriving in Battery Park.

When I was there I admired this statue and the old trees surrounding it, imagining that many early immigrants must have sat near it and rested from their journeys. If you read Grace’s Pictures, you’ll remember this statue.

At the edge of Battery Park is Castle Clinton, which at the time of my Ellis Island series was an aquarium.

Today

In 1917

So much history exists on that small stretch of a park. Certainly much has changed. There are many statues now, not just the Ericsson one. The trees have grown large. On the weekends the park is filled with tourists, many who are preparing to take the ferry over to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Street hawkers rest here, but there were certainly those in the era of my novels. And I noted something else. A rat scurried past me when I was there, and so Grace experiences the same thing in my novel. But don’t let that deter you if you have the chance to visit. Go sit on a bench and watch the sunset and think about our immigrant ancestors arriving in that spot over a hundred years ago. That’s what I was doing when I took this photograph.

©2012 Cindy Thomson