Emigration Declaration Project ~ tracing the story of our personal emigration history back 10 generations

by faithgibson on January 19, 2018


Stand-alone essay from the series:

“The Second American Revolution {of the Mind}
Crowd-sourcing our Democracy ~ simple ways to
overcome a historic flaw in our US Constitutional

Part III‘We The People’: What Now, and How

Emigration Declaration:
Shinning a light on our common roots

Its only fair to start with the obvious — long before Pete Seger sang: “this land is your land, this land is my land“, this land we call America was their land — that is, for thousands of years before Sir Frances Drake staked his claim for the British Crown on Ocracoke Island (outer banks of NC) in 1608, the North American continent belonged to its native owners, now known as American Indians. We were the ‘foreign nationals’!

What looked like uninhabited ‘wilderness’ to English explorers was actually the tribal lands and hunting grounds for hundreds of native American Indian tribes. While little known today, this historical reality left its mark on our language, with 26 of our states named after indigenous Indian tribes, as well as dozens of American cities and geographical landmarks (Manhatten Island, Appalachian Mountain range, Nantucket Sound, Mississippi River, Mohave Desert, Mount Shasta, etc)

To be an American is to be an émigré

With the exception of native Indian tribes, we are a country 100% founded by, settled and populated by emigrants.

Seen in its true historical context, the current anti-emigration stance by large numbers of Americans is more than a just disturbing, it’s also profoundly illogical.

How can a county of emigrants be bigoted against emigrates?

The British colony in North America was settled by foreign national, i.e. emigrants. Our existence as democratic republic depended on intergeneration emigration that, one by one, built this extraordinary country that we live in.

So how can 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 10th generation emigrants suddenly see emigration as one of the biggest, most dangerous and egregious problems for our country? Rep. Marco Rubio summed up this difficult problem when he remarked that:

“It’s impossible to govern a country where half the people hate the other half.”

Sociologists, economists, and political scientists have carefully examined the political divisiveness of the American public, which for many includes the issue of emigration, and published hundreds of books on the subject. But so far, the facts themselves have failed to have any appreciable humanizing effect on this irrational and very harmful backlash against our own history as a People.

It seems that a significant number of Americans relate to political rhetoric the same way most of us relate to religious dogma, which generally means uncritically believing whatever those in positions of authority say. Not questioning things we are told by our religious leaders may (or may not) be appropriate but for sure American citizens, enfranchized voters living in a representative democracy — need to be fully informed on critical matters of state.

Partisan politics is not something to be ‘believed’ in like God or our favorite football team. We all must question the words of partisan politicians, diligently check facts and other forms of inquiry that help us understand the history, background and future consequences of proposed laws and policies, as well as being aware of the motives of the politicians and their political donors.

Working Together to Fix the Problem

The more relevant question is not ‘why’ there is so much negativity and controversy surrounding emigration but ‘what’, what can be done to fix (or at least greatly improved) this important but complex situation. Many aspects of our current system are irrational and it lacks a logical, lawful path to citizenship for DACA kids, those who fled violent gangs, or corrupt regimes and neither have the necessary document nor can the return to their countries of origin and those who have American children and spouses.

Another example of legal irrationality is the sweet deal extended to foreign nationals who are put at the head of the line, becoming immediately eligible for American citizenship simply by investing $250,000 or more in an American business. They aren’t required to first apply for a green card or fulfill the 5-year continuous residency requirement or wait the 2-5 years it routinely takes for everyone else. While wealthy foreigners enjoy one-stop shopping for expedited citizenship paper, migrant workers, foreign nationals who overstayed their visas but have American children and/or spouses, and kids brought here by their parent when they were infants or minor children, there is NO legal path to citizenship.

It may shock some people to hear this, but that was not always the case. America used to have a logical path to citizenship AND a ‘guest worker visa‘ so migrant farm workers could come here seasonally, and then go back home for the rest of the year to live with and take care of their families.

But in the last couple of decades, “tough on immigration” changes in the law eliminated these ‘guest worker’ visas for seasonal migrant workers and now treats them as ‘illegal aliens’. Without Guest Worker papers, migrant workers can’t legally cross the border. Instead, they have to sneak in or pay someone to smuggle them across the border. They face death from dehydration as they walk for miles in desert terrain with 120-degree daytime temperatures or the dozens of other disasters that come with criminal gangs who charge thousands of dollars to smuggle people across the border in the back of trucks.

But the fresh tomatoes, avocados, lettuce, baby bok choy, artichokes, pecans, walnuts, olives and many other crops of American farmers still have to be harvested. Since this pays more than unskilled workers can earn in Mexico, once these migrants walk across the desert or travel for days locked in the back of a sweltering truck with 20 other people to get here, they just stay here all year round and just send money home to their families.

There are two issues that need to be explored. First, these new laws, which were designed to reduce illegal emigration, have instead had the opposite effect and created a new and unnecessary problem for our country and our economy. Since seasonal workers no longer go home after the harvest is over, they stay here and often compete for, or at least drive down wages, for unskilled jobs.

The second issue is the effect on fatherless, and often even motherless, Mexican families where parents don’t dare leave the US, but can’t help but wonder about the effect of teenage boys whose fathers are living in the US. Functionally, the male children of these families are being raised without fathers and the socializing influence that dads have on their sons.

Might this make some of these fatherless young men more vulnerable to joining gangs with strong male leaders? Unfortunately, gang leaders model violence, disrespect for human life and total disregard for the rule of law; this brutalizes society, which is bad for everyone, including American tourists and the economy of both countries. What if we really thought of emigration issues between the US and Mexico as a neighborly issue based on interdependency?

Helping Mexico to thrive — socially and economically — means that many economic migrants that in the past were here as illegal aliens could instead earn a living wage in their own country. Seasonal “Guest Worker” visas would mean that American farmers could get reliable help with their harvests every year and then these migrant workers would return to Mexico to raise their families.  These “smart” policies benefit everyone.

It would also end ICE raids on DACA families while continuing to maintain the normal border security that all civilized countries require.

My answer this seemingly intractable problem lies with us, “We, The People“, and the idea that we are the right person for this job and the right time is right NOW!

Hense my “Emigration Declaration Project“, as described below.

But before going into those specifics, let me start by reposting 3 paragraphs from Part One: Chapter One. This will refresh the mind of those who have already read previous posts, and/or provide a helpful context for those who haven’t. 

 Brown vs. Montgomery School Board ~ the start of a post-apocalyptic America

No one disputes the political divisiveness that began with the Brown vs. Montgomery School Board decision in 1953 and in more recent years has moved on the equally problematic idea that our virgin continent (“sea to shining sea”) is not endless after all and now we think in terms of ‘running out of space’ — affordable and habitable land — while American job opportunities are being exported to low-wage countries or taken by over by “foreigners” who emigrated to the US.

In addition, many Americans are also afraid that our historic status as a white, English-speaking country will actually become the ‘melting pot’ that we have always described ourselves to be.

However, emigration was the original the bedrock of the American colonies; new arrivals were called “settlers” (instead of ‘immigrants’) and this steady stream of newcomers was indispensable to populating the frontier, settling farms, peopling our cities and providing workers for industry and commerce. As a result, emigration was seen as a precious commodity.

However, now the topic of newcomers has become as divisive and controversial as race and slavery were two centuries ago.

The Emigration Declaration Project begins with acknowledging that ALL American citizens are either emigrants or the direct descendants of emigrants. The only theoretical exception is American Indians, but they themselves are descendants of those who crossed the Bearing Straights, making us a melting pot with streams of emigrants from both East and West. The Emigration Declaration Project provides an opportunity for each American to publicly tell the story of how and why they or their families became Americans.

When a time frame of 10 generations is used (which takes us back to the time of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1606), we can see why close relatives or distant ancestors left the land where they were born, everything and everyone they knew and often had to leave everything they owned in order to come to America – all based on a dream and promise of living in a better world, one with Constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom and “life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

To be an American is to be an émigré with a story to tell and much to learn by telling it!

Every American born here is historically an émigré; we all have relatives or distant ancestors who specifically immigrated to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children and their progeny. It’s natural to be interested in how and why our families came to be Americans.

Were each American to take the time and make the effort to discover (and share) the story his or her own rich heritage, it would dramatically reduce the controversy and animosity over emigration to America. It would also improve the possibility of Congress passing new legislation to eliminate many of the irrational aspects of our currently dysfunctional emigration policies and replace them with rational and humane laws that are better for everyone.

My Emigration Story

Like 99% of all “Americans” (i.e. not of Am. Indian ancestry), I am a direct descendant of emigrants. My 8th generation great-grandfather, Jacob Shantz, arrived in Philadelphia the summer of 1737 on a ship named The Townshead, accompanied by 20 other Mennonite ‘co-religionists’. For the Shantz family, this was the second of four legs in their emigration journey. This 192-year period start within the Old World, then to the New World, and after having settled in the US, emigrating to Canada and eventually back to the US.

My Swiss ancestors first fled religious persecution by emigrating from their homes in Bern, Switzerland to Amsterdam in 1725, where the King of Orange promised them freedom of religion. At this time, Catholicism was the mandatory state religion for all Western Europe (except Holland). Anyone not baptized and attending Mass every Sunday could be rounded up and jailed.

Individuals or group who professed to another faith (Protestants, Jews, agnostics, etc) were routinely tortured until they agreed to become a Roman Catholic. Should they be so stupidly stubborn as to refuse this magnanimous offer of conversion, they were summarily hanged, burned at the stake or starved to death. Then families and friends were also rounded up for the same brutal treatment. (Obviously, religious terrorism is neither a modern phenomenon or something restricted to Islamic jihadists.)

After living in Amsterdam for 12 years,  the Shantz’ and other several families decided to move to the New World where they could start farms. It so happened that the English Quaker William Penn also offered religious freedom for those who wished to settle in the American colony of Pennsylvania, which is how my ancestors wound up in America.

However, their emigration journey was not yet finished. In 1806 five ‘pioneer’ families, including my 6th great grandfather Joseph Shantz and his large intergenerational family, emigrated to Canada.

The previous two-month-voyage by ship across the stormy Atlantic was exchanged for a two-month trip in a Conestoga wagon train over the rugged Allegany Mountains. {For details, see (1) “Up the Conestoga” by Isaac Horst, 1979} In addition to the usual tales of broken wagon wheels, drenching rains, childbirth, sick kids, and carrying all their belongings across swiftly flowing rivers their wagons could not forge, there is also the story of a heart-wrenching tragedy told to me by my mother when I was about ten years old.

Several weeks into their journey, while still in the deep wilderness of the Allegheny Mountains, the wagon train stopped for the night to camp on the bank of a river. This would provide water for the horses and for cooking and washing.

After the evening meal and just as the sun was setting, one of the families realized their 3-year-old son was missing. They all searched in the growing darkness for as long and far as they dared but were soon stopped by the thick forest and rugged terrain as well as the threat from wild animals and Indian attack.

The next morning they rose at first light and organized teams adults and older children to comb the woods in all four directions but found nothing. On Day Two and Day Three, they continued their diligent search, going farther into the wilderness each time, but without ever finding the slightest trace of the little boy.

Due to dwindling food supplies and threat of bad weather, they had to leave on the morning of the 4th day without having found his body or otherwise knowing what happened.

Did their little boy fall into the river and drown? Had he been attacked by a wild animal and now lay gravely wounded and alone in the cold and dark? Was he still wandering around lost and slowly starving to death? Or had he been kidnapped by Indians?

They never knew but always hoped their son had been found and raised by a local Indian tribe. It’s possible that somewhere there is an American Indian tribe with DNA from Switzerland via the Shantz family. One hopes and prays . . .

After the wagon train finally reached Upper Canada, the five patriarchs arranged to legally purchase a wilderness area from its native owners (Chippewa-Ojibwe and Mississauga Indian tribes). The original deed to the land grant had been negotiated by Chief Thayendanegea (known as Joseph Brant by English-speakers) November 25, 1792,

Due to detailed historical records kept by the Mennonites of Waterloo Township published in 1895-96 (ref #2) which included births, deaths, marriages and property ownership, I have a copy of the legal document — called an “Indenture” signed by Chief Thayendanegea. In 1818 second deed dividing up Waterloo township into lots was signed by 67 adult heads of household, including Joseph Shantz, my 6th GG grandfather, and Samuel Stauffer, later to become the Stauffer Foods family.

After being settled by its new inhabitants,  the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario became a thriving farming community that lies at the southern tip of Lake Ontario, not far from Fort Niagra. It’s only 40 miles due west of Niagra Falls on the Canadian-New York State border.

In the map below, bottom right corner, the Kitchener-Waterloo area can be found by locating New York state and then looking to left to locate “L. Ontario”. Right below the lake and a bit to the left are the words “Mississauga Band“. The red dot just below and ever so slightly right of the red “d” in the word “band” is the Kitchener area settled by my ancestors.

Waterloo area of Ontario at the southern tip of Lake Ontario, not far from Fort Niagra, 40 miles due west of Niagra Falls on the Canadian-New York State border


Then as a teenager, my 16-year-old grandfather (Wesley Shantz) made the fourth leg of this emigration journey by leaving his family’s farm to join the US Army so he could fight for America in the First World War. He came to Detroit, Michigan, lied about his age so he could enlist and after basic training was shipped out to the Alsace-Lorain area of France. I have an old photograph of him with his Army buddies that has the Efile Tower in the background.

After the war, he returned to Michigan and settled in the Detroit area. Then he joined the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), the Odd Fellows, married my grandmother and had my mom. She gave birth to me 20 years later in Detroit’s Mount Carmel hospital while my dad was serving in the Army Air Corps during WWII.

The Dark Side of the Moon ~ the political hostility, brutality, deprivation, dangers of emigration

I’ve already recounted the simple facts surrounding my 18th-century Swiss ancestors that began their emigration from Bern, Switzerland to Holland in 1725. But I didn’t focus on the physical, mental, social and economic costs of emigration — what it means to give up everything, the hardships, and dangers of travel and the reality that it might not work out if and when you arrive at your destination.

My ancestors were referred to as ‘co-religionists’ — a politically-charged and derogatory term similar to a racial slur — making them outcasts in their countries of origin. For this and other reasons, they chose to give up their property and all their possessions, and everything and everyone they knew, to emigrate to Holland in order to live under the only monarch in the Western world who extended freedom of religion to his countrymen — the King of Orange.

After enjoying the religious freedom of Amsterdam for more than a decade, my Mennonite ancestors again left everything they owned and everyone they knew in a search for a ‘better’ life.  This time they set-sail for Colonial America, and after a treacherous Atlantic crossing landed safely in Philadelphia and settled among their other Mennonites, Amish and Quakers co-religionists in Montgomery and Bucks County in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania.

Sixty-nine years later they emigrated yet again, this time to Upper Canada, driven in part by hostility against them as pacifists who refused to fight in the Revolutionary War. Pacifist groups from religious groups such as Amish and Mennonites were seen as the equivalent of Tory sympathizers i.e.,  traitors to the United States.

More than a century later, my grandfather returned again to America, fighting for his ‘new-old’ country, becoming a naturalized citizen and settling permanently in Detroit. His American Citizenship papers were kept in a special locked box under his bed and he proudly showed them to me on many occasions.

In my own journey as a native-born American, my family of origin (who still lived just block from my grandparents) moved from Detroit to Orlando when I was 15. I lived there until my husband, who was in the military, got transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Four years later he was discharged and we returned to Orlando. In 1977 I moved to North Carolina to be a domestic Peace Corps worker, and at the end of my assignment in 1979 moved to “Lands Ends” — the San Francisco Bay area of California. After living in San Francisco for a year, I move down the SF peninsula to the Palo Alto area with my family and have lived there ever since.

Hope is nice but a plan is better ~ planning for America to not just survive, but thrive!  

Who and what I am, and my relationship with my own 8th-generation once-removed heritage has been profoundly influential. I was shaped by the ever-so-American story of emigration that calls on people to risk everything in the search for a better life, particularly one that does not require them to compromise their religious beliefs or their morals.

This is the process that collectively created the wonderful potential that we call “The American Way”, which was built-up brick by brick by each emigre gave his or her whole mind, and heart and soul and all his or her strength to make that American dream come true for themselves and for the country.

The emigrants that helped to make America great were not just white English speakers from the British Isles; its was people from all corners of the world, all colors of the rainbow, every language and every religion — together we are the artists, inventors, teachers, builders, butchers, bakers, and makers of many wonders in the fields of art, music, science, math, religion, higher education, healthcare, technology, etc.

Pretending that we live in an alternative universe — a make-believe world where everyone is a native-born, English-speaking white person in a country that collectively walked away from its great heritage — is a recipe for utter failure, both morally and as a practical matter.

The American Way is a Lifeboat ~ the Emigration Declaration Project is a paddle!

The American Way is a lifeboat — we are all in it together and we either sink or swim together.

So I hope you’ll join me in the Emigration Declaration Project and do your part by telling and sharing your own family’s emigration story.

You can write it down and circulate it to friends and family via email or social media or you can make it into a YouTube video and post it for all the world to see. Whatever format you choose, sharing our individual emigration story is a declaration that says we really are together — E PLURIBUS UNUMU — in this experience we each call “My American Life”.

faith ^O^

Tiny URL for this document  https://tinyurl.com/yaattwub


.1. Up the Conestoga” by Isaac Horst, 1979; ISBN 0-9690978}

 2. Biological History of Earlier Settlers and their Descendants
in Waterloo Township; Ezra E. Eby 1896 & 1896

 A supplement by Joseph B. Synder, 1930, plus Intensive Index
of Persons of all entries of  persons whose names are used
throughout the volumes;

 Ordinal Index of Geography to the numbered items; 

 Notes about some of the families and individual; 

 Maps and other Documents of Interest

by Eldon D. Weber, 1971, reprinted 1978

 ISBN 0-919061-00-1 

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