Illegal Immigrants

It seems only fair, in these days of tightening the borders, to confess that my family’s immigration was not entirely legal. In fact, on both sides of my family, my ancestors represented some of the worst in violating immigration laws. Let’s start in Sweden.

Perhaps somebody was getting married. The Daniel Jonorson family gathered in their  best clothes for what is probably the only family photograph they ever posed for.

Perhaps somebody was getting married. The Daniel Jonorson family gathered in their best clothes for what is probably the only family photograph they ever posed for. I am guessing this image was made around midsummer (by the evergreen boughs at their feet and by other photographs which appear to be taken the same day) and in the 1880s or 1890s.

We call him Daniel Jonorson, but his name might as easily be Jonasson or Jonsson…it’s not easy to say, as we’ve never found any legitimate record of his family in Swedish archives. What we do know about the family comes from a typewritten scrap of paper that might have been transcribed from a family Bible, by an unknown family member, at an unknown time. We have traced the birthplaces the record provides to a few hamlets in South Central Sweden, which my father recalled his father speaking of. Here is the entire transcription:

Daniel Jonorson was born 28 Sept., 1844 in Regkelsboda, Sweden. He married Yngri Lira Yonhannerdotter (sic) of Bredhutt Berg Soken, Sweden. Their children are as follows:

Emma Kristina Danieldottor 16 Feb 1868
Carl Amadres Danielson 28 Oct 1873
Nina Caroline Danieldottor 11 Jun 1876
Johan Alfred Danielson 17 Aug 1879
Johan Gustaf Danielson 25 Jan 1881
Salma Elis Danielson 8 Feb 1883
Oscar Fritiof Danielson 25 Apr 1885
Nels Gunnard Danielson 18 Apr 1888


Up until my grandfather’s death in the 1940s, sporadic letters were exchanged between his siblings who still lived in Sweden, and this illegal immigrant who had settled in Eastern Washington. My grandfather was Oscar Fritiof Danielson, and he’s probably the lad in his mother’s lap in this photograph. There is a strong family resemblance between several of the children and descendents of this family in America.

In the 1800s, children were still being given surnames based on their father’s given name and on their own gender. Thus, the sons in this family became Danielsons and the daughters, Danieldotters. I suspect that the transcription changed the original Danielsson to an americanized Danielson, but I have no proof of that.

As I have mentioned, we have no documentation to speak of concerning the events of this family in Sweden. Consequently, our history has undergone the filter of oral reporting. I recall going through the old pictures with my father once, and asking about an old Swedish woman who appears in several of the foreign photographs. He called her his aunt Albertina, and said that Oscar used to write her before he died. Nobody kept in touch after that. Since there is no Albertina on the Bible list, I presume she married into the family.

My father told me that Oscar became a merchant seaman as a young man. He may well have been one. Again, we have no record of his employment, because so few of us have been able to pursue the Swedish line of research. The story goes that Oscar was a sailor on a ship that called at an American port (some say New York) when the crisis that ended Swedish and Norwegian union occurred (1905). Oscar, fearing that he would be drafted into service in a war he couldn’t support, jumped ship and illegally made the United States his home.
The dates check out. If Oscar was born in 1885, he would have been twenty at the time Norway’s parliament unilaterally withdrew from the union with Sweden. Events concur, too: Sweden’s reaction was to threaten Norway with war. And so far nobody has located any sort of official document to indicate that Oscar Fritiof Danielson was a welcome resident of the United States. He just sort of appeared here and ignored immigration requirements. That might be why he never visited Sweden as other Swedish immigrants in the family did.
I haven’t located Oscar’s name on the 1910 census. It’s possible he was still someplace back east or in the midwest, where he evidently had immigrant siblings. He arrived in Seattle sometime around 1910, though, taking work at the shipyards in Renton, where he worked on submarines and ferries. We’ll pick up on his story at another time.
Oscar isn’t the only illegal immigrant in my family. The other one that stands out is Herman Frank Kuhnhausen, the first. There have been too many other Herman Frank Kuhnhausens to count since his days. The story of the eldest Herman Frank Kuhnhausen’s immigration is related by some writing my grandfather (a later Herman Frank Kuhnhausen) completed and self-published in the latter third of the 1900s.
Let’s call the original Herman, since the later Hermans don’t really enter into this story. According to my grandpa, Herman’s family ran an inn in or near the Jura Mountains, close to or in a little village known as Kuhnhausen, with or without some sort of umlauds. There was a very large family to contend with, sixteen children, by my grandpa’s count. Some of the older children had married and moved away, including a couple of sisters who now lived in America.
The perspicacious Herman noticed that younger sons of middling families usually ended up poor in Germany. So at the age of 14, he began hoarding his pfennigs to buy a steamboat passage to America, where he knew he could prosper through his hard work.
Soon after Herman earned enough to buy his precious ticket, a disastrous lawsuit was levied against his family. His father lost his inn, and his income. In a hurried family conclave, it was determined that older sons would more easily and quickly acquire the capital the family would need to move en masse to America. So Herman’s ticket was confiscated and used for one of his older brothers instead.
Herman’s father and a couple of the oldest sons proceeded to the seaport to board their vessel, and the family tagged along to wave goodbye. But Herman wasn’t content. In fact, he was as angry as a fourteen-year-old could be. It wasn’t fair that he lost the ticket he had labored so hard to buy. When the opportunity arose, Herman leaped at the chance. He inserted himself into the midst of a crowd of children belonging to another huge German immigrant family. The ticket master asked the father of that family if these were all his children, but he didn’t bother to count them. Herman boarded the ship without a ticket.
So far, so good, but for Herman, the struggle had just begun. He found himself alone and without food or shelter on a ship that would take weeks to arrive in America. Uncertain about what he should do, he cautiously sought out his father and brothers. But their reaction wasn’t what Herman had expected it to be. Instead of taking him into their care, they shunned him. What would happen, they asked, if Herman were discovered with them? They would all be in trouble with the law! So they  refused to feed him or give him a place to sleep.
Herman found shelter beneath the tarp on a lifeboat, but his hunger continued to gnaw at him. Finally, hanging around near the galley, Herman intercepted a kitchen worker who was about to dump a tub of rancid butter over the side. Herman pleaded with the sailor to give the butter to him. For the rest of his life, Herman refused to eat butter again.
At the end of his passage, Herman simply waited for the same careless father to herd his children down the ramp. Once on land, he reunited with his family and accompanied them to the Chicago area, where he found work at the McCormick Harvester factory. My grandfather took pride in his dad’s work ethic. He tells about Herman overdoing his job, producing more and more products so he could get paid more. It seems that the other workers cautioned him to slow down. They were paid by the piece, yes, but, the bosses were stingy, and they wouldn’t reward his extra effort. Herman couldn’t believe them, so he kept on cranking out the work at top speed. The result was that his per piece rate was cut, and Herman had to keep up his production speed just to keep even with the other, more moderate workers.
The contents of these pages, including pictures and graphics are
Copyright 2009, Mark E. Danielson
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