Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Photo Gallery


At the Heart of it All

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Families are the first communities to which everyone belongs. Children learn to speak their native language within their families (not surprisingly called their "mother tongue"!) Religion and traditions are passed along through families. Families celebrate holidays together. Cooking and eating happens at home.

In the Old Country, families usually included aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. These large family groups are known as "extended families." The smaller family unit of mother, father, and children are known as the "nuclear family."

Immigration usually broke up extended families and often separated nuclear families, as well. Men often came to America first to earn enough money to send for their wives and children. Sometimes older children came over alone, as soon as they were old enough to leave home and had saved up money for passage.

The members of immigrant families would describe how "American" they were through their position in the family. "First generation" Americans were the children of immigrants. "Second generation" Americans were the grandchildren of immigrants.


These photos show glimpses of immigrant family life. Think about:

  • How do these families change over time?
  • In what ways do they stay the same?
  • How are they similar to and different from your family and other families today?

Click on the images below to view a larger image. To help you see as much as possible in these photographs, use the tool "Reading a Photograph."

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