Mobility, migration, multiculturalism, the monarchy, and me

May 10, 2011

Multicutural London, 2011

Part One of Three
in which the author ponders the ways that changing technologies, geographies, and economies created circumstances in which he could be born in South Africa of Greek-Welsh-English heritage. Along the way, he discovers that his forebears came from some really interesting places.

London April 2011


When I first visited London 35 years ago the city was very English, as I had expected it to be. Bus drivers, hotel receptionists, waiters, and immigration officials were English, and I heard English spoken on the Underground (actually, the English seemed to prefer not to speak on the Underground, but if they had spoken, they would have spoken English.)

Today’s London is a completely different place. When I visited the city at the end of April 2011, the immigration official who stamped my passport was a Sikh, the hotel receptionist who checked me in was from Russia, the waiter who took my meal order was Indian, and the bus driver who drove me to the airport was of Pakistani ancestry.  My very full Underground carriage was a cosmopolitan place, a mixture of people of Asian, African, and European ancestry. Many were not at all reticent about speaking, some in languages I didn’t recognize.This all got me thinking about the great stirring of the Europe’s – and the world’s – demographic and cultural pot that has taken place with increasing rapidity over the past century and a half. I am a product of that mixing, a blend of Greek, Welsh, English and a dash of Scots ancestry that would have been culturally unthinkable and geographically impossible in my great-grandparents day.

This is the first of three blog posts on this topic.  In this, the first, I reflect on the 19th century explosion of mobility that took my maternal ancestors from England and Wales to South Africa. In the next blog, I speculate about the reasons for my ancestor’s emigration, and examine the ways in which they, and others like them, reinvented themselves in their new land. In the final blog in this series, I offer my observations (from my vantage point in Hyde Park and outside Buckingham Palace) on the 2011 Royal Wedding, and on the role of royalty the multicultural United Kingdom of the 21st century.

Mobility, Migration and Me

Today, for people like me who live in countries populated mainly by recent immigrants and their descendants (places like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Singapore,) multiculturalism, migration, and mobility are facts of life. Americans, in particular, are a mobile lot. We change homes every seven-year on average, about 40 million Americans are (like me) foreign-born, and one in four Americans under 18 is a second generation immigrant. “Where are you from?” is a common conversation opener, and some banks even use “Where were you born?” as a security question.

These would have seemed like really stupid questions to my 19th century English and Welsh ancestors, few of whom ever ventured far from home. In the 1841 English census, 136 males with the name Widdicombe – my maternal grandfather’s family name – are listed; all but seven of them lived in the county of Devon, and most in and around the town of Totnes. By 1861, a quarter of all Widdicombes in England lived outside of Devon. By the 1870s, they had reached South Africa.

The Worlds of the Widdicombes and Lewises

My grandmother was a Lewis, one of most common of all Welsh names, and members of the clan were to be found all of Wales by the mid 19th century. Marriage records, though, show that they were at least as homebound as the Widdicombes. The vast majority of marriages in Pontypridd, the coalmining town that was my grandmother’s birthplace, were among people who lived in or near the town. My grandmother grew up just 15 km from the farming village where her great-great-grandfather was born in more than a century earlier. In the 19th century, most Lewises probably never traveled further from home in a lifetime than most Americans do in their journey to work today.

(There was one group of Lewises who did move very far from home: 321 of them were among the involuntary passengers transported to the penal colonies in Australia between 1792 and 1856. No Widdicombes made this particular journey.)

Around the end of the 18th century, powerful forces unleashed by technology began to change the geography of the Lewises, the Widdicombes and the world.. These forces were a consequence of steam, colonialism, and telecommunications, woven together on the loom of modern capitalism.

The Coming of Industrialization

Without steam, I wouldn’t exist.

The Industrial Revolution comes to Pontypridd. Brown, Lenox and Co. arrived in 1818.

Well, perhaps not steam per se, but rather the steam engine. This machine, perfected by Scottish inventor James Watt in the late 18th century, was first used to power cotton mills in and around the city of Manchester, and soon afterwards to propel ships over the oceans and trains overland at speeds that would previously have been unimaginable.

The economic needs of the Industrial Revolution, together with the transportation technologies it created, made possible (and indeed necessitated) the explosion of European colonialism of the 19th century. Colonialism, in turn, gave Europeans in general, and residents of the British Isles in particular, the means, motive and opportunity to migrate to distant lands. Once there, they could reimagine their pasts, reinvent themselves, and reproduce. I am a product of these three processes.

Land of my Mothers. Two views of Pontypridd (Taff Street, undated, and the Great Western Colliery in 1910.)

The Lewises in Wales probably felt the impact of the Industrial Revolution before the Widdicombes did in Devon. Pontypridd, and much of surrounding Glamorganshire County, sat atop significant deposits of coal, the fuel of the Industrial Revolution.  Two more of its essential ingredients, iron ore and limestone (for making steel), were to be found at nearby Merthyr Tydfil. (In fact the region was known as an iron-making center even before its economy came to depend primarily on coal.)  In 1794, a canal opened between the town and Cardiff to transport the iron and coal of valleys of South Wales to the world. Life for the county’s residents must have changed dramatically in the first half of the 19th century as mining, manufacturing, and newcomers  invaded their previously remote and bucolic environment. (An example: between 1841 and 1851, the population increased by about a third to 62,000 people. Two thirds of this increase was a result of migration.*)

Pontypridd 2011

With industrialization came prosperity for some in my ancestors’ home region. An 1859 Commercial Directory for the Pontypridd area lists the names of 359 businesspeople, clergy, and artisans (professions run the gamut from ‘clergy’ and ‘coal owner’ to ‘butcher’ and ‘stone mason.’) Seventeen of those listed are members of the ‘gentry,’ and fifteen businesses and individuals are listed as ‘coal owners.’  These made up the town’s elite.

The Lewises were not among this group. Of the more than 4,000 Lewises in the area, only five made it into the 1859 Directory: a boot maker, a cabinet maker, a grocer, and two proprietors of taverns or public houses. Numerous Lewises, however, listed solidly working class occupations such as ‘labourer,’  ‘collier,’ and ‘coal hauler – underground.’

Life for the miners was tough and often short. More than 6,000 miners lost their lives in the mines 19th and early 20th centuries; countless more died of work-related injuries and ailments at home. A list of mine disasters claiming five or more lives reads like an index to a Welsh atlas: Aberdan, Blaenclydach, Cymmer, Dinas, and so on, all the way to Ynysdavid.

Life in the valleys [of mid Glamorgan] has always been hard, During the winter, a collier never saw the sun except on Sunday, going down into the pits before daybreak and emerging after dark. Boys followed their fathers down in their early teens. With little cash and no modern conveniences, women made home and hearth for large families in two-room-up, two-room-down stone row houses without garden or lawn. The mines yielded a death, on average, every six hours, and a serious injury every twelve minutes.

Dana Huntley. ‘When Coal was King.’ British Heritage, September 2004. (Huntley is describing life in the 1920s; it was even harsher half a century earlier.)

The mining industry also brought outsiders to Wales, most of them English. Britain’s oldest language, Welsh, found itself under siege as English became the language of progress and the means by which news reached the region (it had long been the official language of government, despite its minority status.) By 1911, about the time my grandmother moved away, Welsh had become a minority language in Wales for the first time in 2,000 years.

My maternal grandfather’s family came from a very different kind of place. Tourism and popular history websites on Totnes stress the town’s long history (dating back at least to the 10th century,) and its longtime function as a market center. But they are remarkably sparse in their coverage of recent times (Wikipedia begins its five sentence ‘modern history’ of Totnes in 1523, and a local website’s ‘potted history’ of the town ends in the mid 17th century.)  The Totnes area did enjoy a brief period as a wool producer, but this ended in part due to the Industrial Revolution (when the reduced cost of cotton textiles from Lancashire’s mills put much of the wool industry out of business.)

In the second half of the 19th century, Totnes was still a small market center, as it had been a few centuries earlier. Together with its surrounding areas it supported more than 400 traders and professionals, listed in an 1870 directory.  None of the 159 members of the Widdicombe clan in the town makes it onto the list. For most of the 1800s census records show that they had occupations like “labourer” and “tailor (journeyman)” (i.e. working for someone else.) The family name also shows up criminal records, with an impressive number of Widdicombes imprisoned for offences like larceny and receiving stolen goods.

Ancestors on the move

The Widdicombes and the Lewises had for centuries, it seems, subsisted at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectra of their respective regions. But until the 19th century, the idea of moving away probably never occurred to them; it would have been impractical, expensive, probably unprecedented and, besides, they did not know much at all about other places. Going even to Cardiff, might have seemed to a young man from Pontypridd like a reckless adventure, and heading to London would have been an expensive journey to an alien land.  But by 1850, this was changing, thanks largely to steam-driven transportation.

In the early 1800s, steam power went mobile as first paddle driven steam ships, then steam rail locomotives, then propeller driven ocean steamers came into being. By 1850, goods and people were being hauled over land and sea in numbers and at speeds and costs that would have seemed fantastical only a few years earlier.

1866 Timetable for the Merthyr to Cardiff rail service

For the likes of the Lewises, the 20 km journey southeast to Cardiff in the early 1800s would have been a difficult one, probably on foot. Heading out of Pontypridd in the opposite direction, up into the hills and toward Merthyr Tydfil, would have been even more arduous. But when the railroad came, geographies of mobility changed dramatically. In 1866, it was possible to travel the 50 km from Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff in a train pulled by a steam locomotive and powered by coal from the local Middle Duffryn Colliery. The journey took 85 minutes and cost 2 shillings. This would have been about half a day’s wages for a coalminer: not an inconsiderable sum, but presumably manageable at least once in a while. This marked a radical change in mobility for the working class of Pontypridd for whom a journey out of Glamorganshire and even out of Wales became a realistic possibility.

Before the advent of rail transportation, a journey by stage coach to London from Totnes would have taken at least 30 hours. But the Widdicombes would certainly have been unable to afford the cost of the trip. Rail service arrived in Devon in around 1850, and to Totnes in 1872; this made it possible to travel to the 360 km or so to London, previously probably a journey of several days, in about nine hours. Many rail companies, however, actively discouraged travel by the masses, and only when forced by Parliament to broaden their service did they begin to run so called ‘parliamentary trains.’ Even at 1 d. a mile, and running in the middle of the night, these trains must have opened new horizons for the Widdicombes, as rail service had done for the Lewises.

On the seas, changes in transportation were just as dramatic as they were on land. In July 1798, Sarah, the first Lewis sentenced to be transported to Australia, set sail from England on what would be a 169 day journey to New South Wales aboard the sail ship Brittania. By the 1880s, about the time my great grandfather emigrated to South Africa, the journey from Southampton to Cape Town took as little as 17 days. In 1906, the cost of this journey (in steerage) was 19 pounds 19 shillings, about 6 months wages for an agricultural worker or 2 months for a skilled craftsman.

Thanks to these remarkable changes in transportation, it became possible for young William Henry Widdicombe to leave his home in Devon in the 1860s, and make his way to Liverpool. Somewhere along the way, he met Margaret Jameson, born in Liverpool of Scots parentage, and together they made the journey to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, where their son was born in 1882.

The White Star Line’s ‘Suevic,’ the liner that carried my grandmother to South Africa in 1923.

Hathaway Lewis, born in 1896, left Glamorgan at about the time the Great War began, and met and married a plumber’s son from Gloucestershire in 1916.  Within a year, he was killed in action in France. In 1918 the young widow met a soldier, newly arrived from the colonies to fight in the War. He was John Widdicombe, son of the emigrants Henry and Margaret. In the early 1920s, Hathaway and their infant son joined her husband in South Africa. There they had two daughters and another son. In the early 1950s, one of those daughters married the son of Greek emigrants who had arrived in Mozambique early in the 20th century, and later made their way to South Africa.  Details aside, the tale of the Rallis family’s migration from Greece to South Africa was probably not too different from that of the Widdicombes and the Lewises.

But why did the Widdicombe and Rallis families come to South Africa? It is, of course, impossible know but it is relatively easy to take a guess.  My working class ancestors probably saw emigration to the colonies as their best shot at making it into the middle class. For most European immigrants, skin color was sufficient to provide them with the trappings of the middle class lives they might never have had in the Old Country. For English immigrants, language was an added bonus.

As I have quizzed members of my mother’s generation about our history, what has become very clear is that their parents, the emigrant generation, spoke very little about their past. Their children often didn’t know their grandparents’ names, or why they chose to emigrate. My grandmother never even told her children that their father was her second husband.

Perhaps my ancestors’ reticence in talking about their own past was because they wanted to leave it behind, and to start afresh in a new place.  These working class emigrants were not, however, at all reluctant to bring an imagined cultural past with them as they set up their middle class lives in South Africa, where black South Africans were the miners, laborers, and domestic servants, and where for most English speakers skin color and language were sufficient to elevate them to the middle class.  This is the environment in which I was raised, and without which I would not have been born.


Update (June 15, 2011.) I am now in South Wales my first visit, drawn here by the research that led to this blog. I think I got much of what I wrote here right, but Wales looks different from Wales than it does from behind a computer screen in Cambodia (where I wrote this piece.) A new blog on South Wales is brewing, and I hope to post it soon. During this visit, I had some very interesting and informative conversations with local people. My greatest debt of gratitude goes to Hull Matthews of the Pontypridd Library, who provided me with lots if useful information, insights, and some invaluable sources of information.

Note: I drew on numerous sources in writing this blog. Many came from the copious database of (a pay site, alas,) where I found UK Census and criminal records, ships’ passenger lists, marriage records, and even lists of prisoners transported to Australia. The South African website provided some meager but critical records of my grandfather’s birth. Pictures of Pontypridd come from the Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service Heritage TrailI have included links in the text above to some of my other sources.

I owe a special word of thanks to Amyas Crump and Pippa Griffiths of the Tiverton Museum of Mid Devon Life for providing me with information about rail and carriage travel between Devon and London. Thanks also to to the citizens of Pontypridd who responded to my online post asking for their suggestions.

Information here about my grandparents and great grandparents is definitely accurate. Further back, I have had to make some educated guesses about some of my ancestors (Thomas Lewis must surely have been the most popular man’s name in 19th century Wales.)

*This information comes from the Digest of Welsh Historic Statistics, Volume 1, by John Williams.

Another note: I should note here that I did all of the original research for this blog, and wrote it, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The research took about five days. Geography continues to change.

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21 Responses to Mobility, migration, multiculturalism, the monarchy, and me

  1. Kasey Moore on May 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    This particular article goes hand-in-hand with the previous one “My Students, Meet You Competitors”: prevailing is the idea that the world’s people are becoming more and more mobile. Mobility is more prevalent thanks to the technological advancements and psychological acceptance by governments and citizens of migration. I think it’s interesting the identity issue that come with moving. I wonder now if other countries have such issues. Do you claim to be American, Irish, Italian, English, Welsh, African, etc? or do they simple say where they live? Where is the line drawn between the confusing heritage and the straightforward participation in a culture? The world has become a hodgepodge of races and ethnicity and, now, there are people who look indistinguishable and practice hybrid cultures. This all equate to a more connected world and a bigger sense of belonging (connectiveness to the world as opposed to a town, state, or even country). With this loss of personal identity also comes loss of family association. I believe because the majority of people have such messy pasts, they tend to overlook them. It no longer matters who your great great great grandfather is- in fact I have no clue the name of great great grandfather, I don’t even know where my great grandfather was born. People’s family association fall apart because things get “lost in translation” meaning when people move it becomes easier and more fun to just start over. The calls home become less frequent, and explaining heritage becomes too difficult and is left out. It also means that documentation becomes lost and stories disappear with dying people because the link between people has faded. I’m not sure if it is an American thing, but children are all too eager to escape their parents and start out on their own- their past and families mean nothing to them. American families often don’t even eat meals together because they are “too busy”- too busy living separate independent lives. I find it amusing that the only school children as about their past is when they have a genealogy project due. However, in the greater world having “other” blood does not make a person better ( and it shouldn’t cause discrimination in the job market, etc) and , therefore, it is your personal merits and not those of your ancestors that help you succeed.

  2. Laura O on May 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this entry (and certainly learned a lot!). I started considering my own lineage and how improbable my existence would have seemed, even to my great-grandparents. My mother is Hungarian and Romanian, and my father is Irish and Polish. Technology truly is responsible for allowing my grandparents to meet, and consequently my parents to meet.

    On a broader level, this article brought to mind the increasing multiracial and multiethnic populations in both America and the world. It is through technological advances that unique ethnic combinations are possible.

  3. Kavon Johnson on May 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    The advancement in travel is amazing. Just think about how hard it would be to travel if we still had to walk everywhere we wanted to go. I’m more than certain that not too many people would travel as much if they had to walk. Also, who would actually have the time and patience to make long travels.

    I am beyond grateful for the advancements that have taken place. Whereas it used to would take days to travel to some place, it only takes a few hours now. I also like the background on the Lewises and how the grandmother was born 15 km from the farm her great grandmother was born at. That is amazing to me. Nowadays, a grandmother could be born in one country and their grandchild born in another. This reading made me much more appreciative of the advancement of travel

  4. Lindsey C on May 30, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post about your ancestry, as well as the countries of Wales and England. I find it fascinating that the Industrial Revolution and the advancements of technology has assisted in contributing to further exploration and success of many. South Africa is one of the many countries that became populated due to the Industrial Revolution. Another country that could be considered is Austrila, where British shipped off their criminals. If it wasn’t for the advancement of technology, that country would have not been populated as we know it. As well as spreading various nationalities afar.
    In addition, it is interesting to consider the various backgrounds of individuals. In modern day, an individual does not have one sole nationality. They commonly come from more than one nationality, due to these advancements. It is pretty awesome to see how various cultures are now “mixing” together, where it would have been frowned upon in the past. I think it is great that you were able to explore your ancestry so in-dpethly and trace it from Wales to South Africa. It is also fascinating to see how people have become more accepting and tolerant of that various cultures due to the emergence of new technologies. Traveling has assisted in not only my existence (a mixture of Welsh, German, and Dutch) and so many others. Everyone should be very appreciative of the advances travel has made over the years.

  5. Donald Rallis on May 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I had a fascinating time researching this blog, and I am pleased that you enjoyed it. South Africa and Australia, like the Americas, were populated before the Industrial Revolution and colonialism. They were populated by indigenous people, though, whose lives were fundamentally altered by the arrival of people like my ancestors.

  6. Donald Rallis on May 30, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    The key here, as I see it, is that cultures change, and have always done do. The speed of change today, though, is much faster, largely thanks to technologies of communication and transportation. You raise an interesting question when you ask what I claim to be. The answer is that I really don’t know; I suppose I am a European African American, although I generally think of myself as a citizen of the world the product of a mixed ancestry and varied personal history. I suppose, if pushed, I would simply answer that I am a citizen of the world.

  7. chris r. on February 17, 2013 at 12:06 am

    This makes me want to see where i came from……I think i’m going to start asking my family some questions.

  8. Donald Rallis on February 17, 2013 at 4:41 am

    I hope you do, Chris. But don’t necessarily believe everything you hear; think of it instead as part of a body of evidence. I am not for a moment suggesting that family members would deliberately deceive you, but my experience in digging into my own ancestry taught me that family histories can be very selective, sometime just plain inaccurate, and are always incomplete. I would suggest that you start looking around on; you can find census, immigration, and lots of other information there. It’s a pay site, but they usually offer a few weeks free so that you can try it out. Let me know what you find out. Good luck!

  9. Brianna D'Agata on May 28, 2013 at 12:04 am

    This was very interesting to read. I find it fascinating to think about everyone having a much deeper story than what they appear to have. Similar to your other recent blog post about religion decreasing in countries, I feel that knowledge of one’s ancestry is decreasing as well. This is obviously due partially to the fact that time passing by, but it is still upsetting that many people don’t know a lot about their roots if you ask them. My ancestors came to the U.S. to Ellis Island. My female relative lied about her age and did everything she could to get to the U.S. in hopes of obtaining more opportunities than what she had in Italy at the time. Discussing the past is also somewhat secretive in the older generations of my family. Many family secrets and past struggles and stories were unheard of until a relative got dementia and spilled the beans or until my family and I went to Italy to do some research on our own! :)

  10. Brianna D'Agata on May 29, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    I decided to reread this blog again and I was surprised to think about the things in the blog written in a much different way. Before, I commented on my ancestry and the things they did to get to America. But now, I am realizing how brave and amazing it was for them to jump at the opportunity, especially living an almost poor lifestyle. It’s awesome to think about how far the idea of traveling has come. The Industrial Revolution introduced people to these great advances, but even more advances have happened since and continue to do so. Thinking about how traveling by ship/boat would take days a long time ago is mind blowing. Traveling by ship was probably done only to get somewhere else and to stay there. Now, people take cruises for relaxation and vacation time and then get dropped off where they started. I appreciate our traveling opportunities today. Every time I am at the airport I look at the signs flashing all of the planes arrival and departure times for the day and think about the number of planes flying and people traveling per day. It is a lot to take in and think about, but I am very appreciative for all of these things today.

  11. Paola Fuentelsaz on May 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    I must admit that I’m impressed with the amount of information you were able to gather from your family’s history, it must have taken you MANY hours of research! but I’m sure it was worth it because you found a new identity really. I was born in Bolivia, my parents are both Bolivians, as well as my grandparents but on my mom’s side I have family from Spain who still live in Spain and even though my dad doesn’t, I know that my last name is Spanish so I’ve always wondered about my ancestry and hopefully one day I can find an answer. My dream is to travel to Spain one day (when I can afford it) and meet my family and hopefully get an insight on my Spanish ancestry.

    What was an eye-opener from this article is how in 35 years a country can completely change from being mono-cultural to becoming hugely multicultural. It was shocking to read the examples you gave: “When I visited the city at the end of April 2011, the immigration official who stamped my passport was a Sikh, the hotel receptionist who checked me in was from Russia, the waiter who took my meal order was Indian, and the bus driver who drove me to the airport was of Pakistani ancestry”. It is clear that immigrants are not only migrating at a fast pace but they are coming from countries all over the world. We can see how the US is also becoming more culturally diverse every day that goes by but most of the immigrants are Mexican and I’ve read many articles about US citizens who fear that Hispanic people will become the majority people in the country and how that will affect the American identity but that is a whole different subject that maybe… we’ll discuss later? it’s a very controversial topic but perhaps it would be interesting to have a discussion about it. Just a suggestion! :)

  12. Donald Rallis on May 30, 2013 at 4:50 am

    The research actually took several months, and I found it fascinating. I was lucky that British historical records are so good, and are largely online. I did most of my research for this blog online while in Cambodia (for a lot of it I used the website The Greek side of my family is much more difficult to research because records aren’t as good, not as many are online, and most importantly I can’t read Greek. I would imagine that the difficulty of finding records might be just as problematic for you, even though presumably you wouldn’t face any linguistic obstacles. But it’s well worth trying anyway!

  13. Melissa S. on May 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

    This article was fascinating. I have little knowledge from my Grandmother about her side of the family, but the rest of my family I do not know anything. This article has made me decide that I want to find out more about my roots.

    The transportation changes surely made it possible for people to travel and for the Industrial Revolution. Without it we would not have advanced as far as we are today. I was born in the 60’s and the changes today are so amazing. My children all have cell phones and they get mad at me because I do not carry mine where ever I go. Don’t get my wrong I do like the technology but cell phones keep people busy texting and talking all the time that they miss out on important conversations or sightseeing while traveling to other states.

    Without the growing technology today we would not be able to stay in contact with our families. I use to live in a small town in Illinois and I loved it. All my Aunts, Uncles, and cousins were all within walking distance. We were able to stay close. But, throughout the years the younger generations started moving away to find better opportunities. Where I lived everybody worked in the coal mines and as the coal mines shut down or became more dangerous we left looking for better opportunities.

  14. Rachel H. on May 30, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I too enjoyed your blog very much, it got me thinking about my lack of knowledge I have about my own heritage! How did you acquire all the information about your ancestors especially since many of them were so reluctant to talk about the past (which is the case in my family)?

  15. quentin dill on May 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Its a funny thing to look back on change. One minute transportation wasn’t much of a thought and the next minute, after the steam engine, it was the only thought it seems like. No one can ever really know whats to come from change, for the families in these scenarios they took a risk migrating to South Africa in hopes of a better life. As i read the story of your ancestry i was behind each of the families, excited for them to start new lives and new places, but now a days, immigration seems like a sensitive subject. At least in America in regard to illegal immigrants. Not only immigrants from South America but also from the middle east after the attack on the twin towers. America is not the only place struggling with this “urban explosion” that started in London with the Industrial revolution, but places like Shanghai and Istanbul also have high levels of immigration. The reason i think it is such a sensitive subject, to some extent, is because with an increase of the number of people living in a confined place come other issues such as drinking water, sewage waste, job markets, housing, and food resources. When these become scarce, immigration and citizenship become competitive.

  16. Jessica Kamvar on May 30, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    In reading this blog I remembered a conversation my husband and I had when we visited a family friend in New Delhi. He was surprised at the variety of Indian food we enjoyed compared to other guests he had in the past. We explained that because the United States was a country of immigrants it was very normal during any given week to have many foreign dishes, such as Italian, Mexican, or Asian. A fact he found very surprising. Even the phrase “American as apple pie” isn’t quite right because apple pie came to us from Holland.

    My daughter would also be considered a cultural rarity 150 years ago. She has an English, French, and Irish heritage from me and Persian and English from her father. She will grow up eating dry basmati rice cooked after the Iranian fashion and white rice with oil after the Mexican traditon.

    Paola, in 2003 Hispanics replaced African Americans as the largest minority in the United States. They still have a long way to go to ‘become the majority’ but they are already influencing the areas where there is a prominant population. In some areas of the southern states you can’t even get a job unless you speak Spanish.

  17. Alicia L. on May 30, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    This article made me start thinking about my heritage. I have always asked my parents and grandparents things but have never gotten into all the aspects of where we are from and how did we come to the United States. It is hard to imagine things changing that drastically in 35 years. It makes you want to cherish all your memories and surf the internet to keep up on the changes as they occur so you will be prepared for your next visit.

  18. Melissa S. on May 30, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    This article is great! I am from a small town in Illinois and most of the population was all relatives of mine. We could walk to their houses and walk to town when we needed things. It was a very small close knit community. Most of my relatives worked in coal mines or the railway. My Grandfather was an engineer on the railway and had to shovel the coal in the it to keep the engines going. He drove the first engine that took a key. We use to get to ride with him when we were little. Eventually, they would not allow riders on the trains. The younger generation, like me, decided to move to other states to be able to life a more comfortable life and find better jobs. I know some about my heritage on my fathers side but I do not know anything on my mothers side. This article has made me want to find out more about my heritage.

  19. Cheryl C. on May 30, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    It amazes me how much you know about your ancestors and where you are from. I do not know anything about my ancestors beyond my parents. It is time for me to start asking and researching where I am from. If it was not for the steam engines we would all probably be from one country.

  20. Katelyn P. on June 26, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    This was such a great read! It’s amazing the things you discovered! It’s interesting how quickly things seemed to changed looking back on events. People went from thinking they would be in the same place forever doing the same things to having an opportunity to do something different. There were tons of cultural changes in this blog that really speak true to how dynamic culture can be and how different factors can set groups of people on courses they would have never dreamed up on their own. I thought your comment on how skin color giving them an advantage they had not had before was so interesting. Seeing how culture, timing, technology, and even sociological factors have intersected to create not only family histories, but family cultures as well, is truly amazing!

  21. Eric Raterman on July 27, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I would agree that in countries that were populated through colonization, such as America and Australia, we tend to have a strong connection with family history. While I don’t have a lot of information on my mothers side, my father helped to develop an archive of my family (Ratermann’s) history. Its fairly recent, but it goes back to a Bernard and Heinrich, the former who emigrated to America during the early 1800’s. As far as I see it, my family is sort of out of Ratermann territory: We are generally in either our original homes in Alfhausen, Lower Saxony, or around the Cincinnati area. While there is no mention in family records of the Bernard Rattermann House (, and the original Bernard was dead at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else from the family owned the house at some point, since records indicated a mass migration following the 1848 uprising. Its also interesting to see how people relate to ancestry: some people in the class have pointed out their own. While minor ancestries aren’t really brag-gable, people tend to relate to cultures such as Irish for St. Patrick’s day, and I’ve known some people with very unique heritages (for instance, a half-Ukrainian girl or a Maya.)

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