Primary Sources Immigration: Photography Curtis Family Letters

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Primary Sources Immigration:



Curtis Family Letters

Timothy Dunne immigrated to America from Ireland sometime in the mid-1830s, farmed in Pennsylvania for a time and then moved on to Belleville, Illinois. Dunne’s nephew John Curtis came from Mountmellick, Queen’s County, Ireland before 1838 and settled in Philadelphia; he was joined by his sister Jane ca. 1845. Other family members were already settled in the Philadelphia area and Washington, D.C. John’s sister Hannah Curtis Lynch and other family members remained in Ireland during the early years of the Potato Famine; Hannah and her husband William came to the United States in 1848.

These letters were written by Curtis family members residing in Philadelphia and Ireland during the years of the Famine.

From Ireland to Philadelphia:

From Ireland to Philadelphia:

"I told my father you would not forget thomas"
Hannah Curtis to brother John Curtis, November 24, 1845

"there is neither employment nor food" 
William Dunne to John Curtis, April 25, 1846

"there is nothing here but hardship and starvation" 
William Dunne to John Curtis, November 16,1846

"the people are in a starving state"
Hannah Curtis to John Curtis, April 2, 1847

"I hope with the help of god I will soon be there my dear Cousin "
William Dunne to John Curtis, April 2, 1851 

 From Philadelphia to Ireland:

"when anyone gets married here they have so much troble on their minds"
John and Jane to their mother Bridget Dunne Curtis, July 21, 1845*

*included in this letter is a note from Mary Dillon to her sister Bridget Dunne Curtis


Irish Immigration Lesson Primary Sources

Curtis family letters

Ads from The Catholic Herald

“Suffer for About the First Six Months After Leaving Home”: John Doyle Writes Home to Ireland, 1818 . John Doyle.

Irish Immigrant ballads

Irish Americans in the Franklin County, PA newspapers, from the Valley of the Shadow site:

  • Franklin Repository and Transcript, August 10, 1859, p. 3, c. 2: "A Yankee Trick." An anecdote about a Irishman and his inability to learn a "Yankee trick."

  • Franklin Repository and Transcript, August 10, 1859, p. 3, c. 2: "'Two Irishmen Were One Day Engaged...'" An anecdote about how an Irishman, "engaged in the highly interesting task of stealing a few peaches," ate a tree toad, thinking it was a peach.

  • Franklin Repository and Transcript, August 24, 1859, p. 8, c. 2: "'A True Story Is Told...'" Anecdote about an illiterate Irishman who thinks that wearing glasses will help him to read and who believes that the salesman is trying to cheat him when they do not help.

  • Franklin Repository and Transcript, July 18 , 1860, p. 2, c. 5: "A Census Taking Anecdote." A anecdote about Irish immigrants that pokes fun at them for being drunken and uneducated.

Italian Immigration Primary Sources


Families and Home: Italy and United States

Work Life

Community Life and Institutional Networks

Ritual and Festive Life

Ethnic Identity and Display

Italian Immigrant Family Portraits

Oral Histories

Italian Immigrant Interview Excerpts

Life in Italy Interview Excerpts

Work Life Interview Excerpts

Family and Community Life Interview Excerpts

Italian Immigrant Family Histories

German Settlement Primary Sources

Mittelberger, Gottlieb.  Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return toGermany in the Year 1754.  1756,  Translated by Carl Theo. Eben.  Philadelphia, PA:  John Jos. McVey, 1898. (pdf)

Kelsey, R. W.  “An Early Description of Pennsylvania:  Letter of Christopher Sauer, written in 1724, describing conditions in Philadelphia and vicinity, and the sea voyage from Europe.”  The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography45 (1921):  243-254. (pdf)

Continuation of  “An Early Description of Pennsylvania:  Letter of Christopher Sauer, written in 1724, describing conditions in Philadelphia and vicinity, and the sea voyage from Europe.” (pdf)

Emigration U.S.A.-  Read popular ``emigrant guides" that provided potential German emigrants with information about the United States and Canada.

Primary Sources: Latino

Early Trade

1. Bill of Lading for schooner Philadelphia, bound from Philadelphia to Havana. Jeremiah Boone Papers, HSP

Jeremiah Boone and his son William were Philadelphia merchants who traded foodstuffs to the Caribbean for return cargoes of molasses, sugar, tobacco, and leather. This receipt indicates the goods loaded, or laded, on the ship before it left port for Havana.

2. Daniel Man logbook

Daniel Man was captain of a schooner, The Seaflower, which regularly transported cargo from Philadelphia to Puerto Cabello, Colombia. This account describes entering the port to shots fired from British ships, and the 12-day wait in port for tobacco goods to be delivered for transport back to Philadelphia.

Moving to Philadelphia

1. Work Agreement for Employers of Puerto Rican Agricultural Workers, 1951. Courtesy of Temple University Urban Archives.

2. "Cuban Refugees Land Here" 


1. Mexican Voices of World War II, from El Bracero Mexicano, Nationalities Services Center collection, Temple University Urban Archives. Translated by Catalina Rios.

Temporary workers from Mexico, or braceros, were recruited during the 1940s to help with wartime labor shortages. Approximately 1,000 braceros came to Philadelphia during this time, most to work on the Pennsylvania Railroad. These writings by braceros were originally printed in the newsletter, El Bracero Mexicano, which featured articles, essays, and poetry written by Mexican workers. These excerpts, published in 1945, were originally in Spanish. 

2. Braceros writing letters home, 1944. Philadelphia RecordPhotograph Collection

3. Pennsylvania Railroad workers reading railroad safety books written in Spanish at their quarters at 3210 Market Street, 1944.Philadelphia Record Photograph Collection

Books (Immigration and Migration):

Brown, Wesley and Amy Ling, eds. Imagining America: Stories from the Promised Land. Persea Books, 2003. 
A collection of 37 stories describing the immigrant experience and the American dream. Written from many different perspectives, this book describes the struggles of being an immigrant in the United States.

Chomsky, Aviva. "They Take Our Jobs!": And 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
A comprehensive history of immigration to the United States. The book contains many useful charts, maps, and tables that can be distributed to students for reference.

Daniels, Roger. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.

Beginning with the Chinese Exclusion act of 1882, Daniels gives an in-depth view of immigration policy in the United States. 

Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I'm Dying. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

The story of Danticat's family divided physically and emotionally between two worlds—Haiti and the United States—struggling against post 9/11 immigration policy and a violent regime in Haiti. 

Dublin, Thomas. Immigrant Voices: New Lives in America, 1773-1986. Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Provides a concise historical background of immigration to the United States. Emphasis is placed on the push and pull factors and the affect of immigrants on the social and cultural landscape of the U.S. Great background for teachers. 

Foner, Nancy. From Ellis Island to JFK: New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration. The Russell Sage Foundation, 2000.

Exploring a vast range of topics from two great waves of immigration, Foner discusses everything from gender roles to the impact of education on assimilation of immigrants. 

Foner, Nancy. In a New Land: A Comparative View of Immigration. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

Using both historical documents and the comprehensive ethnographical information available today, Foner gives an in depth comparison of the past influxes of European immigrants as compared to the wave of newer immigrants today.

Gabaccia, Donna R. Immigration and American Diversity: A Social and Cultural History. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. 

Gabaccia gives a detailed look at the history of American immigration as a whole, starting with the first arrivals from Asia and Africa, and continuing through the end of the 21st century.

Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge, 1995.

The tattered history of Irish and African American relations. Interesting and informative book primarily for use by teachers. 

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. 

Jacobson explores the concept of racial "whiteness" in America, and follows the treatment of European immigrants throughout U.S. history.

Jen, Gish. Typical American. New York: Vintage Books, 2008. 

A fictional and humorous story, Typical American follows the life of three young Chinese immigrants and their pursuit of the American Dream.

Lai, H. Mark. Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

Lehrer, Warren. Crossing the BLVD: Strangers, Neighbors, Aliens in a New America. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
A collection of writings that reflect the experiences of new immigrants and refugees living in Queens, New York, one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the United States.

Levitt, Peggy. The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Settling into a new life while staying connected to one's country of origin is a challenge that many immigrants face. Levitt, based on research done in the field, explores the hardships associated with negotiating two cultures and identities.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1991.

A survey of the Black migration from 1940-70 with a focus on the experience of blacks in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Chicago and Washington.

McCabe, Marsha L., ed. Portugese Spinner, An American Story: Stories of History, Culture and Life from Portugese Americans in Southeastern New England. New Bedford: Spinner Publications, 1998.

Collection of oral history, folk tales, scholarly reports, popular journalism and photographs which portray the saga of Portugese migration and the people's struggle to build a new life in America.

McClymer, John F. Race Relations in the United States, 1900-1920. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Meltzer, Melton. The Hispanic Americans. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1982.  
Personal stories help Meltzer vividly illustrate the social, political, and economic difficulties facing Hispanic Americans today.
Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso, 1991.
Discusses the origins of ideas about race and racism among the working class in America. Great book for providing background information for teachers.  

Sinke, Suzanne M. “Crossing National Borders: Locating the United States in MigrationHistory” OAH Magazine of History, May 2005. 

A brief article discussing migration history. More appropriate for teachers but may be used with middle/high school students.

Sowell, Thomas. Migrations and Cultures: A World View. New York: BasicBooks, 1996.

Suarez-Orozco, Carola S. and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco. Children of Immigration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.  
Chapter 5 is the most relevant, discussing the experiences of 1st generation Americans in schools. 

Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. New York: Back Bay Books, 1993, 2008. 

Explores the intersection between race and immigration in U.S. history, making use of personal stories, anecdotes, and primary sources.

Ueda, Reed and Conrad Edick Wright, eds. Faces of Community: Immigrant Massachusetts, 1860-2000. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.

Watson, Bruce. Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream. New York: Penguin, 2005.

West, Cornel. Race Matters. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Wheeler, Thomas. The Immigrant Experience: The Anguish of Becoming American. Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, 1971. 
A collection of short essays chronicling the immigrant experience in America. Includes Irish, Italians, Norwegians, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, African Americans, Jews, and Poles.

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