It was Aug. 31, 1910 in Detroit Michigan.
A baby was born there that day, a boy, and he was an illegal alien. That’s odd, don’t you think? Anyone born in the United States of America is automatically a US citizen, right? Well not necessarily and that’s what makes his story so unusual.
Let’s go back to Scotland and the home of his parents: Scotland in 1909 and his father preparing to immigrate to America, the land of opportunity. He was to start the trek in December, first to Glasgow to board the ship and the long voyage across the Atlantic, then to Ellis Island where he passed the Statue of Liberty with amazement and watery eyes.
From there he traveled to Detroit and joined the large community of Scots who had made the trip before him. His wife was to follow a few months later, after he had established himself with work and a home.
Back in Scotland, his 20 year-old wife realized that she was going to have a baby and she was thrilled and scared; what would this do to her plans of making the arduous, steerage-class journey to America with a wee bairn to care for?
She’d receive some help from her sister, Rose, who would be traveling with her, but it was still something to contemplate; something else to worry about. Since the baby was due in late August plans were made to depart earlier than originally thought, to arrive in early August ahead of schedule.
She and Rose booked passage on a ship bound not for the U.S., but for Canada, with plenty of time to get to Detroit before the baby came. But it wasn’t that simple; her immigration papers stipulated that she was to depart Glasgow in July and arrive in Ellis Island, New York, so upon arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia she and her sister were detained.
Their travel documents were not correct and they were in the wrong country. Finally, through intervention by the Scottish consulate, or something like it, new immigration papers in hand, they were allowed to leave and Rose and she were to make their way to America.
But, in the midst of that thousand mile trip, lo and behold, a baby was born in a remote Canadian boarding house and this was a problem. Mother wanted her baby to be born an American citizen and she was still in Canada.
After a few days of recovery and only a day’s travel from the U.S.-Canadian border at Windsor, Ontario, a decision was made; this baby, this wee bairn, was never born.
Meanwhile, back in Detroit, the father, oblivious to the fact that he was a father, was waiting for his wife and eagerly anticipating the birth of his first child. Now, in those days that border was little more than a demarcation and those crossing, if their immigration papers were in order, were subjected to little scrutiny, usually no more than a cursory look and a wave to board the ferry for the short ride across the river to the other side — to America.
Not knowing what to expect or prepare for, mother and sister Rose prepared for the worst and at the appointed time were waved onto the ferry with all their baggage that had accompanied them throughout the long, long trip – all that luggage and one slightly worn satchel.
Safely on the other side and at last home with her happy husband a miracle occurred and a baby was born — in a slightly worn but well used satchel. The next day, Aug. 31, 1910, her still puzzled husband duly registered the not so unusual at-home birth in Wayne County, Michigan Clerk of Courts and the journey of my dad and his “legal” status as an American citizen was officially established.
No one breathed a word of his unusual, and illegal, “Pathway to Citizenship” for almost 30 years; last and least of all to him.
Jock Davidson is an Athens resident who writes this column for The DPA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org