Gasp! My European Ancestors Were Undocumented Immigrants!

Yes its true. Many may be shocked to know that my first European immigrant ancestors arrived in America as undocumented immigrants! I was prompted to disclose this dark side of my family after reading this hateful comment in Facebook:

My people came to this country from Europe and were all documented!!! Undocumented, illegals are causing a tremendous strain on this countries economy!!!! If you hate Americans like myself, maybe you should GET THE HELL OUT TOO!!!!!!

Many European Americans have a romantic notion that our ancestors all came here legally with visas, disembarked on boats in orderly fashion at Ellis Island, where they got a health check, and were duly inspected by immigration officers and admitted to the U.S. The truth is actually quite different, and I will use my own family’s immigrant experience to illustrate this.

Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration Inspectors at Ellis Island Inspecting Immigrants

My first ancestor, George Soule, came on the Mayflower, and though he could read and write and was brought as an indentured servant to tutor Edwin Winslow‘s children, he wasn’t a highly skilled professional or family member of a citizen, so by today’s laws he wouldn’t have been allowed to immigrate.

Another early ancestor, James Cole (1600-1692) immigrated from Barnstaple, Devonshire, England to Plymouth, MA in 1632, along with his wife Mary Tibbes Cole, and sons James and Hugh. The Coles lived on Cole’s Hill, site of Plymouth’s first cemetery, and opened the first tavern in New England. Cole’s Hill, a national historical landmark, overlooks the harbor where the first Pilgrims arrived.

James Cole Plymouth Colony

“In memory of James Cole, Born London England 1600, Died Plymouth Mass 1692, First settler of Coles Hill 1633, A soldier in Pequot Indian War 1637”

Cole's Hill, Plymouth, James Cole

Cole’s Hill, Plymouth, MA

My Cole ancestors most definitely did not have visas, nor did anyone check their ‘papers’ as they had none. Until 1890 the federal government had no immigration inspectors, and even after hiring inspectors until decades later immigrants just showed up, and inspectors decided on-the-spot whether there was any reason for inadmissability, such as illness, criminal record, prostitute, etc.

A visa was not required to immigrate to America until Congress passed the National Origins Act in 1924, which severely limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe in favor of Northern and Western Europe, and non-Europeans were barred altogether. The visa system was invented to ensure that immigrants didn’t show up in numbers that exceeded quotas.

My first Quasius immigrant ancestor, Friedrich Quasius (1821 – 1897) and his wife Catharina Anna Koehler (1833 – 1909), immigrated from Germany to Wisconsin. Another great-great-grandparent, Charles Brickner (1842 – 1917), also immigrated from Germany in 1864 with his parents, Nicklaus Brickner (1806 – 1882) and Martha Feirkoffen Brickner (1824 – 1900), and promptly enlisted in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry during the civil war, which captured Jefferson Davis. His wife Sophia Alves Brickner (1845 – 1934) also immigrated in 1849 with her parents, Friedrich Alves (1799 – 1871) and Helene Sohafsen Alves (1809 – 1890).

None had ‘papers’ to immigrate to the U.S. The U.S. had immigration laws from colonial times, but anyone who showed up and was not a member of an excluded group, such as criminals or prostitutes, could immigrate. Like many New Americans of that era, Friedrich and Catharina Quasius had 11 children, and Charles and his immigrant wife Sophia Brickner had eight children, which would probably send many of today’s Nativists into a tizzy, given their population reduction and eugenics obsession.

Friedrich and Catharina Quasius with family farm - Mid-19th century

Friedrich Quasius with family farm – 19th century

Veterans of the Ist Wisconsin Cavalry - First Wisconsin Cavalry

Veterans of the First Wisconsin Cavalry in Milwaukee, about 1880. Photo by E. D. Bangs.

Would My Ancestors Have Been Allowed to Immigrate Under Today’s Laws?

Many who like to berate unauthorized immigrants boast how their ancestors came legally. They want to feel they are superior, but many of their ancestors might not be allowed to immigrate today! The U.S. was open to just about all immigrants until early modern progressives, huge believers in eugenics, decided government should pick and choose who could immigrate, not just bar undesirables such as criminals, sick people, prostitutes, etc. Chinese were barred starting in 1882, and other groups were soon barred as well, culminating in the 1924 National Origins Act that set per nation quotas based on America’s racial and ethnic make-up in 1890. Anyone who could not become a naturalized citizen was barred, which meant non-whites could not immigrate.

My Cole and Quasius ancestors would likely have been allowed to immigrate under the National Origins Act, which had generous quotas for both England and Germany, but not under today’s laws. In fact, during that 1924-1965 era, immigrant quotas from Northern and Western European nations weren’t filled, while immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe was severely limited. Within a few years the U.S. had millions of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe here illegally. Many of those who are berating immigrants with rants like “My people came to this country from Europe and were all documented!!!” might do well to check if their great-grandparents came from Southern or Eastern Europe, as they may well have come illegally via Mexico!

However, under today’s laws my ancestors would likely not be allowed to immigrate. Our present system gives strong preference to family based immigrants and highly skilled professionals with an employer willing to go through the costly legal process to sponsor them. James Cole was a sailor, hardly a skilled professional, and he had no close family in Maine or Massachusetts. There are no guest worker visas for sailors, and the only guest worker visa that can be status adjusted to permanent resident is the H1B visa, and just 5,000 H1B visas are available for unskilled workers. There is also the “visa lottery” but odds of winning are very low.

Friedrich Quasius was a farmer with no family in the U.S. He would have been eligible for an H2A agricultural guest worker visa, but H2A visas are ineligible for adjustment of status to permanent resident. He probably could have come and worked in the U.S., but would not have been allowed to stay.

James Cole also might well have been deported under today’s laws, which mandates deportation for certain criminal behavior, and indefinite detention of immigrants pending trial. James Cole, as a tavern owner, had quite a few brushes with the law for illegal alcohol sales to Indians, bar fights, and one time was charged with battery but was acquitted. Another time a guest got drunk, went out fishing and drowned. Not everyone in Plymouth was a pilgrim despite what we see in movies and read in history textbooks.


Bob Quasius is founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans

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Discuss: “Gasp! My European Ancestors Were Undocumented Immigrants!”

  1. February 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Bob Quasius – AGAIN (with only a minor quible, here and there, in the way that you express yourself) YOU are SPOT ON with your comments above !!!!!

    My Grandmother was a Grand Dame within the North Dakota Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) – and some of my ancesters had their land surveyed by a young and up-and-coming George Washington !!!!

    YOU, Bob Quasius, overwhelminly are SPOT ON – every time that you take the Nativists of our land – to task – for their narrow-minded and bigotted orientation towards Immigration AND Immigration Reform !!!!

    KEEP UP your FINE and Good work within this Blog Space, Bob Quasius !!!!!

    Just tankin’ ya again,

    Robert Allen

    Posted by boba123
    • February 14, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      After reading that ignorant comment, I felt the need to mock those who put down today’s immigrants with idiotic rants like “well my grandparents came legally” without recognizing our legal immigration system is completely different than earlier eras.

      BTW, my ancestors have fought in nearly every American war, from the Pequot war of 1637, the revolutionary war, the war of 1812, the civil war, the Spanish-American war, WWI, WWII, Korea, etc. However, I will never put down someone whose ancestors arrived much later. American has a tradition of welcoming immigrants, a tradition that sadly is falling by the wayside.

      Posted by bquasius
  2. February 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    Ya, Bob – my ancestors, too, fought in every war that America was involved in – except the original Ritterbushes who were brought over as Hessian Mercinaries. When these Ritterbushes hit the American shores because the British brought them to America – they collected as much pay as they could – and then promtly disserted – and went to Vermont.

    Personally, Bob, I was very active in the Anti-Vietnam war activities beginning in 1967. Naturally – all of my Veteran relatives – where SHOCKED at my choices. It took years for some to accept my orientation. Some never accepted my orientation !!!!

    I agree with you, Bob Quasius – America – THE Leading Democracy of the FREE World – SHOULD be a place that welcomes ALL Immegrants – FOR – ALL TIME !!!

    On the same page with ya, Bob Quasius,

    Robert Allen

    Posted by boba123
    • February 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

      I updated to add another immigrant great-great-grandparent who also came without ‘papers.’ It turns out his cavalry unit was responsible for capturing Jefferson Davis!

      Ironically, I have several ancestors on my mother’s side of the family who were confederate soldiers, but not immigrants.

      Posted by bquasius
      • February 16, 2013 at 9:34 am #

        My great-great-grandfather was a officer in the GAR – Grand Army of the Republic – from Michigan. America’s Civil War certainly divided families, particularly in boarder states, where members of the same family were on both sides of the conflict.

        Your family ancestry, Bob, is par for the course in those times of Civil War.

        The important take-home message in all of this though, Bob, is that America, THE Leading Democracy of the FREE World – freely welcomes all folk who want to live here – for whatever reasons – without being troubled with issues of loyalty to a Nativist Opinion. The Pragmatics of Democracy – demand FAIR treatment for all!!!! Everything short of FAIR treatment – are Pragmatic statements that America is NOT the Democracy that it claims to be.

        Again, Bob – on the same page with you on immigration issues,

        Robert Allen

        Posted by boba123
  3. April 2, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    The fellow you quoted doesn’t write with good English grammar/spelling. Where does that put him?

    Posted by Peggy Thomas
    • April 2, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      That’s how people wrote during the 18th century.

      Posted by bquasius
      • April 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

        One of MY Favorite Early 18th Century English Writers is Samuel Johnson!!!!

        I’ve learned a great deal ’bout writin’ from Ol’ Sam – WHO IS – Highly Creative in the usages (including spelling and Capitalization!!!) of our ancestral Mother Tongue – English, that is.

        However, I’ve also been heavily influenced by H. L. Mencken – see “The American Language” and Suppliment One of “The American Language” – for a strong and forceful explaination of why we, on this side of the Pond, speak American, rather than English.

        I Highly Commend BOTH Samuel Johnson and H. L. Mencken to your reading (and writing) attention!!!!!!

        Posted by boba123
  4. April 2, 2013 at 11:40 pm #

    I was referring to the hateful quote, not Quasius’ text. The one who said to “get the hell out.” That contained a major spelling/grammatical error. So much for his/her pomposity.

    Posted by Peggy Thomas
  5. April 3, 2013 at 1:08 am #

    Right ON, Peggy Thomas. Looks like both Bob Quasius and I mis-understood what you were sayin’, Peggy. Ain’t it JUST like a man, err – two men – to miss the boat on this one, eh?

    Thanks fer clarifyin’ what’s what!!!!!

    Posted by boba123
  6. April 3, 2013 at 9:08 am #

    Your “countries” proud of both of you.

    Posted by Peggy Thomas
    • April 3, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      This includes you too, Peggy – in a Mighty Trio of Triumphant Posters on the Cafe Con Leche Republicans Blog Space !!!!!

      In OUR Honor, Peggy – here’s a link to Mariah Carey’s song – “Triumphant (Get ‘Em)” –

      Posted by boba123
  7. September 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Actually the Pilgrims came over illegally under laws existing at the time. The Crown (England’s government) demanded a Charter specifying the area they were to settle in the New World. The Pilgrims charter was obtained from the “Virginia Company” for settling in Virginia. But they chose to violate their charter(almost certainly intentionally) and settle in Massachusetts, thereby avoiding interference in their puritan worship from the existing Virginia Governor (Sir George Yeardley), and the Church of England. The Crown granted a Charter to the Puritan owned Massachusetts Bay Company in 1630. This Charter legitimized the settlement in Plymouth and the earlier emigrants. It is interesting that although the Puritans came to America for religious reasons, they passed laws forbidding non Puritans from settling in Massachusetts and ran out most others including Quakers (Killing at least 4) and Baptists. That may of set the tone for future generations, if not setting the tone, creating a voice that has never been long silent. “Do whatever you can to come her legally or illegally, then once you are here, keep all the folks significantly different, out”. Fortunately as in this case reason usually eventually prevails, but the voices and the debates continue. The debate is healthy (my opinion).

    Posted by Lyle Borton
    • September 9, 2013 at 12:47 am #

      Great Comment, Lyle Borton. I am currently writing a book on America’s Architecture of the Cold War – and the chapter that I am currently writing deals with what American Protestants contributed to this Architecture of the Cold War – through the course of Four Protestant Awakenings within America. Jonathan Edwards is associated with the First Protestant Awakening (also referred to as the “Great Awakening”) which reinforced Conservative Calvinism (but not as conservative as the Pilgrim’s take on Calvinism) within America – and Billy Graham is associated with the Fourth Protestant Awakening. My chapter tends to focus upon the Second, Third, and Fouth Protestant Awakenings. The Calvanist- Arminian Conflict begins within the Second Protestant Awakening – and remains Arminian through today – within Conservative Protestants circles – with Liberal Protestants (begininning in the Third Protestant Awakening) placing their focus up the Social Gospel, Theistic Darwinism, and Higher Criticism – ALL Stongly opposed by the Conservative Protestants from the latter Third Protestant Awakening onward.

      Those Pilgrims that you speak of, Lyle Borton, where VERY Strict Conservative Calvinists, in DEFINATE conflict with the MORE Liberal Church of England of that day and age. And you’re right, Lyle Borton, that these Strick conservative Calvinist Pilgrims – were VERY Intollerant of EVERYONE who was not also – a Conservative Calvinist !!!!!

      Keep up your great comments within the Cafe Con Leche Republicans Blog Space !!!!!

      Posted by BOBA123
  8. September 9, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Robert, actually the Pilgrims were fairly tolerant. It was the Puritans who were not tolerant. Interesting to note that one my earliest ancestors, James Cole, settled in Plymouth and was actually agnostic until he was well into his 80s. However, that didn’t stop him from holding prominent positions. He was elected constable twice, in 1641 and 1644. By comparison, the Puritans hanged four men because they were Baptists, hardly a sign of religious tolerance!

    Posted by Bob Quasius
  9. September 9, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Actually the 4 executed by the Puritans were Quakers, 3 men and a woman (Mary Dwyer). Bob is right the Pilgrims were more tolerant then the Pilgrims, but both were somewhat elitist. The Pilgrims were Separatist that wanted to be separate from the Church of England while the Puritans sought reform within the established church. The crazy thing is that Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptists and Quakers were all Calvinists. BUT they chose to focus on that that was different rather than what they had in common. The Quakers were not guiltless, they continuously and with intent broke the Puritan Laws to preach their religion in Massachusetts. Mary Dwyer had already escaped one death sentence but returned in defiance of the Puritans Law, she was re-arrested and Hang on the Boston Commons on 1 June 1660.

    On a personal basis I am descended of both Puritans and Quakers. Tomas Dudley (4 time Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) was my 8th Great Grandfather John Bradstreet (2 time Governor my 7th Great Grandfather). John Borton a Quaker and signer of the Concessions and Agreement (founding document for the Quaker Colony of “East New Jersey) and was my 7th Great Grandfather. My ancestors also include some of the Earliest Baptist. I say this because somehow these dissimilar folks that genuinely hated each other, descendants had intermarried and by 1825 many descendants of Quakers Puritans Baptists and Presbyterians had merged to form an even stronger society, that what they had in common was indeed greater than that what separated them.

    I think this lesson may apply here as well. Many of the issues we seem to think are so important will eventually give way to the central issue of what it is to be an American. Well that is my opinion any way.

    Posted by Lyle Borton
    • September 9, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Thanks, Lyle Borton, for clarifying some of the common themes of differences between – Puritans – and – Pilgrims. I fully intend to address Bob Quasius’ comment (that’s why I’m keeping the notice of Bob’s comment within my email Inbox) – but will be busy the next few days with more important issues for me. Here though is an interesting YouTube thingy that you and others may enjoy –

      I personally see BOTH Puritans and Pilgrims as Calvinists – which is the focus within my book – which also includes the Calvinist-Arminian Conflict – and how the Fouth Protestant Awakening, largly Aminian in focus – contributes to the internal Propaganda within the larger picture of America’s Architecture for the Cold War.

      To my Biased way of thinking – the differences between Puritans and Pilgrims – is ONLY an internal dispute among Calvinists – which in the book that I am writing – would ONLY be a difference between Reified Constructs – see the Wiki for an introduction to Reified Constructs –

      Again, thanks, Lyle Borton, for your contributions to THIS thread.

      A NOTE to Bob Quasius – I fully intend to more deeply address the differences within Calvinism between Puritans and Pilgrims – but currently, I am rather busy with other projects. A discussion of these differences, Bob Quasius, IS Important to me – as this IS at least the second time that you make reference to your ancestors, James Cole – which I have NO DOUBT is a True experience within the life of James Cole, Bob.

      A NOTE to Lyle Borton – although I am no longer actively involved within the Website – by clicking on the Red portion of – posted by BOBA123 – you may gain a better understanding of where I am coming from. I do respond to ALL Blog Entries that are NOT Spam.

      Robert Allen

      Posted by BOBA123
    • September 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Lyle Borton – Thi link may be of interest to you –

      In the COMMENTS section, Dave Leach, a STRONG Theist, AND I are having a discussion of DIFFERENCES between Theist and Atheism !!!! Enjoy !

      Robert Allen

      Posted by BOBA123
  10. March 20, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Wow! I too am a descendent of James Cole of Plymouth it just never crossed my mind to use my family history to bash our country on immigration. We weren’t even a country when James Cole arrived. I agree his colorful past and lack of interest in attending church didn’t prevent him from contibuting to his community. Immigration is and always has been important to the development of our country. Today’s laws are not the laws of the 1630’s and I believe the immigration process should be adhered to. Debating who was a Calvinist or strict conservative hundreds of years ago is interesting and demonstrates how smart you guys are on this topic but really doesn’t amount to much. This country has grown from a few settlements in to a country that is much more complex and requires a better answer to immigration other then let everyone in that wants to come. Current laws should be enforced, legal immigration promoted and criminals deported. I enjoyed your blogs and you’ve capture my interest. Glenn

    Posted by GCole
    • March 22, 2014 at 2:05 am #

      The point I was trying to make is not to make comparisons between today’s immigrants and our grandparents. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard undocumented immigrants put down with comments like “well my grandparents came here legally” when in fact we had completely different laws then as compared to now. We didn’t have a problem with illegal immigration until early modern progressives decided immigration was a tool of social engineering, and ever since then whenever economic needs exceeded arbitrary quotas the result has been widespread illegal immigration.

      Posted by bquasius

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