You probably won’t have to dig too far back into your family history to discover that some of your ancestors were born outside of the United States. You might already know what countries some of them originated from. Your ancestors were immigrants.
Around the year 1000, a small number of Vikings came to what would later be called The United States of America. This group of people did not actually call themselves “Vikings”. Instead it is a term that we use today to describe a the Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions.
In 1620, a group of about 100 people set sail from England on the Mayflower. About 35 people in that group were part of a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. They had illegally broken away from the Church of England and had to move to the Netherlands to avoid prosecution.
This group sailed to the United States in search of religious freedom and out of fear they would lose their English heritage and language. Today, we call this group of people “the Pilgrims”. It is estimated that 20,000 Puritans immigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts, between 1630 and 1640.
A wave of immigration occurred from 1815 to 1865. Most of this group came from Northern and Western Europe. About one-third came from Ireland, which had experienced a massive famine. In the 1840’s, about half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland alone. Between 1820 and 1930, 4.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States.
Around five million German immigrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century. They headed to what is now the Midwest. They bought farms or lived in cities like Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.
Between 1860 and 1910, Polish immigrants arrives in American and the majority of them moved to Chicago. One reason was because the city had a lot of jobs to offer. The other reason, for some, was because they already had family living there (who came to America before they did).
In the mid-1880’s, large numbers of Asian immigrants arrived in America. Around 25,000 Chinese immigrants went to California. This was when the California gold rush was happening.
The next wave of immigrants came from Europe between 1880 and 1920. Around 600,000 Italians immigrated to America in the 1890’s. By 1920, more than 4 million people had immigrated from Italy. Between 1880 and 1920, over 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe came to America. They were fleeing religious persecution.
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