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European Migration to La Crosse: The Risks of the Journey

> Locations:
La Crosse Public Library
Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
> Citations: 
Carr, Reverend Spencer. A Brief Sketch of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Showing the Location of the Place, Its Surrounding Scenery, Commercial Advantages, Early History, and the Social, Moral, Literary, and Religious Character of the Inhabitants; and Various Other Interesting Items. La Crosse: La Crosse Democrat Printer, 1854. Murphy Library Digital Collections, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Gundersen, Adolf. 1894 April 16-1894 September 8. Gundersen Family Translated Letters-First Installment, April 16, 1894-December 17, 1939. Translated by Christine H. Midelfort. MISC MSS 285. La Crosse Public Library, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Huebsch, Frank. 1855 December 20. Frank Huebsch Letter, 1855 December 20. MISC MSS 041. La Crosse Public Library, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Rentz, Michael. “An Emigrant’s Voyage” Translated Transcript Concerning the Emigration of Michael Rentz, undated. MISC MSS 163. La Crosse Public Library, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Taylor, S.W. 1852 March 1. S.W. Taylor Letter, 1852 March 1. MISC MSS 044. La Crosse Public Library, La Crosse, Wisconsin.


Collection Summary

This collection tells the stories of individual European immigrants who came to La Crosse during a time known as the settlement migration era (1850-1890). It features five immigrants who made the brave journey to America and eventually La Crosse. For each immigrant, there were different stages of the journey. First, they had to make the tough decision to leave their familiar homeland, next, survive the hard ship ride across the Atlantic Ocean, and last, settle down in a new area that offered possibilities of a better life. Each of these phases had certain risks and not every experience was the same, so each source in this collection provides unique perspectives.

The people in this collection lived during a time when Europe was dealing with some problems that caused people to set sail for America. People who had already left and settled in America (including in Wisconsin) oftentimes encouraged family, friends, and neighbors to come over too. This collection is about people who left their homes, and others who encouraged family, friends, and former neighbors to come to Wisconsin.

Take Note: This collection was created for the FFA. It is made up of a variety of sources, and each source comes with its own citation!

Collection Description

This collection contains: 1) three letters; 2) the Gundersen Family Book of Letters; and 3) a published registry of La Crosse from 1854. The single letters and the book of letters are all kept at the La Crosse Public Library Archives in La Crosse. Each source at the La Crosse Public Library Archives is in its own individual folder with the call numbers provided to you. The registry, however, is part of Murphy Library’s Digital Collections and is accessible at all times, but you may need to ask a librarian or your teacher for a password. You can find the online registry by searching the name “Spencer Carr” in the database. Everything is typed, translated, and easy to read. Lucky you!



Frank Huebsch’s Letter
Frank Huebsch was a German immigrant who came to La Crosse in July of 1855. His very interesting four-page letter is to his parents and family back in Europe to tell them where he is, what he is doing, and about his journey. In it he encourages them to come over and join him, but he also honestly tells them about how hard the journey was. He describes the conditions on the ship and details of La Crosse and his job. He signs his letter as “Franz,” which means that he probably changed his name to Frank when he came to America. He also calls La Crosse “Prari [sic] La Crosse,” which was the town’s name back then. Frank’s letter is fun to read, and you will learn a lot about him! Can you guess what his job was in La Crosse?

S.W. Taylor’s Letter
S.W. Taylor might have been an Italian immigrant. His two-page letter is from 1852 and is written to a person he calls H.H. Taylor. The purpose of the letter is to persuade H.H. Taylor to come to La Crosse as soon as possible. In it he describes the work and land that is available as well as his own plans for success. As you read note the sense of urgency. This is because many people were already arriving and taking land. This letter might be a little confusing at first because S.W. only includes nicknames and abbreviations for people’s names. Similarly, he says the name of a city without the state or country. For example, he mentions the city of Genoa, which is an Italian port city. This probably means that S.W.’s homeland was Italy. Read this letter to understand the urgency felt by many migrants. Do you think you would have been persuaded to come to La Crosse by S.W. Taylor?

Michael Rentz’s Letter
Michael Rentz was a Norwegian immigrant who left his homeland in Esofea, Norway in April of 1868. He eventually settled in Vernon County, Wisconsin. In his letter he describes his experience on the ship while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. He gives many details of storms, damage, layovers, sickness, and more. His ship sailed to a port in Quebec, which was not very common. Many immigrants sailed to New York. His letter explains how Quebec created difficulties for him. Be aware! Rentz uses some strange and outdated word choices. For example, he talks about “unwelcome guests,” which he calls “gray-backs.” He was probably talking about rats, mice, or body louse, all of which would have been common on the old and cramped ships. Read this letter to find out more about what it was like being on the old ships that crossed the Atlantic! Would you have done it?


Adolf Gundersen Book of Letters

The Gundersen Family Book of Letters is a book of correspondence with dates that range from April 16, 1894 to December 17, 1939. The book contains typed and translated letters with pictures of the originals so you can see what Norwegian writing looks like! It includes five letters written by Adolf himself, but the majority are from his friends and colleagues. For this collection you can focus on just the five letters written by Adolf. They are from April 16, 1894 to September 8, 1894. These letters appear first in the book.

Adolf Gundersen was a Norwegian immigrant doctor who moved to La Crosse in 1891 to begin a practice with his friend, Christian Christensen. He eventually helped to establish the present-day Gundersen Health System! His letters are written to his brother, Gunnar, who was back in Norway. He talks about life in La Crosse, the weather, and his medical work. Some letters have missing parts, and some of the medical words can look scary, but these letters are very interesting! Read them to learn more about this famous man. He was a funny guy!


1854 Registry of La Crosse

Spencer Carr was a Baptist church Reverend who in 1854 wrote a detailed description of the area. He did this to persuade migrants to come west and settle in La Crosse. His registry – a registry is a book – begins with a story-like essay written by Carr, and is followed by a list of every single person who lived in La Crosse in 1854! It includes everyone’s name, religion, occupation, and birthplace. If you look through this registry you will be able to picture what La Crosse was like over one hundred years ago!

Reverend Carr’s registry explains almost everything you might want to know about the area, including the landscape and opportunities (such as farming and trading along the Mississippi). As you look though his essay and registry see if you can find any familiar incentives to come to La Crosse?


Reviewed by: Lindsey Ward

University of Wisconsin- La Crosse Area Research Center

> Location: University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Area Research Center 
> Citation: Joseph Motivans, interviewed by Howard Fredericks, UWL Oral History Program, UWL Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, 1993, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Collection Summary

Joseph Motivans had an amazing life. He was born in 1932 Latvia, a Baltic country in the Eastern part of Europe. He grew up in Latvia, became a refugee in Germany, came to the United States, worked as a sharecropper when he was only 16, was drafted into the Korean War, went to college, and eventually taught at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse. The section from his childhood to his eventual service for the United States is particularly interesting, so that is what this FFA will follow. If you are looking for a child’s perspective on being a refugee in World War II, and the immigration process after the war, then this oral history would be perfect for you!
This collection is an oral history, and is available to listen to or read. This FFA follows the typed transcript, and focuses on some of the more amazing parts of his life, like how the threat of communism forced him to leave his home. This Finding Aid is separated into its three focuses: 1) “Childhood in Latvia,” 2) “Escaping the Russians and WWII,” and 3) “Coming to the United States.” Any one of these would make a great National History Day project!


Collection Description

In the first portion of the interview (Childhood in Latvia, p. 1-44) Motivans introduces himself, and talks about his family, and their lives. He then describes life in Latvia, and his childhood. He also goes into detail about school, meals, summer vacation, and life on the farm. It is an overall description of the Latvian culture.  In the next section (Escaping the Russians in WWII, p. 56-125), Motivans describes his experiences in World War II. He talks about how the world was so focused on Hitler that Stalin just swept in under the radar to take the Baltics. He talks about the Communist takeover, mass deportations, purges, hiding from the Russians, his family’s escape, life in the refugee camp, riots, and life after the war as a “displaced person.” He also tells how he lived in the camps. You might be surprised to learn that he got an education, and at times he had fun!  In the final section (Coming to the United States, p. 125-147), Motivans talks about his life in the United States. He came over when he was just 16. He talks about how he got here, his life in Mississippi, how the WWII refugee and Black population got along, and college life.


Childhood in Latvia 

Pages 1-11: Motivans introduces himself and gives some basic background knowledge such as: birth place and date, when he came to the United States, and where he grew up. Motivans explains the economic depression that was occurring in Latvia at the time of his birth as well. These are important pages to read for understanding his life and times.

Pages 11-17: This is where Motivans describes Latvia after World War II. Motivans discusses the political climate in each of the main countries that make up the Baltic region. Then he talks about Latvia and how there were many political parties and how communism was rising. (At the time, Latvia was independent and creating its own democracy, but the Russian threat was near.) Read these pages to find out how the Russians threatened Latvia’s new found independence.

Pages 20-33: On these pages Motivans discusses his education, and what school was like in Latvia. Motivans also talks about how he behaved in school and the corporal punishments (physical punishments) used. He also talks about sex education, and how he learned about the birds and the bees. (Oh la la!)

Pages 33-38: In this small, but important section, Motivans talks about medical care in Latvia, and about the role sorcery played. Did you know that there were not many doctors at the time and that people relied on the town “expert” who would use magical powers to heal them? Motivans pulls from past experiences to describe the time he broke his leg.

Pages 38-41: Motivans discusses social life in Latvia in this section. He talks about drinking, pastimes, and holidays. Remember being read to when you were younger? You can read about Motivans’s bedtime stories and cultural events here.

Pages 41-44: This is where Motivans talks about what the Latvian people ate. He talks about how the harder you worked, the more varied your diet became. He also discusses the meals had at certain times of the year, like holidays. Did you know that during certain holidays people had to fast?


Escaping the Russians in WWII

Pages 56-60: Motivans begins with the Communist takeover in the Baltics. This was all done legally, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Read here to see what the Motivans family thought about Jewish people.

Pages 60- 69: In this section you can learn about how the Communist takeover affected every aspect of life, even language! He begins telling his memories of his neighbors being deported. He tells who was first to go, what they brought with them, and where they were sent. How do you think this affected Motivans’ daily life? Read here to find out.

Pages 69-76: Motivans talks about when his family thought they were next on the list to be deported to Germany. Their saviors were the German Nazis! If you think you have heard everything about the German and Russian armies; read here for a new perspective.

Pages 76-89: Here is where Motivans and his family escape Latvia. (They decided that being in Germany would be better than going to Russia.) Read here for the heart-racing escape of Motivans and his family.

Pages 89-98: In this section Motivans describes being transported in Germany, packed like sardines in railroad cars. Once in the refugee camp, he talks about how he and his family got supplies and survived. Read here to see what it was like.

Pages 98-102: Here Motivans discusses riots in the camp, and how they got started. Next he tells how he and his family were sent to a different camp, and almost got sent to Siberia!

Pages 102-125: In this portion, Motivans talks about what happened after the war. He and his family could not go home so they continued to travel west to another camp. He describes his education, the Black Market, gangs, books, alcohol, dental care, and what it was like living in an American Zone. Motivans talks about how he handled all the changes, the mixing of rural and urban populations, and the segregation within the camps. Could you imagine moving to a new place with a lot of different people who speak different languages? Read here to see how Motivans handled this.


Coming to the United States

Pages 125-130: Motivans discusses how the immigration process worked in 1948. Oftentimes when you think of immigration, you might think of Ellis Island. See how different Motivans’ experience was by reading here.

Pages 130-135: Here is where Motivans talks about his life in Mississippi. He and his family were sharecroppers on a cotton plantation. Working on a plantation was hard. Do you think Motivans still got to go to school? Read here to find out.

Pages 135-138: Here Motivans discusses the relationship between the Black population and the refugee population. He then goes into the relationship that the refugees had with the Southern Whites. How do you think refugees were welcomed after World War II? Read here to find out more.

Pages 138-147: Here is where Motivans discusses his family moving to Walls, Mississippi. Motivans talks about high school, junior college, and cultural influences that changed his life, like smoking. During the 1950s you might think about greasers and poodle skirts. Read here to find out how Motivans fit in with this!


Reviewed by: Katie Buika


> Location: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Area Research Center

> Oral histories referenced in this collection:

Women’s sewing group. Interviewed Ge Vang. 2001. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.

Koua Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript. La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.

Romain Lor Vang. Interview by Ge Vang. 2000. Transcript, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.

Collection Summary

This collection is made up of three interviews: 1) a women’s sewing group, 2) Koua Vang, and 3) Romain Lor Vang. It’s part of a larger collection of Hmong oral history interviews by Ge Vang. The Hmong are an ethnic group that can be found in Southeast Asia. Today many Hmong live in the United States because of the Vietnam War. During the 1960s, the Hmong were recruited by United States military to fight secretly for us. We lost the war, and the Hmong had to flee. Between 1975 and 1980, over 42,000 Hmong political refugees resettled in the United States. Today, Wisconsin has a significant Hmong population, some of whom can be found right here in La Crosse! These interviews discuss the daily lives and struggles of Hmong Americans, especially the differences between the old ways and the new. Ge asks a lot of questions about the survival of Hmong culture in the United States.

The collection consists of three folders that each contain a separate typed and easy-to-read transcript for each interview. There are also audio recording CDs that are included with each transcript that you can listen to and follow along with the transcript!

Collection Description

NOTE: Ge Vang conducts all of the interviews. He is not closely related to Koua and Romain Vang.


Women’s Sewing Group

In the interview with the women’s sewing group, Ge Vang talked with a group of Hmong women some related as sister-in-laws, aunts, and mother-in-laws. The group discussed their family and lives in Wisconsin, living in the U.S. as members of the Hmong community. Children are a topic throughout the interview. They are becoming Americanized and what many of the women consider rebellious. The women are very concerned because they want to preserve the Hmong culture and identity. Their children however seem uninterested. The children’s rebellious behavior and their disinterest in traditional culture shows the growing differences between the Hmong parents and their Americanized children. Ge Vang’s interview with the women’s sewing group is 15 pages long. Also, the transcript of the women’s sewing club abruptly ends mid-interview for unknown reasons!

Pages 1-7: The group of women introduce themselves and discuss the future as they see it. They talk a lot about raising children in America, and their kids’ assimilation to U.S. culture.
Pages 7-11: The women address dating and marriage in the community, and how it is different in America. They also talk about their children’s education.
Pages 12-14: The women discuss how they discipline their children and household rules.


Koua Vang

The second transcript is an interview with Koua Vang. Ge and Koua discuss Koua’s early memories of life in Southeast Asia before moving to the United States, and his adjustment to life in La Crosse. Koua and Ge talk a lot about living in the Hmong community, and how Koua faced challenges balancing life as a Hmong man and living in the United States. Toward the end of the interview Koua confesses he believes that eventually the Hmong language and culture will disappear in the United States because the younger generations will not learn traditional practices and language, and because of the clash between the U.S. and Hmong culture. The transcript of Koua Vang’s interview with Ge Vang is 22 pages long. This transcript’s questions and answers have been translated into English from Hmong!

Pages 1-7: Koua introduces himself and discusses his early childhood, including a few memories of escaping into Thailand! Ge and Koua also discuss the difficulties of coming to the U.S.
Pages 7-10: Koua talks about his wife and son, and his marriage. He also talks about college and his career goals.
Pages 11-15: Koua and Ge discuss traditional Hmong practices and modernity, as well as his own self-identity as a Hmong person. He also brings up his thoughts on his clan and family.
Pages 15-22: Ge and Koua address gender roles and equality in the Hmong community, as well as the future of the Hmong culture.


Romain Lor Vang

The final transcript of this collection is an interview with Romain Vang. Romain, who was a college student at the time of the interview, recounts memories of his childhood in the United States and Southeast Asia. Throughout much of the interview, Ge and Romain talk about Romain and his family moving to the United States. They also discuss some the conflicts that resulted from the differences between the U.S. and the Hmong community. Romain confesses that he doesn’t think that the Hmong culture will last in America, and that it will eventually disappear in the coming generations. Romain Lor Vang’s transcript is 28 pages long.

Pages 1-4: Romain Vang introduces himself and talks about being born in Laos. He also talks a little bit about life in Thailand in the refugee camps, and moving to the United States when he was eleven. (Take Note: This means that Romain could remember life in Southeast Asia and what it was like to adjust to life in the U.S.)
Pages 4-10: Romain tells about school and dating in America, and problems such as racism. He also discusses getting a job while in high school.
Pages 10-14: Romain compares Hmong culture to American culture, and how these differences can sometimes cause trouble! He also talks about his family’s clan in Eau Claire.
Pages 14-20: These pages cover Romain’s college and career goals. Ge and Romain also examine the future of Hmong culture in the United States, including religion.
Pages 21-28: Romain examines the generation gap in Hmong culture and his relationship with his parents. The two also discuss family relationships and marriage.


Reviewed by: Ashley Schwartz

St. Elias Church 716 Copeland Avenue, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Oral histories referenced in this collection:

Addis, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. July 24, 2002. Audio Recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Asfoor, James R. Interview by Rick Brown. July 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Buschmann, Helen (Markos). Interview by Rick Brown. July 17, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Ferris, Louis. Interview by Rick Brown. February 4, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Harris, Lucy (Joseph). Interview by Rick Brown. August 8, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Markos, Richard E. Interview by Rick Brown. February 6, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Monsoor, Elaine. Interview by Rick Brown. March 19, 2002. Audio recording. Syrian Oral History Collection. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Oral History Program. Housed at University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Collection Summary

This collection is the stories of children of immigrants from Greater Syria. The stories of these individuals didn’t end at a certain point. Their stories are intertwined with the larger La Crosse community to the extent that, even now, it’s not difficult to see their stories still alive. These individuals try to remember their experiences in the La Crosse community and those of their parents and grandparents as well. Religion, and especially church, plays an important role in these Syrian/Lebanese peoples’ lives. Many of the individuals speak about their past experiences in relation to their religion, Orthodoxy (Melkites) or Roman Catholicism (Maronites). They speak a lot about which churches they are associated with. As one listens to this collection, they will notice the different sects and how they relate to each church. The families that arrive are quick to assimilate as they join organizations and become heavily involved with many of the local churches in the city. In an environment where these immigrant families were not in their own community, the church was a way for them to build a community within an already existing community. Schools like St. James still teach the youth as they did almost a hundred years ago. Schools and churches aren’t the only things still standing, many of the interviewees still have shops and businesses open in the community. Richard Markos, one of the children whose families immigrated to La Crosse, owns the Markos Clothing Store on Pearl St. in downtown La Crosse!

Collection Description

The collection includes 7 CDs that detail the lives of both the immigrants and their children. On these CDs are two important pieces of information. First and foremost, the CDs contain the actual interview of the Syrian/Lebanese child of the immigrant but they also contain an index so one can see what is being talked about. The interviews are conducted by Rick Brown and the interviewees are 1st generation, US-born, family members, meaning they are not the immigrants themselves, rather they are the children of immigrants. Each child, who at the time of the recording is an adult, is attempting to use his/her memory to talk about people and events. This is something that is both exciting and concerning. Something that this collection offers that many others do not, is an actual voice behind the information. At the same time, however, the individuals can have a hard time remembering some things which can sometimes leave holes in the narrative. There has been much criticism over the authenticity of these kinds of sources, “At the core of criticisms of oral history in the early 1970s was the assertion that memory was distorted by physical deterioration and nostalgia in old age, by the personal bias of both interviewer and interviewee, and by the influence of collective and retrospective.”

Each interview is approximately one hour long, but with each question, one can hear the sadness, the appreciation, the happiness, and the laughter of each answer given by the interviewees. They talk extensively about church and religion and the roles that both played in the lives of the community members. The church seemed to be the best form of community-building that the Syrian/Lebanese had, and many of them will affirm this. As one listens to all of the interviews, it’s noticeable that they mention each other a lot. Richard Markos, another child of an immigrant represented in this collection, even appears in an interview with Helen Markos. This shows you how close-knit the community was.


Richard Markos

Richard Markos’ paternal grandparents came from Syria and his maternal grandparents came from Lebanon. He explains what churches meant to the community and how Syrian/Lebanese immigrants were quick to assimilate into the community because of the church. Richard talks about how influential churches were, specifically St. Elias. He explains that the churches and priests not only offered religious services, but also a Syrian school, as he referred to it. Below is a full index of the interview:

1. Family history, emigration 00:00:47.397
2. Arne, Syria 00:02:30.054
3. Zaleh, Lebanon 00:02:43.979
4. Father’s family occupation, peddler 00:03:29.684
5. Settlement, La Crosse 00:05:07.626
6. Father’s store, wholesale and retail 00:06:40.111
7. Real estate, downtown ownership 00:07:44.883
8. Mill street, history 00:10:44.730
9. Syrian Diaspora 00:11:39.047
10. Syrian federation 00:12:19.906
11. Childhood 00:13:10.856
12. Syrian perceptions 00:15:00.138
13. St. Elias Orthodox Church 00:16:39.432
14. Arabic language 00:19:00.113
15. Syrian culture, assimilation 00:20:34.791
16. Sahrah, social gathering 00:23:07.745
17. Race riot, 1902 00:24:49.984


Elaine Monsoor

Elaine Monsoor’s family came from Blat and Ibbil, Syria and she, like many of the other people in this collection, went to school at the St. James School. Elaine’s interview is especially great because she also knows a lot about about Our Lady of Lourdes church because her family lived right next door. She talks about how the priest at this church not only gave mass to the Catholic community, but also to other denominations. So, the church wasn’t only important in the Syrian community, but it seems that other communities also revolved around the church. Interestingly, she remembers both attending, and helping to eventually tear down the building. Below is a full index of the interview:

1. Personal history 00:00:18.085
2. Monsoor name 00:00:50.302
3. Copeland Avenue 00:04:45.663
4. Lumber mills 00:07:36.263
5. Copeland Avenue 00:09:14.326
6. Syrian community in La Crosse, 1930s 00:10:27.589
7. Education 00:17:58.242
8. Marriage 00:31:22.517
9. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:39:39.630


Helen (Markos) Buschmann

Helen Buschmann’s parents came from Syria and have an interesting immigration story. Their route to the United States had them stop in South America, and in the process of moving from South America to the United States, Helen’s father was forced to change his name from Shaheen to Charles. Helen also speaks about her experience with religion and church, specifically with St. Elias Church. She explains the cultural norms of church going and what activities, outside of religion, St. Elias offered the community, like writing and reading Arabic. These activities were offered because they helped to keep the Syrian/Lebanese culture alive. Also, many people needed Arabic and English lessons because they had difficulties with the languages. Below is a full index of the interview:

1. Personal history 00:00:33.459
2. Markos surname 00:05:05.985
3. Immigration 00:06:32.752
4. Coming to La Crosse 00:10:24.566
5. Peddling 00:11:03.034
6. Siblings 00:13:18.997
7. Religion 00:20:07.476
8. Marriage 00:21:39.066
9. Property 00:23:53.141
10. St. Elias church 00:26:30.835
11. South side of La Crosse 00:34:24.021
12. St. Elias 00:37:54.136
13. Interfaith marriage 00:48:40.596


Lucy (Joseph) Harris

Lucy Harris’ parents came from Lebanon, most specifically an area outside of Beirut, the current capital. She speaks specifically of her time at the St. James School and church, and she shares which churches the community liked the most. Her father would always go to St. James, so that’s the only church that she really knows about. She also talks about the difficulties that the immigrant community had to face, like prejudice. She bravely recalls the name calling and racism that she had to endure from other kids, some even going so far as saying “go back to where you come from.” Below is a full index of the interview:

1. Parents 00:00:31.506
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:14:06.692
3. Childhood 00:16:18.934
4. Syrian cooking 00:23:00.665
5. Arabic 00:23:46.235
6. Prejudice 00:23:53.592
7. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:25:15.263
8. Dating 00:29:47.709
9. Parents 00:31:26.738
10. Working 00:31:41.921
11. Marriage 00:33:52.926
12. Opinions, Syrian community 00:48:10.775


Louis Ferris

Louis Ferris’ family also came from Syria but his interview is special in the sense that it has the most information. Among also being a child of a Syrian/Lebanese immigrant, he is also a WWII veteran of the United States. He’s able to talk on how interfaith marriages played a role in the community and how the different sects and religions interacted with each other. Louis speaks about how he wasn’t personally invested in the church, but that he helped out a lot, especially by providing the church with donations and food during big events. Even though Louis wasn’t directly involved in the church, he still felt a commitment to the greater community through it. Louis actually has two interviews and the index for interview one is listed below:

1. Personal history 00:00:28.878
2. Monsoor surname 00:02:27.051
3. Technology 00:07:20.239
4. Arabic 00:08:16.120
5. Marriage 00:11:53.107
6. Religion 00:16:41.025
7. Parents’ employment 00:21:40.953


James Asfoor

James Asfoor’s parents came from Syria and his father, like many other immigrants, was a peddler. He speaks of Our Lady of Lourdes, a church that was so poor that it eventually closed, leading many people to St. Elias. He explains that a lot of Syrian/Lebanese children were forced to attend St. James because St. Elias and Our Lady of Lourdes didn’t have official schools attached to them. James provides good information about what education meant to the Lebanese/Syrian community. Many people chose their church based on the activities that the church offered to the community, and since education was so valued, St. James was a practical choice for many. Below is a full index of the interview:

1. Personal history 00:00:19.108
2. Syrian neighborhoods 00:06:26.182
3. Syrian and Irish conflict 00:07:11.893
4. Our Lady of Lourdes 00:10:04.716
5. St. Elias orthodox church 00:11:27.856
6. Gender roles 00:15:44.643
7. Syrian immigration 00:21:45.476
8. Religion 00:22:26.525
9. Marriage 00:35:33.584


Elaine Addis

Elaine Addis’ parents immigrated to the US from Greater Syria, but she actually identifies as Lebanese. They came from a village known as Rashaya al Fakkar and became heavily involved in the church. She talks a lot about Our Lady of Lourdes because her family was one of the first in the area and Addis’ dad actually was the one to help find a priest for Our Lady of Lourdes. She speaks about how the different religious sects related to each church because she also later attended St. Elias Church. An interesting part of her interview is that she can actually recall Elaine Monsoor helping to tear down Our Lady of Lourdes! Below is an index of interview one:

1. Syrian vs. Lebanese nationality 00:00:30
2. Addis surname 00:03:20
3. Parents’ immigration 00:03:50
4. Attraction to La Crosse, job opportunities 00:09:00
5. Establishing property and rental spaces 00:16:50
6. Gender roles 00:19:00
7. Syrian and Lebanese community leadership 00:26:15
8. Our Lady of Lourdes Church 00:26:50
9. Roman Catholic conversion from Maronite 00:30:30
10. Our Lady of Lourdes church structure 00:34:30
11. Father Salomone, Our Lady of Lourdes 00:38:25
12. St. James schooling, 1930s 00:42:25
13. Ethnic prejudice, 1930s 00:48:45


Reviewed by: Aaron Bhatoya

University of Wisconsin-
La Crosse, Murphy Library Area Research Center

Location: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Area Research Center
CITATION: Tillman Brothers. Box 1. MSS K, Friedrich Tillman’s Diary,
1856. University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Archives, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Collection Summary

Imagine yourself traveling across the Atlantic Ocean without anyone you knew by your side. You are on the same ship for five weeks under tough conditions and are dreaming of home cooked meals every night. In addition to this, you are sailing to an unknown land. Somewhere that holds the promise of a new life.


In 1856, twenty-one-year-old Friedrich “Fritz” Tillman did just that. He left everything he knew in Europe and made the famous voyage to America. During his travels, he wrote in a diary explaining his hardships, challenges, and fun times on board. In this collection, you will find Tillman’s original diary (yes, from 1856!) written in German. Don’t worry, however, another historian translated the diary into English for easy reading. No need to learn German to have fun with this primary source!

Collection Description

Tillman’s diary covers his five-week trip aboard the ship as it sailed to the United States. This FFA only covers Box 1. It details the full diary and divides it into two parts: difficult and enjoyable experiences. The historian who translated the diary from German to English followed Tillman’s original page numbers. As you read the translation, look for headings that say “Page I” or “Page II.” Each page has a lot of information about the trip. Please note: the translation is written in cursive, but don’t worry, after a little while your eyes will become used to it!

Box 1

This folder has an article from Then and Now, a monthly publication of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The article, written in January 1966, is a summary of Friedrich Tillman’s journey to America as written in his diary. This article is a nice starting point to decide if you want to read the real diary.

Folder 1
This folder has the original pages of Friedrich Tillman’s diary, laminated to protect the yellowing, fragile parchment. The pages are written in German, but nevertheless are very interesting to see. Remember, this was written in 1856 aboard a ship!

Difficult Experiences

Page 1:  Tillman expresses his frustration when he is not given enough water. Also, he struggles with preparing his meals because there were, quite literally, too many cooks in the kitchen!

Page 2: Tillman is having a difficult time sleeping on the ship because the other passengers are too loud. Tillman also talks about passengers getting very seasick.

Page 3:  After a huge storm, Tillman faces a flooded cabin and a very wet mattress. It was so bad that he had to carry the entire mattress on deck for it to dry!

Page 4: There are a lot of bad things that happened in this section. Much to Tillman’s surprise, someone had broken into his belongings. He searched and searched for the thief, but had no luck. Tillman seems to be frustrated with almost everything that is going on. It also does not help that the weather is horrible and is frightening other passengers.

Page 5: As a result of the constant motion and rocking of the boat, Tillman experiences some headaches that force him to rest.

Enjoyable Experiences

Page 1:  Aboard the ship, Tillman is surprised at the variety of food he is given for the journey. He is given different meats, biscuits, coffee, and even cigars!

Page 2:  Tillman comments that the ocean looks beautiful and is similar to a giant mirror.

Page 5:  During a big storm, passengers and sailors socialize inside the ship. There is music being played and the sailors put on a comedy show to entertain the passengers.

Page 6:  Tillman awakes to gunshots! Alarmed, he finds out that the sailors were celebrating America’s Independence Day. The rest of the day was full of activities and battle reenactments. Also, another ship passes by and is a sight to see, according to Tillman.

Page 7:  Passengers flood to the top decks to see whales pass by the ship. Tillman is excited because there is a full ship-cleaning day. Finally, the harbors of New York are in sight!

Page 8:  The ship gets to the harbor and Tillman is impressed with America. The voyage had finally ended!


Reviewed by: Olivia Roehri


Created by Kaley Brown


> Location: Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse
> Citation: Thai Vue, interview by Charles Lee, 1994, transcript, La Crosse Area Research Center, Murphy Library, La Crosse, WI.

Collection Summary

Thai Vue was born around 1953 near the Vietnam border in Laos. He grew up during the Vietnam War era and the American funded “Secret War” in Laos. The Hmong supported the Americans fighting against the communists during the war, but because it was secret, few Americans knew about what the Hmong did. America lost the Vietnam War, and so Thai Vue and the rest of the Hmong population had to go into hiding to avoid being killed by the new government. As a result, thousands of Hmong risked their lives to escape Laos, and many, like Thai Vue, immigrated to the United States.

UWL professor Charles Lee interviewed Vue during the summer of 1994. The interview covers all of Vue’s life until that point. He discusses everything from his childhood in Laos, to hiding from the Communists and escaping to Thailand, to his experiences in America after immigrating in 1978. The recorded interview lasts for over six hours! This finding aid concentrates on the interview’s written transcription and digital version, and covers just the sections that relate to Thai Vue’s life during the war, escaping Laos, the refugee camps, and the cultural differences between America and Laos.

Collection Description

The collection consists of a 160 page typed transcript, several tapes, and a digital audio recording.


Reading vs. Listening

Listening to oral histories allows the researcher to become more familiar with the subject. Thai Vue shows a lot of emotion and laughs a lot during the interview, and the transcript does not capture that. He also repeats words or phrases that are important to him, and the transcriber cut a lot of those out. However, listening to the tapes can be difficult since they are frequently recordings of earlier recordings. The tape numbers do not match up with the ones written in the transcript and they can be very fuzzy at times. Tape players are also difficult to use if you are not familiar with them. The digital recording might be easier to use since it is on the computer and allows the user to jump to a specific spot in the interview.

If you decide to listen to the interview, the numbers below will help you locate topics on the digital version. Use the numbers to pick sections for listening – listed below – and quickly jump from subject to subject.


Life during War

1. Personal Background (pgs. 1-5)
3, 10. Vietnam War (pgs. 5-8 and 26-28)
5. Education (pgs. 8-12)
6, 7. Parents (pgs. 12-17)
8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
11. Communist Soldiers
12. American Evacuation (Fighting Communists) (pgs. 32-53)
13, 14. Hiding in the Jungle and Deaths (pgs. 53-57)
15. Marriage (pgs. 57-65)
24. Hmong People and the Government of Laos (pgs. 95-96)


Escape to Laos and the Refugee Camps

8. Leaving Laos for Thailand/ Living with Communists (pgs. 17-24)
9. Experiences, Prison Camps (pgs. 24-26)
16, 17, 18. Leaving for Thailand, Prison and Refugee Camps (pgs. 65-86)
21. Resettlement Interview (pgs. 86-92)
23. Refugee Camps and Thai People (pgs. 92-94)
25. Finances, Family separation (pgs. 97-98)


Immigration and Cultural Differences between Laos and America

4. American Impressions (pg. 8)
25. Finances, Family Separation (pgs. 97-98)
26. United States (pgs. 98-101)
27. Cultural Differences (pgs. 101-105)
30. Employment/ English/ Winter (pgs. 105-109)
35. Opinions, La Crosse (pgs. 115-122)
36. Parenting (pgs. 122-131)
37. Shamanism (pgs. 131-132)
38. School Board Membership/Hmong in Public Schools (pgs. 133-153)
39. Social Issues, La Crosse (pgs. 153-159)


Reviewed by: Kaley Brown