How does this keep happening? I’ve researched thousands of family trees, and ones involving documented immigration irregularities are relatively rare. Yet, when digging into the past of anti-immigration politicians and activists, it’s a recurring theme.
Among these is Tomi Lahren, a vocal immigration critic, whose great-great-grandfather, Constantin Dietrich, was indicted for forging his naturalization papers. And now, her family is back for a second helping — this time with a different great-great-grandfather, Gilbert Halvor Lahren. I’ll ask you to bear with me as there’s an extensive paper trail to follow.
Gudbrand Halvorson was born in Norway in 1857 and came to America in 1873 with his mother and siblings. They joined his father, Halvor Larsen, in Minnesota and later moved to North Dakota.
Norwegian → American
Scandinavians often appear in records under two surnames — a patronymic derived from the father’s first name and a locality-based farm name. By the time of the 1880 census, the family had shifted from Halvorson to Lahren — possibly to distinguish themselves from the many other Halvorsons. Gudbrand would later Americanize his first name to Gilbert, and this is the name that appears on his naturalization certificate in 1887.
Like many at the time, he took advantage of the Homestead Act, securing free land in North Dakota and living there with his wife and growing family. And there he stayed until 1912. In June of that year, after having resided in the U.S. for four decades and been an American citizen for a quarter of a century, he departed for Canada — and not just for a visit.
American → British
He and his wife parked themselves in Saskatchewan for a period of 6.5 years, and the purpose is clear: more free land.
The document above — an affidavit of expatriation — spells out the timeline. Lahren arrived in June 1912, and on May 16, 1917 (blue arrow) became a British citizen. On July 11, 1917 (green arrow), he was granted land through Canada’s homestead process. That Canada was his residence is further substantiated by a June 1917 newspaper article recording two of his freshly married daughters visiting their “parental home” on their honeymoons.
On November 26, 1918 (red arrow), he formally renounced his American citizenship. The delay between his becoming a British citizen and renouncing his American has to do with a quirk of U.S. immigration law that applies when the country is at war.¹ The U.S. had entered World War I on April 6, 1917, just a month before Lahren was naturalized in Canada, but he had to wait until the war had ended before the U.S. would recognize his expatriation. The war ended on November 11, 1918 and Lahren renounced on the 26th of that month.
Given this, it might surprise some that he and his wife moved back to the United States the very next month.
So as of December 1918, Lahren was once again living in North Dakota even as the formalities of his expatriation began working their way through the American system.
The U.S. census taken in January of 1920 finds Lahren fibbing about his citizenship claiming to have immigrated in 1873 and naturalized in 1887 — true enough — but neglecting to mention that he was once again a foreigner. By 1925, he opted for the truth.
British → American
And then — after a false start in 1923 — he began the process of becoming an American citizen all over again. On October 1, 1929, he renounced his allegiance to George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland, and became American for the second time.
Before I began researching the roots of anti-immigrant politicians and pundits, I hadn’t encountered the phenomenon of what I now think of as “country shopping” — that is, bouncing around several countries seeking the greatest personal advantage — but here it was again, this time motivated by the acquisition of land.
I wrote about this in a previous article, noting that it applies to:
- Trump’s immigrant grandfather (Germany → US → Canada → US → Germany → US → Germany→ US),
- Ted Cruz’s immigrant father (Cuba → US → Canada → US → Canada → US), and
- Bob Goodlatte’s immigrant grandfather (Russia → Switzerland→ Germany → Canada → US → Switzerland/Germany → US → Switzerland/Germany → US)
At that time, I said that three is not enough to declare a pattern, but now I’ve accidentally stumbled across a fourth example. It’s curious to keep discovering ancestors who were so cavalier about their nationality. Many immigrants to America become devoted to their adopted country out of gratitude for the freedom and possibilities they find here, but I’m awakening to a subset whose loyalty has always been more transactional, shifting according to the opportunities offered by this or that country at this or that time. It is patriotism of convenience, and I can’t help but wonder whether it can be inherited.
¹ Loss of Citizenship (Expatriation) and Presumptive Loss of Citizenship, Leigh L. Nettleton; United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration and Naturalization Service, December 17, 1934.