This paper examines the life and experiences of a 19th-century immigrant from the British Isles to the United States and his family. It examines his reasons for immigrating, as well as his experiences after arrival. In this case, the immigrant chose to create a new identity for himself after immigration. Doing so both severed his ties with his birth family and left his American progeny without a clear sense of identity and heritage. The essay uses a variety of sources, including oral history and folklore, to investigate the immigrant’s origins and examine how this uncertainty shaped the family’s history in the 19th and 20th centuries. New methodologies centering on DNA analysis have recently offered insights into the family’s past. The essay ends by positing a birth identity for the family’s immigrant ancestor. Importantly, the family’s post-immigration experiences reveal that the immigrant and his descendants made a deliberate effort to retain aspects of their pre-immigration past across both time and distance. These actions underscore a growing body of literature on the limits of post-immigration assimilation by immigrants and their families, and indicate the value of genealogical study for analyzing the immigrant experience.
Knight, Thomas Daniel, "Immigration, Identity, and Genealogy: A Case Study" (2019). History Faculty Publications and Presentations. 50.