Leslie Albrecht Huber asks this question in her new book, The Journey Takers. It's a really interesting question to think about as I delve into my family's history, trying to figure out not only where my ancestors came from but also why they left on their journey to America, how they left, and what they expected in their new lives here.
I was lucky enough to be in the audience when Leslie spoke to the local genealogy club last night, and her presentation was both inspiring and informative. Her ancestors' immigration experiences were entirely different from those of my grandparents and great-grandparents, and so it was especially intriguing to follow along as she discovered her family's hometowns and pieced together a picture of what their lives were like before and after their decisions to come to America. I also got some new ideas for immigration research and for understanding the social and historical context of my ancestors' challenges and successes.
Be sure to check out Leslie's "Understanding Your Ancestors" site for lots of great links to more info and suggestions about researching Western European immigrant ancestors. Don't miss her book, which tells the fascinating story of her decade-long search for ancestors in Germany, Sweden, and England--with some unexpected twists along the way! And while you're at it, bookmark her genealogy blog too.