What You Don’t Know

I’ve been reading homestead papers for extended members of my family who immigrated from Ostfriesland, Germany, to the United States in the mid to late 19th century. I knew where in Illinois many of these families had initially settled before they decided to try their luck on the Nebraska frontier.

Immigrants had to document their citizenship in order to complete the homestead process. Most of these immigrants had settled in Ostfriesian immigrant communities in a few Illinois counties. In reading the naturalizations in the homestead files, I kept noticing naturalizations taking place in the 1870s where there was not a known Ostfriesian settlement.

The same name appeared as a witness on most of those naturalizations. The summary of what happened was that the witness was an Ostfriesian immigrant himself who, before heading to Nebraska, worked for the railroad in a position where he was apparently able to in some way assist other immigrants in obtaining railroad jobs. The immigrants who naturalized in that county had worked for the railroad in order to accumulate some capital for their trip to Nebraska.

It all made perfect sense. None had settled permanently in the location where the railroad was located. It was just a job. But it was a few counties away from where they had originally settled and where other families members settled and stayed.

I’ll leave it to readers to determine just what’s the tip in this post–there’s a lot of food for thought here and a good reminder to look at everything.