By Annie Albin
The story of my immigrant history begins with two of my ancestors from two different sides of my family, both on boats to America and both hoping no one found them.
One of those ancestors was Nick Delahamet, who would become my maternal great-great-great grandfather. He was born in Luxembourg and was only 9 when he was orphaned. By the time he turned 10, the uncle who was taking care of him told him it was time for him to make it out on his own. He moved to Paris and began working as a bricklayer on a railroad. Sometime around the 1850s or 1860s (my family doesn’t know for sure), Delahamet stowed away on a boat set for the United States. He could have been anywhere from 12 to 17 at this time.
He tried to stay as quiet as he could, but eventually he was found. He was taken to the ship captain and forced to peel potatoes in the kitchen for the remainder of the voyage.
My grandpa jokes that Delahamet is the reason why my entire family can peel potatoes in one move.
Eventually, Delahamet found his way to Bellwood, Nebraska, where a community of Luxembourg immigrants had formed.
In Bellwood, he found a community much like the one he had left behind. He married another Luxembourger, and they had a daughter named Anna. Anna also married a Luxembourger named John, and they had a daughter named Loretta, who would be my great-grandmother. Loretta married Nicholas Schmit, the son of two (you guessed it) Luxembourg immigrants. Loretta and Nicholas were my grandfather’s parents. My grandfather has always instilled pride in our Luxembourg heritage, and most of my family has visited at some point.
My other ancestor wasn’t a stowaway, but a draft evader. The story is hazy, but around 1852 Friedrich Loennig (who would become my paternal great-great-grandfather) was about to be drafted into the Prussian army, a mandatory task at this time. But Loennig, along with his brother Arnst, didn’t want any part of it.
At the time, they had another brother in the army who was home on leave. Arnst Loennig had a similar beard to this brother, so he took his uniform and papers and left without telling anyone. He used these papers to get from Gräfenhainchen, Germany, to Amsterdam. My family thinks that Friedrich pretended to be Arnst’s servant during this charade. The two hid while waiting for their boat, but they eventually made it to the United States.
My family doesn’t have my great-great-great-grandfather’s retelling of the story, but we do have his draft-evasion arrest warrant from the Königlich Preussisches Central-Polizei Blatt, otherwise known as the Royal Prussian Central Police Sheet.
The translation states (according to a service my uncle used): “Berlin, December 14, 1859. The Military draftee Friederich August Loennig, from Gräfenhainchen, is because of leaving of the Royal country despite being advised against it and thereby escaped entrance into the Military service, for 50 Thalers is fined, in the case of inability [to pay], to 1 month prison is sentenced. It is asked for execution of the sentence and notification.”
Luckily, Friedrich was far away enough that he never needed to worry about doing his prison sentence.
After two long, complicated journeys, both of these early ancestors found their new homes. I can’t help but recognize how the stories of these two young men are so different, but also so strangely similar. They left what they knew and probably were scared out of their minds at times, but they were still full of optimism.
In the end, I think many immigration stories each are different yet tied together with one common emotion: hope.