Sunday, August 8, 2010

Immigration Consternation

I find it quite frustrating that the vast physical boundary known as the Atlantic Ocean often manifests in genealogical research as an equally foreboding obstacle.  Two of the lines I'm working on for my wife's family reach the East Coast and then - vanish.  Well, it's not quite as dramatic as that, but information about them definitely dries up around the time they were to have arrived in the United States.

The Robaks, for example, are quite the enigma.  Thankfully my wife's grandfather is still with us and is more than happy to share stories of his childhood growing up an a farm in southern Michigan.  According to his recollection, the Robak family (mother, father, eldest brother) arrived in Detroit from Austria just prior to his birth in 1916.  The census records bear some of this out, showing father John as being of Polish decent born in Austria and a naturalized citizen from 1920 on.  His oldest child Walter and his wife Viola (or Valerie of Valeria, depending on the year) remain aliens until the 1930 census.  Their year of arrival is most suspect, however.  My wife's grandfather insisted it was 1916, yet in the 1910 census all three family members are counted and list the year as 1907.  In 1920 they list the year of arrival as 1909, and in 1930 it jumps back to 1906.  It seems obvious that the 1916 suggestion is erroneous, particularly when one considers that their first two children born in America have birth years of 1908 and 1912.  This fact also eliminates the year of 1909 listed on the 1920 census.  Still, what were the Robaks up to?  Were they trying to hide something, or did they truly forget when they came to America?  An internet search of immigration and naturalization records, including those of Ellis Island, has turned up absolutely nothing even remotely related to the three immigrant Robaks.  Thanks to Chris Kull, Archivist for the Monroe County Historical Museum in Michigan, I was able to find obituaries for John, Viola, and Paul (a son).  A request for copies has been sent, in which I hope to find more clues about the Robaks' arrival in the United States.  The next step is, I suppose, firing off $20 for a USCIS index search and, if they get a hit, another $20 for the record.

The other family that is giving me fits is the Riley family.  Whereas the Robaks are early 20th-century immigrants, the Rileys take things back to the mid 19th-century and the Irish diaspora.  Beginning with the 1860 census, the Riley family of Christopher and Bridget are fixtures in Urbana, Ohio.  Both Christopher and Bridget consistently list their origins as Ireland. Their first child, Mary, was born in Ohio in 1859 and that is the first record we have of them in America.  In 1860, Christopher's mother Bridget (born in Ireland in 1799) is living with them, so that gives us two ancestors to search for in naturalization and immigration records.  Like the Robaks, however, nothing can be found.  Unfortunately, both Christopher and Bridget (as well as Christopher's mother) are gone before the census questions regarding year of arrival are asked.  Christopher was born in 1831, so basically I am stuck with a considerably large range of twenty-eight years to sift through.  I've not yet exhausted my options when it comes to the Rileys.  I have the date that Christopher passed away, as well as the location of his grave, so perhaps something in his death and burial records will shed some light on the situation.  Assuming, of course, that his records still exist somewhere in Champaign County or the state archives.

With the amount of records kept regarding arriving immigrants, I find it remarkable that actually discovering information pertaining to specific ancestors is a considerable challenge.  I suppose it speaks to the sheer number of people arriving that so many immigrants went uncounted and unrecorded, frustrating genealogists generations later.

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