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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where Do Your Ancestors Come From?

Where do your ancestors come from, and how did they arrive in this country? We asked young Olney Library customers to help us celebrate our country's multicultural heritage, during the month of El Día de los Niños, by telling us a story about how or why their ancestors came to the United States. Kids of all ages shared stories, photos and drawings of their family members' voyages from distant shores-- challenges they faced, new experiences gained, and ultimately their decision to put down roots in their new country.

Thanks to the children who submitted essays-- we enjoyed reading all of them! Here are the winning essays.

My Great-Great-Grandfather by Laura Forrest, 6 years old

Image of handwritten essay by 6 year old Laura Forrest

"My Great Great Grandfather, Neils Tobiasson came to America by boat when he was six years old from Iceland. I am six, too." 💜


Steamboat on the water with flying seagulls nearby


The Journey by Alyssa Forrest, 9 years old

Formal picture of Victoria and Neils Tobiasson as children
Victoria & Neils Tobiasson
Whoosh, Splash, Plop. The storm blew in. "Everyone under," yelled a sailor. We climbed down the ladder to the cabins. "Victoria, where are you?" yelled father. "I'm here," I called back. We met up and I saw Neils, my brother, clinging to my father. As we sat on our bunk I thought of our home in Iceland, my mother, my siblings all left behind. I thought of hiding from Father because of the alcohol he drank, and the missionaries teaching us and helping my father stop drinking. I thought of learning we would have to leave Iceland, the cold place we call home, to go to a strange place called Utah that was a hot and sunny desert. "Papa," Neils said, "when will we get to America?" He was seasick for almost the whole trip. "I don't know, son, I really don't know." Just then the trap door opened and the ladder came down. A sailor stuck his head in. "Land ho," he called, his face shining. We all raced up the ladder to the deck. There was America. Two days later we stepped onto the deck. Utah, here we come!


Essay winners Alyssa and Laura at Olney Library
Alyssa (left), and Laura


The grand-prize winning essay was submitted by Nina Grace Thomas. Congratulations, Nina!

My Appachen's Voyage to the United States by Nina Grace Thomas, 9 years old

Body of water in Kerala, India
Kerala, India
My family is from Kerala, India, where Malayalam is spoken. In Malayalam, the word for grandfather is “Appachen.” My Appachen traveled to the United States in September 1963 to attend graduate school in Putney, Vermont. Although he had applied to other graduate programs, he chose Putney since it had awarded him a full one-year scholarship.


Homes near a body of water in Putney, Vermont
Putney, Vermont
After that one year at Putney, my Appachen planned to continue teaching at Asram High School in Perumbavoor, Kerala, India. Despite his plans, he never returned to his previous teaching position in Kerala. My Appachen did not have enough money to return to India and also wished to continue his studies. His Putney advisor connected him to a professor at Boston University who offered my Appachen entrance to a doctoral program in education that included a full scholarship! My Appachen did not know it at the time but this opportunity led him on a journey from being a school teacher to a teacher of teachers. Four years later, in 1968, the same year that my dad was born, my Appachen received his doctorate in education. He completed his thesis that year, which he later transformed into his first book.

A red 1962 Ford Galaxy sedan
1962 Ford Galaxy
Since my Appachen came to this country to only stay for a year to study in America, he included a trip to go out and explore the United States before returning home. He bought a ninety-nine dollar ticket on Greyhound. Spending three to five days at each stop, my Appachen spent ninety-nine days visiting 15 cities: Springfield, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle. His stays included site-seeing, visiting people, and learning more about schools and education in America.

Dr. T.M. Thomas and Nina Thomas
My Appachen and I,
Dr. T.M. Thomas and Nina Thomas

As his year came to an end, money was very tight and my Appachen did not have enough to return home, where my Ammachi (grandmother) and my dad’s brother were. Appachen had spent all of his savings, three hundred dollars, on a used 1962 Ford Galaxy. Luckily, there was an opening for a security guard and he was able to take this job. This position allowed him to earn enough to live off of but not enough to travel back home. Fortunately, in 1965, the United States immigration laws changed, allowing more Asians to travel to America instead of just Europeans. So, in 1965, my Ammachi and his five-year-old son (my uncle), moved to the United States to join Appachen.

MY UNCLE’S NAME

My uncle’s name was T.T. Matthews. My Appachen’s name is T.M. Thomas. In India, the naming system is different. For example, my Appachen’s name is T.M. Thomas and his brother’s name is T.M. Philip. In India, using this method, you can’t tell if two people are related using their last name but instead, by their first two initials. In this case, the T.M. stands for Thanikapurttatu (their house name) and Mathai, my valiya-Appachen’s (great grandfather’s) name.

Once my uncle was in the United States, the people working at the airport didn’t think that it made sense that my Appachen and his son did not have the same last name. The workers wouldn’t allow my uncle on the plane unless he changed his last name. So, he did. From then on, he was (and still is) known as Matthews Thomas. My father is Daniel Thomas and I am Nina Thomas (now we follow the American way of naming).

I hope that you enjoyed reading the short version of my Appachen’s voyage to the United States and how it has led me to writing this essay. If you would like to read more, read his most recent book, Joyful Vocation of a Teacher. Thank you! 😀

Nina Thomas with her winning essay
Nina Grace with her winning essay
This post originally appeared on the Olney branch blog.


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