Professor Ashley Johnson Bavery consults for PBS series Finding Your Roots

Assistant Professor of History Ashley Johnson Bavery recently served as an historical consultant for the popular PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Researchers for the show tracing the ancestry of journalist Norah O'Donnell discovered that her grandfather Edward O'Kane immigrated from Northern Ireland to Canada in 1924, and then illegally crossed the border to the United States. O'Kane lived in the United States undetected and without documentation for 16 years, and eventually gained legal status through an amnesty program in 1943. Dr. Bavery explained to Finding Your Roots researchers that O'Kane's story was not unusual, and that many Europeans immigrated without documentation to the United States through Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. The busiest point of entry was Detroit. Dr. Bavery notes in her book Bootlegged Aliens: Immigration Politics on America's Northern Border that between 1927 and 1929 Detroit smugglers brought roughly two thousand Europeans into the United States each month. She asserts, "Many people with European ancestry who thought their relative came legally through Ellis Island actually crossed the U.S.-Canada border in rowboats, making them some of America's earliest undocumented immigrants." Most of these immigrants could apply for amnesty during World War II, so this history has been largely forgotten.

Watch Norah O'Donnell learn about her grandfather's journey to America in this clip.