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WWW-VL: HISTORY: UNITED STATES: GENEALOGY


Bibliographies and Internet Gateways Major Records Repositories Instruction Materials On-Line Search Tools Organizations Genealogists search written records, collect oral histories and preserve family stories to discover ancestors and living relatives. Genealogists also attempt to understand not just where and when people lived but also their lifestyle, biography, and motivations. This often requires or leads to knowledge of antique law, old political boundaries, immigration trends, and historical social conditions.

Genealogists and family historians often join a Family History Society where novices can learn from more experienced researchers, and everyone benefits from shared knowledge.

Even an unsuccessful search for ancestors leads to a better understanding of history. The search for living relatives often leads to family reunions, both of distant cousins and of disrupted families. Genealogists sometimes help reunite families separated by immigration, foster homes and adoption. The genealogist can help keep family traditions alive or reveal family secrets.

In its original form, genealogy was mainly concerned with the ancestry of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. The term often overlapped with heraldry, in which the ancestry of royalty was reflected in the quarterings of their coat of arms. Many of the claimed ancestries are considered by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods or the founders of their civilization. For example, the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers traced the ancestry of several English kings back to the god Woden (the English version of the Norse god Odin). If these descents were true, Queen Elizabeth II would be a descendant of Woden, via the kings of Wessex.

In fiction, it is common to give a character a complicated fictional genealogy to make his or her background more interesting. A picaresque one is the genealogy for Godwulf of Asgard.

Immigration into the United States

Since the first new settlers arrived in America several centuries ago, people have been coming to the United States for a variety of reasons: to find land to farm, to get an education or better job, to earn money to send home, to practice their religion freely, or to escape famine or war, just to name a few. Others came by force. Whatever the cause or reasons, this immigration is what made America the melting pot that it is today.

It wasn't until the later part of the 1820's that the number of immigrants per year was over 10,000, and from that time on, the numbers kept growing. The first real bursts in immigration came in the 1840's and 1850's, when poor harvests forced people to leave Great Britain and Northern Europe. Most of them came to the United States in order to survive -- there simply wasn't enough food to support the population. So, between 1845 and 1860, more than 3.5 million people arrived in the United States in search of a better life.

In the early years, the influx of immigrants was tolerated, if not altogether welcomed. Immigrants helped populate the growing country, and a majority of them were English-speaking Protestants, so they blended in well with the rest of the population. However, as more and more Irish and European Catholics entered the United States, previous immigrant Americans began to protest. They feared both cheap labor and the possibility that a large Catholic population would increase the influence of the Pope in the United States. This fear spawned the "Know-Nothing" movement, a group of individuals who wanted stricter controls on immigration and naturalization.

By 1870, roughly one-eighth of the population was foreign-born, and the opposition to free immigration continued. In answer to the protests, the U.S. government passed laws to regulate immigration. For example, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act disallowed entry of all working-class Chinese. Later laws also barred people who had no money, individuals with certain diseases, anarchists, and individuals who were deemed insane.

The United States government set up quota systems with the National Origins Acts in the 1920's. These quotas heavily favored British and Northern European immigrants over those from Southern and Eastern Europe. At the time, Americans were more accepting of the British and Northern Europeans, while the cultures and cheap labor offered by Slavs, Greeks, Italians, and other Southern and Eastern Europeans seemed more threatening.

The quotas remained in effect until 1965, when the government adjusted them to allow for even more immigration from all countries into the United States. Now, even those quotas are slightly more relaxed. In the post-World War II era, the U.S. government has made exceptions to the quota rules when political situations in other countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Cuba have made it necessary.


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