Solberg Family: Immigrants to America
When we studied the American Revolution, I wondered if any of our ancestors could be traced back to that time period. When I found out that the Daughters of the American Revolution was a thing, I thought I might try to join that club and be a part of history! But then I remembered… my family on both sides were immigrants.
I’ve been waiting for the chance to show my kids some of our family history. My grandmother Iris Helen Solberg Logan who passed in October of 2017, had the chance to write her memoir that we all have as a piece of our own family history. Below are a few excerpts from her memories:
“My grandfather Kristien Solberg immigrated to America from a farm called Perstova in the Nordfjord, Norway. He was the oldest son and had inherited a rocky piece of property with steep hills that was very difficult to farm. Tough, with a lot of energy, Kristien visited America in 1889 when he was 20 years old. He returned to Norway and decided to bring some modern ideas to the old family farm. I remember my great uncle Cornelius, Kristien’s brother saying Grandpa Krist (as we called him) was always very curious about new methods and inventions. This would set him apart his entire life.”
“During the cold winters in Norway, while trying to farm the Solberg’s patch of rocky soil, Krist kept thinking about America. In 1889 he sold the farm and the forest and returned to the new world with a wife, Rachel, and two children; my father Eivend, age 5, and his younger brother Olaf. The family for sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing their own food for the journey and weathering the stormy seas. They docked in Ellis Island New York.”
“My father spoke Norwegian in our home, but my mother, who is German, would not. She wanted us to speak English. She always said, “This is America and we will speak English.”
Lessons from An American Tail (1986)
I was so excited to show this movie to the kids. It was one of my favorites growing up, and now that we’re studying American history, we get to learn from the perspective of the immigrant migration of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The boom of the Industrial Revolution that created factory jobs as well as increased persecution and failing economies led families to purchase passage on steam ships.
Directed by Don Bluth and music by James Horner, An American Tail is an awesome movie to watch with kids from elementary to middle school. Here is a guide of topics to cover in your homeschooling or just a family movie night. Find it on Netflix today or rent from Amazon Video.
The scene is set in Shostka, Russia, 1885 (about 100 years before this movie came out!). The Mouskewitz family represent Jewish immigrants from Russia who were being persecuted and forced to leave their homes to seek a better life in America. (see this Russian History timeline and notice how countrymen were affected by social & political upheaval)
They arrive in America at Ellis Island – scene shows inspectors changing passenger names if they were difficult to pronounce, but this was not necessarily true. (Read this article from Smithsonian Magazine).
Song: “There Are No Cats in America.” …and the streets are paved with cheese! Tall tales and hopeful stories about America being the land of opportunity, and that the streets were “paved with gold.”
“An old Italian saying summed up the disillusionment felt by many: “I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all: and third, I was expected to pave them.” In spite of the difficulties, few gave up and returned home.”
Song: “Never Say Never.” The immigrant motto of hoping for the best despite difficult circumstances.
Song: “Somewhere Out There,” an original song from this movie and now a famous tune familiar to most of us. It’s message of hope and love beyond borders speaks to many circumstances of family, love, loss, and dreams coming true.
Russia (eastern Europe), New York City, Hudson River
“Let’s go up and see the fish!” and he runs off with Papa chasing him, and then again after his Papa tirelessly calls and chases him, only to be caught up in the wind and waves of an unforgiving sea.
Feivel hears his Papa and gives a knowing look that takes him into dangerous territory because of his curiosity. Encourage kids that listening to their parents is wise because they have experience and better instincts.
Feivel eventually earns his father’s trust, and we see his rite of passage. “Now, you are a mouse.”
Crafty People Who Take Advantage
Warren T. Rat – pretended to be Feivel’s friend to use him to make money. It’s revealed later that politician Honest John would pay Warren T. Rat for protection.
Child Labor / Cheap Labor – scene where Feivel gets thrown into a sweat shop to work, pans out to reveal human seamstresses. Immigrants would find any work they could, and factory employers could have taken advantage of their desperation.
Edison Phonograph – shown in a scene when Feivel thinks he hears his father’s violin.
Kerosene – we see the cans of this flammable fluid before a big fire; industrial revolution when oil was refined into Kerosene for lamps (before electricity was invented). (See this clip from The Men Who Built America and the Oil Strike)
Bridget, an Irish immigrant and political activist, stands on her soap box to encourage the crowds to unite and fight the cats. This could represent the early workers banning together to fight for their rights as Americans.
Gussie Mouseheimer represents New York aristocracy who wants to organize a rally with Honest John to unite the mice. Gussie uses her power & influence to fight for freedom of speech and action. An American ideal realized with strength in numbers and belief in a dream.
Feivel’s idea to bring the Giant Mouse of Minsk (a tale from his Papa) to fruition, shows that even a young and seemingly insignificant person can contribute to a larger effort.
Tiger the cat is a vegetarian, hates violence, and loves lovely things. He and Feival have a lot in common (song: A Duo) Finding that we can be friends with others who look different or come from difference backgrounds.
Latin (yes, it’s in there!)
Duo means “two” and the song mentioned above demonstrates that. Also bringing back the theme of unity and brotherhood.