Reasons for Emigrating

Browns, Sugar Creek and Riggs, Waterford Township, Clinton County, Iowa

Compiled by Lorraine Houghton and Marilu Thurman, updated August 2006.
Thank you so much to Lorraine and Marilu for sending this information to us. 

Reasons for Emigrating

There were many reasons for our ancestors to risk their lives and leave their homeland in Europe to come to the United States. There was much poverty from numerous wars, crop failures, forced enlistment, illegitimacy, inadequate medicines, along with land shortages.

In some parts of Europe, the farms had been divided and subdivided among all heirs, and the farms became too small to support a family. Other European countries made a law that only the oldest son could inherit the farm. Younger sons would have to be a craftsman, such as a stone mason, carpenter, blacksmith, etc. and try to make a living in that manner. If a farmer had no sons, then, when the oldest daughter married, the husband would take the wife’s name, so that the farm would remain in the family name. Some of the daughters who did not marry, could earn a living by becoming a seamstress or housekeeper, as many did when immigrating and joining the work force here.

Since land could be bought for little in the United States, and jobs were plentiful, many of the young took the chance for opportunity, and boarded a sailboat and later passenger ships for America. They were on the rough seas for over 2 months, and some died during the long trip. I remember reading a story about a youth, about 10 years old, who came over with his mother. During rough seas, the mother and her trunk with all of their possessions were washed overboard. They were intending to stay with relatives in the United States, but all of the family information was in that trunk. The 10 year old boy was "adopted" by another family on the boat. Emigrant families really helped each other during those difficult times.

Children born out of wedlock were shown as "illegitimate" on the birth certificate. These innocent children, as they grew to adulthood, could never own property of any kind or join a "craft" guild, in order to make a living, so they sought to immigrate to a place where they could own land or practice their craft.

Many countries had compulsory military service for men, ages 18 to 21. After losing a family member in a previous war, many parents took their entire family to the United States.

Many Europeans came to the United States as "indentured servants", as someone with money in the United States would pay their way, and they in turn would be obligated to work for them for a period of time. After working off this obligation, they would join other family members who had come to the United States before them.

In observing the marriage patterns of males coming to the United States, it appears that many left a girlfriend behind. When there was enough money earned to support a wife, many of those girlfriends would immigrate and there would be a wedding. Then later, more of her family members would come to the United States, as there would be someone they knew here, to help get them started.

Whatever the reason for our immigrant ancestor’s departure, such a decision was never taken lightly. Many of our immigrants were never again able to see their homelands. Most were never able to see their family members again. Pictures and letters were exchanged from afar, however after the passing of a couple of generations, much of that stopped, creating a loss of parts of our heritage that may never be known. Our ancestors’ decision to come to the New World, changed forever the future of their descendants.

We enjoy the freedoms and endless opportunities, because of our ancestor’s journey. We should never forget the homelands and heritage of our ancestors; we should always keep a special place in our prayers of thanks for their many sacrifices.