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GenealogySpot > Immigration Waves

Immigration Waves

The history of immigration to the United States is a combination of fear, hope, policy and persistence. The Statue of Liberty was a convenient symbol of freedom for immigrants arriving to New York's Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century. But once those immigrants arrived, there were numerous economic, language and cultural barriers to overcome before achieving stability.

The United States was established by immigrants. Prior to the Civil War, many Western Europeans, British and Irish immigrated to the Northeast. While there were some harsh reactions to their arrival (particularly toward the Irish), there was a general acceptance of these newcomers since their religious and ethnic background was similar to most Americans.

After the Civil War, however, there was a geographical shift. People from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Asia, began arriving in the United States and many settled on the West Coast. The reactions to these immigrants were often negative. The previous generations of immigrants resented the threat the newcomers presented to their new lifestyle. Some Americans were less than thrilled with the arrival of non-whites and Catholics. Restrictions on immigration were imposed, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, immigration quotas and literacy tests. This culminated in the National Origins Act of 1924, which put a strict cap on the number of new immigrants allowed.




Today the origins of most immigrants have shifted again. South Florida has seen an influx of Cubans and Haitians, while California and Texas have become home to Latin American immigrants. The American reaction is still often xenophobic. Congress has discussed a bill to establish English as a national language. In 1994, California voters approved Proposition 187 (which was later found unconstitutional), which would have denied medical care and education to undocumented immigrants.

To learn more about the history of immigration in the United States and perhaps trace your own family's roots, check out these sites:

  • Ellis Island
    It's the place many immigrants first called America, and today the island is a tribute to those who passed through it from 1892 to 1954. Now you can search original passenger manifests from ships coming to Ellis Island.

  • A Historical View of U.S. Immigration Policy
    This University of Missouri site includes a brief overview of immigration history. Use the graph to trace immigration waves over the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • USCIC History, Genealogy and Education
    At the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services site, read historical accounts of U.S. immigration and policy, access other research tools and learn about what the government agency does today.

  • Immigration History Research Center
    Run by the University of Minnesota, the nonprofit IHRC serves to document American immigration through archives of records and documents from the great immigration wave of the early 20th century. A great source for school projects and presentations.

  • Immigrant Arrivals
    From the Library of Congress, this site provides a brief, but solid background on the immigration experience as well as a bibliography to help with further research.

  • Thinkquest.org
    Historical overviews, timelines and quizzes about immigration.




   --- D. Richards

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