The Importance of Family History: What I Learned From My Parents

Most families start the same way. Two people fall in love and have kids and then their kids fall in love and have kids and the line continues. It’s the roots of our families that make us all completely different, where we come from, who we are and what we’ve experienced. My family has its roots scattered throughout many countries in Europe and some in Africa. My mother’s family origins can be traced back to Norway, Scotland, and England.

My father’s family roots are traced back to the United Kingdom and South Africa. When my family left Europe to come to America they all experienced different things. My families immigration ranges from the early 1600s to the late 1990s. In the year 1905, Christian Moe, my great great grandpa, set off to America in search of new opportunities leaving behind his parents and his three brothers. He left Little Hamer, Norway at eighteen years old and entered into the United States through Ellis Island.

My great great grandfather was one of more than twelve million people who immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island during the sixty two years it was open between 1892 and 1954. After working for over a year anywhere that he could find he sent money over to his family to help them make the journey over to him.

In 1907, Ellis Island’s busiest year, Christian’s mom and dad and his three brothers, Maynard, Martin and Ole, arrived at the same immigration station. “Beginning in 1875 the federal government began taking a more active role in regulating and overseeing immigration” (Merrick and Houghton 10).

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Before immigrants came through Ellis Island they came in to the United States through Castle Garden immigration station until it was closed in 1890. WIth the change in station locations also came change in legislative framework to process immigrants and keep out the “undesirable element”. “The law placed immigration at all ports of entry entirely under federal control. It required steamship companies to transport, at the company’s expense, any immigrants rejected by the U.S. immigration authorities back to their country of origin. It added to the list of excluded aliens ‘persons suffering from loathsome or dangerous contagious disease’” (Merrick and Houghton 15).

When Christian immigrated he had no problem entering the United States, he was a strong and healthy young man who’s ethnicity was not considered to be “undesirable”. When his family arrived they were not looked down upon because of their ethnicity but because of Ole’s condition. Uncle Ole had polio and could not walk well without the use of a cane. To enter into the country you had to go through different tests to see if you were fit to be here. One of the tests that Ole had to go through was that he had to show that he could enter into the country on his own. Back home in Norway he worked as an acrobat so he had very good upper body strength. He was able to enter into the country on his hands and knees using mostly his upper body strength. If Ole had been one of the “undesirable” immigrants he might have been turned away and told that he wasn’t fit because he couldn’t use his legs as well. He was lucky that he came from a Scandinavian country and that he had a steady job back home which showed that he could work here even with his condition.

Once immigrants entered into the country they often faced the hardest part of their move. Immigrants of all origins faced hostility and discrimination as they tried to build their new lives. Races are socially constructed with societies drawing and redrawing the boundaries. The definition of who is “white” and accepted into society has been constantly changing. Scandinavians were looked at as white but people from Slovak countries weren’t even though they had the same skin color. Even with my family having less problems with the discrimination they still went through periods of confusion with their identity. “Many immigrants reacted to the anxieties of their new life by seeking comfort in their cultural traditions. They joined ethnic organizations, read foreign-language newspapers, and did not stray far from their neighborhoods” (Merrick and Houghton 35).

One way that my family kept their Norwegian heritage while still assimilating into American society was by being part of ethnic organizations. Christian Moe was a proud member of the Sons of Norway. Sons of Norway was founded in 1895 to protect Norwegian families during hardships. It was also a way for members to stay close with people of the same background as themselves. Assimilating to American society while keeping your background was hard for many immigrants to do. Two Norwegian American writers, Anges and Rolvaag, strongly opposed the idea of the melting pot and argued for perpetuation of their culture. Waldemer Anges said that “the self-designated American himself does not wish to mingle with the foreigners. He doesn’t wish to assimilate with them or to absorb in himself the Russian, the pole, or the Jew, but he wants these people to intermingle their traits with each other . From an ‘American’ point of view, the melting pot is… not for ‘Americans.’ it is its function to denationalize those who are not of English decent.” (Naess 3)

My family remained strong in keeping their identity. “The most prominent of the characteristics of the Viking was his strong individuality. His love for freedom, his desire for personal independence, amounted to a passion (Nelson pg. 19) Living with other Norwegians in Wisconsin helped strengthen my families individuality. My family was very thankful for their new opportunity and so proud to be living in the United States. Over the years our Norwegian identity died out but not because we felt discriminated or disadvantaged. Some immigrants of other ethnic backgrounds felt disadvantaged and changed their names and backgrounds to fit in better.

When I spoke to my grandma about her Norwegian heritage she said, “My grandfather was always very proud of his Norwegian heritage and kept it alive in his own life by being part of organizations like the Norwegian mens choir and having many Norwegian friends. My grandmother was a proud New Englander and felt like she was above other immigrants. She was disconnected from my grandfather’s heritage and sadly my father and his siblings grew up with little connection to their Norwegian background. They knew their family history but did not practice things part of Norwegian culture and could not speak the language.” When my grandmother Carole was growing up she was proud to have Norwegian background but she didn’t call herself Norwegian American. She identified herself as American and practiced very little Nordic traditions. Every year they would have family reunions and eat Norwegian food but the other 364 days she did not think much about her norwegian heritage. The marriage between Christian Moe and Edith Chase is what caused the loss of our Norwegian connection.

In 1911 Christian and his family moved to Washington and in that same year he was married to Edith Idyll Chase. She was born in Maine in 1877 to parents Stephen Chase and Flora Eva (Merchant) Chase. Her father, Stephen, was born in 1851 also in Maine. He worked as a fisherman and fish dealer. He was one of the eleven wholesale fish dealers that met in Boston and founded the New England Fish Company (NEFCO).

Stephen’s paternal line can be traced seven generations back. The first person in his family to come to the United States was Aquila Chase who was born in England in 1620. He migrated to the United States during the puritan movement. His wife Anne Wheeler was born in Salisbury, England in 1621. Anne and her family came to the United States on the “Mary and John” in 1634. Anne married Aquila Chase in Hampton by 1644. Aquila Chase was one of the first settlers in Hampton which is where he and Anne got married in 1644. While living in the Hamptons Aquila received many land grants and had more opportunity compared to others who came to the new world as indentured servants. (wiki tree) After several generations living on the east coast the Chase family moved to the west.

“The high tide of migration into Oregon and Washington came after the turn of the century, after the effects of the depression of the nineties had worn off (Bergmann 121). Washington state had the third highest number of Norwegian-born people where the majority of them lived in the cities instead or the country. The Moe and Chase families became urban dwellers living in Seattle, strengthening the majority of city dwellers. Stephen, came to the Puget Sound area from Maine, where he was already growing in the fish industry. Once settled here “he founded the Whiz Fish Company, the Quality Seafood Packing Company, both of Seattle, and the Everett Fish Company of that city. He had many friends among the Pacific Northwest seafaring men, with whom he had been associated continuously until his illness [ten days ago]. Mr.Chase is said never to have lost a day’s work in his many years of activity” (seattle times obituary). Not only did he start his own fish packing companies but he was also instrumental in the start of his son-in-laws Fish Company. In 1913, Christian Moe opened his own company called Superior Fish. Most of the family stayed in the fish industry, with Christian’s brothers Ole and Maynard even working part time in the family run business. Uncle Martin didn’t go down the path of fish packing but he did start his own business, French Laundry. Living in the Seattle area the four Moe brothers started their own families, My great grandfather, also Christian Moe, was born in 1916 and my grandma was later born in 1942.

My grandpa on my mom’s side of the family, John Macdonald was born in 1936 to John Macdonald and His father, born in 1911, was one of eleven kids. They grew up very poor in a small farming community in Minnesota. He later moved to Spokane where he started working the lowest jobs possible in a trucking company. He did not have a lot of opportunity when he first moved but he started to work his way up and eventually became the owner of Pacific Highway Transport, a trucking company. When he retired he sold his company and it became Garrett Freightliner. He started out with nothing and retired a very wealthy man, raising his children in Seattle which is where my grandparents met through mutual friends.

My grandmother, Carole (Moe) Macdonald, was born in 1942, six years after my grandpa. Although she was young when her grandfather Christian died she remembers him and stories told about the early life of our Norwegian family. “Grandfather never felt un-American or felt that he had lost his Norwegian past.Coming to the United States he assimilated to the surrounding culture while still maintaining his Norwegian heritage.” Before permanently moving to Washington Christian and his family spent time living in Wisconsin where they adapted to becoming American at the same time as being Norwegian. There are more than 4.5 million Norwegian Americans, according to the most recent U.S. census; most live in the Upper Midwest Norwegian Americans are currently the 10th-largest European ancestry group in the United States. (Wikepedia). America is home to many immigrants, the most important to me is my father.

My father, John Turral was born and raised in England. His mother, Marie Turral was an artist and architect born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She met my grandpa when she was eighteen years old while visiting wounded soldiers that had been transferred to South Africa during World War II. My grandparents were married in England in 1958 and my dad was born in 1960. Unfortunately, my grandfather, John Turral, died from his wounds he received as a Major for the Royal Artillery during World War II. My granny never remarried, she raised my dad by herself.

After my father graduated college he worked as a safari guide in Africa where he met my mother, then Laurie Macdonald. My mom was born in Everett, Washington in 1967 and grew up in Marysville with her two brothers, Andrew and John Macdonald. My mom graduated from high school in 1885 and later graduated college from the University of Washington getting a bachelor’s degree in political science. Following her college graduation my mom travelled to Africa where she met my dad on one of his safaris.

My parents were married in 1995. Weddings are always a lot of work but my parents was even more stressful than most. For my father to travel to the United States and marry my mom the legal way he had to have a K-1 visa also known as the finance visa. After filing the correct paperwork with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and getting approved for the visa your case is then sent to the United States Embassy in your fiances country. My father’s visa was sent to the U.S. embassy in London but the paperwork sat on someone’s desk for the longest time. It took so long for the papers to be processed that my parents had to postpone their wedding date. My dad had to have a medical examination by an approved doctor where they took his blood as well as a chest x ray. Washington state Senator, Thomas Gordon expedited my father’s visa so that it was processed in time for my parents to have their wedding on their already postponed date.

My dad legally lived in the United States with a green card for the first 15 years. When my father was renewing his green card it was lost in the mail and it was going to cost him another $350 to have a new one sent. Instead of doing that he decided to become a citizen. My father studied for the citizenship test and after passing it paid $600 to become a citizen. A ceremony was held for my father and many other immigrants from all over to the world, they were all proud citizens of the United States of America. When explaining the ceremony

Even before my dad had become a naturalized citizen he still felt like he belonged in the United States. He will always be British but that doesn’t mean he can’t be American too. My father says that he has felt that being from the United Kingdom has been an advantage to him over here. He owns his own company, Marysville Equipment Rental, where he rents heavy machinery. Customers often take interest in his accent and he feels that is something that sets him apart from other rental companies. People are more likely to remember you if you have a special feature like my father has.

Growing up I have seen my father work hard and achieve many goals. “I have never felt disadvantaged about being an immigrant. I might not be able to run for the president but that’s okay! There’s so many freedoms and rights that I have which is the same as the freedom and rights you have from being born here,” he said to me. Immigrants may have the same liberties legally as other native born people but that doesn’t mean they always get the same respect. My father, as well as the rest of my family that immigrated to the United States has been lucky to have been able to fit in so well. Being white immigrants helped my family to blend in better, they may have sounded different than everyone else but they looked the same.

  1. ‘Anne (Wheeler) Chase.’ WikiTree: Where Genealogists Collaborate. Accessed February 22,
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  4. Merrick, Caitlin, and Gillian Houghton. A Primary Source Investigation of Ellis Island. New
  5. York: Rosen Publishing, 2016.
  6. Næss, Harald S. Norwegian Influence on the Upper Midwest: Proceedings of an International
  7. Conference, University of Minnesota, Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota, May 22-24, 1975.
  8. Duluth, MN: Continuing Education & Extension, University of Minnesota, Duluth, 1976.
  9. Nelson, Olof Nickolaus. History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in
  10. the United States. Second, Revised Edition ed. Vol. 1 and 2. Minneapolis, MN: O.N.
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  12. ‘Norwegian Americans.’ Wikipedia. February 05, 2019. Accessed February 22, 2019.
  14. ‘Stephen Chase.’ WikiTree: Where Genealogists Collaborate. Accessed February 22, 2019.

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The Importance of Family History: What I Learned From My Parents. (2021, Apr 12). Retrieved from

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