How Donald Trump’s immigrant family made it in America

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Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Whatever you may think of real-estate mogul-turned-presidential-candidate Donald Trump’s politics, you can’t deny his many ups and downs are entertaining.

As he continues to make the subject of immigration one of his talking points, his own origins tell an interesting tale of ambitious young people crossing the ocean to make something of themselves in this country.

Some of that story is documented right in the Ancestry archives. Let’s take a look at Trump’s intriguing ancestors.

    A 16-year-old crosses the Atlantic

    First, you can find on the passenger list of the SS Eider in 1885 Trump’s grandfather, Friederich Trump (or Friedrich Trumpf, the spelling is inconsistent).

    Friedr Trumpf
    The passenger list of the SS Eider in 1885 shows Friedr. Trumpf, age 16

    He traveled to New York from Germany when he was just 16. [Picture yourself crossing an ocean and starting a new life at 16.]

    NYC barber to Klondike gold rush entrepreneur

    After years of working as a barber in New York, Friederich, now going by Fred Trump, made his way to Seattle.

    According to Trump biographers, he ran a restaurant in the seedy part of Seattle before eventually packing it up and heading to the Alaska-Canada border town of Skagway in 1898.

    Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush (c 1897), where Trump's grandfather set up shop
    Skagway, where Trump’s grandfather set up a business, during the Klondike Gold Rush

    That was the first stop for prospectors in the Klondike Gold Rush. Trump and partner Ernest Levin pitched a tent along the trail and sold the travelers food, including meat from horses that had died along the way. 

    With their profits, they opened up the New Arctic Restaurant and Hotel, which had a reputation for fine food but not-so-refined women.

    Death by Spanish Influenza and a new generation of Trumps

    After three years, Trump pulled out just before the gold rush began waning and returned to New York. He then took a jaunt back to Kallstadt, Pfalz, Germany, for a wife — his former neighbor, Elizabeth Christ.

    Elizabeth immigrated here in 1901, as census data shows. Her second child, Frederick Christ Trump, was born in Woodhaven, Queens, in 1905.

    Brooklyn Manor in Newhaven Queens, NY
    Trump’s father, Frederick Christ Trump, was born in Newhaven, Queens, NY in 1905

    The elder Trump died in the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, when young Frederick was just 13 years old.

    By the age of 15, Frederick famously started his own business, with the help of his mother, building garages. They were helped by the small fortune of $31,642.54 (about $504,000 today) left by Fred Trump in his will.

    Fred Trump's will
    Fred Trump left his wife Elizabeth and son Fred a small fortune in his will in 1918

    Due to the political climate of the time, and the many Jewish immigrants who lived in the apartment buildings he went on to own, Trump would claim to be of Swedish, not German, descent until the ’80s.

    Small-village Scotland to the Big Apple

    Donald Trump’s mother was born Mary Anne MacLeod on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1912. Passenger lists show that she came to New York on the SS Transylvania in 1930 and wrote down her occupation as “domestic.”

    Trump's mother immigrated to America from Scotland aboard the SS Transylvania
    Trump’s mother immigrated to America from Scotland aboard the SS Transylvania

    She was from a small village of fishermen and crofters (tenant farmers). According to naturalization records, she became a citizen in 1942, four years before Donald, her third of four children, was born.

    Does your family’s story Trump Trump’s?

    Trump had some colorful characters in his family tree. But even those with families not in the political limelight can find plenty of interesting facts about their intriguing forebears on Ancestry.

    Start your family search below.

      Or take a quick AncestryDNA test to learn more about where your ancestors came from. Name changes and family legends mean your ancestors could have had roots in a region of the world you never suspected. In fact, a recent study from Ancestry revealed that the average UK resident is only about 37% British.

      — Sabrina Rojas Weiss