By Ceil Wendt Jensen, CG
Ever wonder why your ancestors left the comforts of home to come to America' Maybe they were recruited. That's what I discovered about mine. But finding out more about the recruiter and recruiting process was a journey in itself.
How It Worked
1872 Travel Itinerary for Maximillian Allardt documents his travels to various cities and towns in German provinces.
Just like sports teams do today, back in the 19th century a number of midwestern and western states used recruiters ? immigration commissioners and agents actually ? to bring upstanding new citizens from Europe who could clear and till the land and become taxpayers.
The state of Michigan was no exception; it was the first state to employ agents and fund recruiting positions between 1840 and 1880. Of the agents, Maxmillian Allardt was the only one to open a recruitment office in Europe (1869?74). Other agents operated in American port cities and networked with shipping company executives and U.S. immigration officials to find recruits.
Allardt himself was a lawyer and a real estate agent, which made him excellent at selling immigrants on the idea of coming to America. He also positioned himself to sell large tracts of land to the new arrivals. Like all agents, he'd offer ship and rail packages that provided passage to the employers' states and communities. In turn, immigrants received the promise of success in a new land.
Mining the Records
It was while I was working on a research project with a colleague, Joseph Martin, to document the Polish miners of Calumet, Michigan, that I discovered Allardt and his recruiting work.
We had already found 36 villagers who came to Calumet between 1870 and 1874 from the neighboring villages of Bnin, Kornik, and Rogalinek in the Prussian province of Posen. The 1880 U.S. census documents 127 adults from those villages residing in Calumet, my relatives, the Adamski and Mydlarz families, included. These numbers seemed awfully high to be coincidental or even chain migration, so it seemed logical to us that some sort of program to encourage immigration must have been in place. Otherwise, how would such a large group of Polish farmers from the same province find their way to the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan to become copper miners in the early 1870s'
I knew that other recruitment efforts were going on in Prussia at the time. Digging around the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collection, I found another area mine had Canadian, Scandinavian, and Cornish recruiters. But I couldn't find anyone recruiting near Posen.
So I changed my research strategy and started looking at the recruits themselves. I began by looking for information on Germans in the state (the Poles in Calumet were from Posen, which was under German rule for 123 years) and happened upon an article, Germans in the Middle West. It was in a footnote that referenced an article from 1944 titled Michigan Immigration' where I hit research gold ? the article included a history of the state's immigration agents, their names, periods of duty, and success.
Maxmillian Allardt was indeed active during the time the Poles came to Michigan. Two separate books I tracked down (thank you, WorldCat), including one written by Maxmillian himself, pointed me to the Michigan state archives. I drove to the archives and dove into the files. I learned that being appointed an agent was a coveted position and followed a competitive application process. Maxmillian Allardt's application for the job, letters of recommendation, and reports to the governor of Michigan were there. The detailed materials included marketing strategies, published recruitment materials, and notes about the cost associated with recruiting and the travel plans offered to potential immigrants.
Each month Allardt published a new article written by prominent Michigan and German scholars extolling the benefits of of Michigan and the wealth that awaits. From the Archives of Michigan Executive Office record group.
I also happened upon a receipt that documented Allardt's recruitment in Posen. And a short newspaper citation in the Portage Lake Mining Gazette
stated that Allardt had stopped for a few days to look around the mining town on 15 July 1869. I was pretty confident that I'd found the agent who had recruited the area's Poles and my own family.
Allardt had visited both the village of Calumet, Michigan, and the Prussian city of Posen, distributing his publication, which promoted the mines of Houghton County and advocated the neighboring farming region of Ontonagon.
As an agent, he billed himself as choosy, a person who would separate the industrious from the freeloaders before they set sail to America and going so far as to write the following: Others who think that they only need to open their mouths and they will be filled with roasted pigeons will find that even over there pigeons must be shot, plucked and placed in the pan to be roasted.
My own Adamski family seemed to have liked what Allardt offered the immigrant, too. They followed his plan to a tee, traveling from Hamburg to New York before heading to Michigan, where they found employment with the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, and eventually earned enough to buy a farm in Ontonagon. As an added bonus for me, that land purchase is documented in General Land Office (GLO) Records
It was just like Allardt promised: Having arrived at the designated spot, [the immigrant] will immediately find a warm welcome (reception). He would soon be naturalized and feel himself quite at home. However, under such circumstances, he should be very careful about relying too heavily on others because in America it is preferable that the individual depend on his own strength and resilience.
That they did. And I'd like to think they passed a little on to me.
Ceil Wendt Jensen, cg, honed her skills undertaking Polish family history research. She also enjoys dispelling the myth that eastern European records were destroyed during World War I and World War II and that language barriers make European research difficult.
This article originally appeared in Ancestry Magazine.