Foray Into Genealogy: Immigrant Ancestors

Foray Into Genealogy: Immigrant Ancestors

With the state of our nation and the growing controversy concerning immigrants, I felt it was imperative to use my own genealogy to show how most of us are not that far removed from our immigrant ancestors. We are a country of immigrants and that's nothing in which to be ashamed. I wish those wanting to oppress immigrants in these days would look upon the mistakes of our past when we either turned away those emigrating to save themselves and their families from being killed or to the level of vitriol that our ancestors faced upon entering this land.

I am a proud third-generation Irish immigrant, fourth-generation French-Canadian immigrant (on multiple lines), and a fourth-generation English immigrant. There are quite a few more immigrants on both sides of my tree, some close and others much further ala 17th century, that I might get into later. Right now, I just want to focus on the immediate five generational lines that go from myself to my eight pairs of Great Great Grandparents.

If you take a look at the results of my Ancestry DNA test, I am a product of Western Europe by and large. Not knowing much about my family history, other than being told all my life that I was Irish and French-Canadian, I didn't know what to expect once the results popped up on Ancestry. I was not surprised to see representation from Ireland, France, and England. Ireland actually topping out my percentages was a big surprise to me. Another surprise was the percentage from the Iberian Peninsula, which includes some of France, but moreso Spain and Portugal. I haven't seemed to trace much to that region yet, but am still working through some brick walls that could have more information to that. Europe West seems to contain more of France than the Iberian Peninsula, but other than one Dutch ancestor who immigrated sometime during the 17th century, I haven't found many links in that direction. The curious ethnicities to me are Scandinavia (whooo, viking blood!), Italy/Greece, and the tiny bit of Eastern European and European Jewish.

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The featured image of this entry shows the lower branches (going back five generations) of my large family tree. You can see myself all the way to the left with my parents' lines branching from the top (Dad) and bottom (Mom). I've circled every family member whom I know to be an immigrant. There is still just one line, that of Margaret Marsh (whose last name is just a placeholder as I work through a brick wall there), whom I don't have much information. However, given some new connections and such through Ancestry DNA, I don't think there's a likely chance of an immigrant within Margaret, herself, or her parents.

Starting at the very top of the tree, you see Patrick (Margaret's husband) and his parents, my Great Great Grandparents, John and Bridget. All three of these ancestors, along with Patrick's brothers, Michael and John Jr, immigrated here in 1884 or 1885 according to the U.S. Federal Census of 1900 and 1910. John and Bridget moved the boys from the Eire to American shores and still had a few more kids once they got here, as typical of most Irish families at the time. They are my big brick wall, so I'm still tracking down from whence they came. I have a few leads, including an entry in the Ireland Births Index from 1864-1958, but it's not definitive.

Further down, my Great Great Grandmother Julia Descoteaux (pronounced like Dakota) is another brick wall when it comes to going back further than she on her line. However, I have the 1920 and 1930 Census that states her as married to my Great Great Grandfather, Lewis, and as the mother of her children including my Great Grandfather, Joseph. The census, also, states that she is from "Canada French," but again, I have found nothing stating definitively where she is from. Interestingly enough, she married my Great Great Grandfather, Lewis Descoteaux, who is a first-generation American, himself.

I'd like to share a quick find that I discovered while going through digitized newspapers just a few years ago. I think it's quite pertinent to the subject of immigration and how the fear of differences manifests itself. I was born with the last name of Hill (before it was changed when I was still a baby), it's the last name of much of my immediate and extended family. I couldn't figure out for the longest time why this branch of the family, given how huge the extended family had become, was so hard to research until one day I discovered the following article printed in the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post on April 22, 1964.

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A 65-year-old Danbury father of 18 yesterday sought Superior court permission for a change of name on the grounds that his family name is difficult to spell and pronounce and one of his first names has caused "fights, slurs, and insults."

The petitioner, Louis Joseph Donah Descoteaux, a native of Waterbury, wants to assume legally the name of Joseph Louis Hill by which name, he says, he has been known for many years.

His original family name of Descoteaux translated into English means "The Hills," the applicant declares, and his father used the name of Louis Michael Hill in preference to Descoteaux as long as he, the petitioner, can remember.

A Danbury resident for 44 years, the petitioner says when he first started working the name of Descoteaux was difficult for many people to pronounce and spell, and the first name of Donah caused fights, slurs, and insults.

He started using the name of Joseph Louis Hill when he began working, the applicant continues, and has used it ever since. His wife has been known as Myrtle V. Hill since their marriage, and all their 18 children were born under the name of Hill, the petitioner asserts.

Remember, my Great Grandfather was first-generation French-Canadian and he was born in New Hampshire. His son (my Great Grandfather), Joseph, and his wife (my Great Grandmother), Myrtle, bore 18 children with my grandfather, Louis, being the oldest boy. Each of the children, as they were born, were given the last name of Hill. This came about due to the harassment that my Great Grandfather received throughout his life. As it says in the article, both he and his father Americanized their names to protect themselves and their families. I think that, alone, can speak to the fear that they must have felt. I may conquer this particular subject a bit more in the future.

Having just gone through the Descoteaux/Hill side and how Joseph was a first-generation American, it's interesting to see that his wife, Myrtle, was as well through her father, my Great Great Grandfather George Montgomery. He immigrated from Stockport in Cheshire, England around 1884. I'm still doing some research work on this line, and figuring out if certain passenger lists and other documentation apply to him, as well as researching further back to see if his line aligns with the Montgomeries during the time of William the Conquerer (although, I already have some rather unproven traces to that line already). In any case, though, the census (always my hero!) and a few other documents, provided by a woman who I matched with on the DNA side as a cousin, seem to have his origin all in order.

The last, but certainly, not least are my Great Great Grandparents William and Marie Goyette. I was lucky to grow up and have my Great Grandmother, as well as her two sisters, until they all passed away between about 2005 to 2011. They would tell stories about their siblings, as well as their parents, the latter whom immigrated to the U.S. from St. Luc, Quebec. My last surviving grandparent spent quite a bit of time with William and Marie as a kid, and vividly recalls their strong French accents and how William worked as a groundskeeper for a wealthy family in Darien, Connecticut (which is the birthplace of my Great Grandmother).

These few anecdotes just encompass five generations back in my family tree. In a few cases, I only have to go back one or two generations to find another immigrant and in others, a few hundred years to the time to when the Dutch landed in New York, the Puritans in Massachusetts, or a handful on the shores of Long Island Sound and what would become Connecticut. I wanted to show with this entry that it only takes a wee bit of research for someone to find an immigrant from whom they are descended. It doesn't take much to open up an Ancestry account and get started. At the end of the day, though, I hope you walk away from this piece with some empathy for the plight of those who are just looking for that chance, as our ancestors did, of building a new life for themselves and their descendants. In essence, to leave a legacy that we should be proud to carry on.

I am proud to be the legacy of my immigrant ancestors.

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