Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Resources for Immigrant Diaries

Here's the website about Ellis Island: teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/

And here are the updated texts about Germans and Russians:

The first German immigrants arrived in America during colonial times; some of these Germans sought religious freedom.  So, by the 1860s and 1870s, many Germans had been in the U.S. for some time.  Many arrived in the 1850s and having settled in the Midwest, in states like Wisconsin and Ohio.  By the late 1800s, German communities in the United States were well-established.

Some Germans immigrated because increased industrialization and the use of machines made their jobs unnecessary.  Many rural Germans moved to cities in search of employment.  Unfortunately, German cities quickly became overcrowded and the availability of jobs there also declined, forcing some people to return to their rural homes or to emigrate.

Also affecting emigration from the German states was an increase in taxes, which caused financial stress for many.  Also, as population increased, land in Germany became scarcer and thus more expensive. Fewer people were able to afford land, forcing many of them to look abroad for land where it was more plentiful and less expensive.

Additionally, in 1848, people in many European countries, including Germany, rebelled against monarchical (king-led) governments. The leaders of these revolutions wanted new, republican (more democratic, people-led) forms of government to replace the existing monarchies. However, the revolutions failed and resulted in even stricter regulations being placed upon the people. To avoid authoritarian governments and their restrictions, many people fled Europe.

Once they had enough money to purchase boat tickets, Germans had to decide what to take with them to America.  People packed warm clothes and blankets, family Bibles, and teakettles.  Some took small envelopes of dirt to remind them of their homeland.  People often carried maps showing German settlements in America.  The maps showed American roads, railroads, canals, and rivers that would guide new immigrants to the settlements.

People living in Germany shared a common culture.  They ate food such as pretzels, sausages, sauerkraut, and gingerbread.  They told their children fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Cinderella.”  Skilled German craftsmen made furniture, cuckoo clocks, and silverware.  German families sang “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) and “O Tannenbaum” (O Christmas Tree) at Christmastime.  They brought traditional foods with them to the U.S.  Hamburgers and frankfurters were first eaten in Germany.  Easter egg hunts and Christmas tree decoration were German customs too.

Sources include German Immigrants, 1820-1920 by Helen Frost.


Russia is the largest country in the world, stretching across the northern part of Europe and Asia.  In much of Russia, the winters are long and cold, while the summers are warm and short.  The growing season is just a few months long.  Russians must grow enough food in a short time to last them through the winter.

In the late 1800s, about 85 percent of Russians were peasant farmers.  They lived in small houses with thatched roofs made of straw.  They made soup with potatoes and other vegetables.  Rye bread and beet soup, called borscht, was a common Russian meal.  During the long winter, animals stayed in houses with the people.  People kept horses to work in the fields and they raised cows for milk, but they seldom could afford to raise animals for meat.

Russian peasants spent most of their time working in the fields.  After the fieldwork, Russians enjoyed spending time with their families.  During long winter evenings, they played flutes and balalaikas, three-stringed musical instruments.  They also enjoyed singing, dancing, and storytelling.  Women embroidered by stitching colorful designs onto clothing.

For hundreds of years, a series of powerful leaders called tsars ruled Russia.  Peasant farmers did not own their own land.  Instead, they were “serfs,” working for wealthy landowners who did not pay them for their work.  The serfs had to give a large share of the food they grew to their landowner.  This system made it difficult for them to feed their large families.  Children worked in the fields along with their parents.  Most children did not go to school and never learned to read.  In 1861, the tsar freed all serfs, so they could move and also had the right to own land.  But land was very expensive.  Many peasants accepted free plots of land, but the plots were very small.  Many families ran out of food and supplies before the winter season ended.

Between 1880 and 1920, more than 10,000 Russians arrived in the U.S. per year.  Between 1901 and 1910, 1.6 million Russians came to the United States.  Russian Jews sought freedom from religious persecution, moving to New York and other coastal cities.  Pogroms were major, repeated riots that targeted Jews in Russia.  In the 1880s, Jews were blamed for the assassination of the tsar.  Many historians, however, believe that Jews were blamed only because other Russians were jealous of Jewish success in business and careers.  Though only a few deaths were reported, thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed, Jews were forced into poverty, and thousands of people were injured. 

The New York Times described another pogrom in Easter, 1903:  "There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Orthodox Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, "Kill the Jews," was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. [Note: the actual number of dead was 47–48 and the injured about 500.] The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babies were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews."

Sources include Russian Immigrants 1860-1915 by Helen Frost

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