Monday, July 4, 2011

Coming to America

Got a dream to take them there.  They're coming to America. Got a dream they've come to share.  They're coming to America.       --- Neil Diamond
The Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday…even more than Christmas.  For most of my life, Independence Day was celebrated with a huge family party at my parents’ house.  Aside from the rare funeral and the even rarer wedding, it was about the only time that the whole extended clan – Hendersons, Kaisers, Jones, Zygalas, Pells, and Thompsons saw each other.  I think all of the relatives had fun – I mean, they kept coming year after year…but that was probably because of the free beer. 
Up until a few years ago, it was an annual tradition.  Our family, like millions of others, celebrated our country’s independence and our American-ness.  But where did our American story begin? 
Since my dad’s family isn’t much into talking about family history, I did a little digging on my own – of course, it does help that I work for the National Archives!   
I found out that the Henderson family saga (saga makes it seem so Kennedyesque, don't you think?) began with a 13 year old boy named Michael Henderson who came to America from Ireland in 1869.  On the ship’s manifest, he is at the end of a list of other male laborers, all in their late teens and early twenties.  There were no other Hendersons on the manifest…I can only imagine that he was making to the voyage to America on his own.  I wonder what he hoped to find when he arrived on the shores of this new country.  I wonder what his hopes and dreams were for his future.   
Michael Henderson’s American story began on a farm in Ambler, Pennsylvania where he was a gardener.  Five years after his arrival, he married Bridget Gray.  By 1900, Michael – now a “teamster” and Bridget had five children, one of whom was my great-grandfather, William.  At 19, William was a blacksmith and still living with his parents – that must be hereditary…my dad didn’t move out of his parents’ house until he was 29!  I wonder if my great-great-grandfather Michael was wondering when his son was gonna get his act together and move out on his own.  (Luckily, by 1910, William was married and out of the house!)
142 years ago, Michael Henderson crossed the Atlantic Ocean alone, with no family and probably with no real idea of what he was going to find once he got to America.  Maybe he had big dreams - a new life, a brighter future, and better opportunities in this wonderful country.
I think he did pretty well for himself.  And I think he probably would’ve loved the family Fourth of July parties.
From my family to yours, I hope you had an awesome Fourth of July.  Happy Independence Day! 

Michael's son, William, the horseshoer.

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