1885 photo from the Greene County, Pennsylvania Archives from Flickr user Greene Connections.

10 Things My Immigrant Ancestors Have Taught Me

Here’s why I learned to love and admire my Italian and German ancestors

A person has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 3rd-great-grandparents, 64 4th-great-grandparents and so on. If you were born in the Americas, some regions of Africa or in Australia, a research will soon point out that yes, your ancestors were immigrants.

In my case, 86% of my ancestors were European immigrants who came to Brazil between 1824 and 1889. Some of them were rich, some were poor, some were Protestant, some were Catholic. All of them, however, had one thing in common: they left their homes and families to chase better opportunities in the New World.

Here is what I learned from them through my grandparents, grand uncles, and grand aunts:

1. Faith and courage. My 4th-great-grandfather Heinrich Jakob Reichert left his small hometown in Hesse, Germany, which he had never left before, to come to Brazil with all his family and some friends in November 1824. They left Europe behind without knowing what they would find in Brazil. Their ship, Der Kranich, stayed anchored in Hamburg due to legal problems for almost two months with all the passengers on board. They could have given up, but they didn’t. They trusted God and themselves and came.

2. Perseverance. My 3rd-great-grandmother Margherita Cazzanelli died during the journey, leaving a husband and three children. Other ancestors lost children, parents, and siblings during the trip and faced situations like living in huts made of leaves in the first months in Brazil. Nevertheless, they haven’t given up. Instead, they’ve built impressive cities. Brazilian wealthiest cities are located in the immigration regions in Southern Brazil.

3. Family values. Sundays and holy days such as Christmas and Easter served at the same time to rest and to gather together after exhausting work. They were opportunities to celebrate the family, talk, laugh and enjoy together what they had produced during the week or the year.

4. Entrepreneurship. All of my ancestors were entrepreneurs: they arrived from Europe with little to no capital and grew into well-succeeded ranchers, farmers or tradesmen. Heinrich Jakob Reichert, the one I mentioned above, bought a huge ranch less than ten years after arriving in Brazil, saving money from selling German goods in the surrounding cities and villages. Theodor Wedekin, another German ancestor, arrived in Brazil with no money in 1859 but was the owner of much/massive urban land in Joinville when he died in 1902. My 2nd-great-grandfather Ernesto Domenico Francesco Lucchese owned the first general store in the city he lived in, but he was also the founder of the city’s first soda factory, the first cinema and the first hydraulic sawmill.

5. Hard work. Building such patrimonies was not an easy venture. It required a hardworking and a frugal attitude. Many of my ancestors woke up before sunrise and lived humble lives for years until they could safely enjoy the fruits of their work.

6. Resilience. Brazil was an agricultural, incipient economy when the Europeans arrived, offering no stability. Every incident could put everything to waste. They faced bad harvests, bad weather, and floods and had to restart many times, facing hardship once again while rebuilding their lives.

7. Resignation. My great-great-grandmother Syrene Donatella Wedekin, born in 1888, was a pharmacist. She was skilled, pious and charitable. And she got pregnant 22 times. And had 16 miscarriages. And died at the age of 45 of cancer, leaving behind a heartbroken husband and six children, three of them minors. They were miserable but they kept calm and carried on.

8. Caution. My paternal great-grandfather died run over by a horse. He left a farm and debts to his children. The oldest one took responsibility for the minors, sold the farm, bought a bigger and cheaper farm in another city and made good savings. A few years later they were rich.

9. Memory. Pictures, stories, names, and dates. My 4 grandparents and lots of grandaunts and great-grandaunts have been full of them. They’re proud of being who they are and they want to remember it.

10. Celebration. After all, we’ve got to party! Have you ever been to a German or an Italian party? They are the inventors of the work hard, play hard attitude. Music, food, drinks and joy at ease!