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Friday, January 23, 2015

Don't Ignore Migration Patterns and Routes

Areas with greatest proportion of reported Scotch-Irish ancestry
One of the most ignored areas of genealogical research is the issue of migration routes. All too often I will see an online family tree record with a person listed as living in a certain location and then moving to another location that does not make any sense. Usually, it turns out that the second person is in fact a different person. If you find information about an ancestor that runs counter to the normal migration pattern, this is an invitation to do more intensive research into the history surrounding the family.

In the map above, you can see the concentrations of Scotch-Irish immigration in the United States. Contrast this with following map of Lithuanian immigrants:

Distribution of Lithuanian Americans according to the 2000 census.
Of course, maps such as these do not tell the entire story. Here is a description of the distribution of Lithuanian immigrants from Wikipedia:
Chicago, Illinois, is home to the second largest population of Lithuanians in the world, and the old "Lithuanian Downtown" in Bridgeport was once the center of Lithuanian political activity for the whole United States. Another large Lithuanian community can be found in the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Schuylkill County where the small borough of New Philadelphia has the largest percentage of Lithuanian Americans (20.8%) in the United States. There is also a large community of Lithuanian descent in the coal mining regions of Western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia Panhandle and Northeastern Ohio tri-state area. Grand County, Colorado's Lithuanian-American community has the unusual distinction in that it is the only sizable immigrant population in an otherwise fairly homogeneous population in a rural, mountainous community. There is also a small but vibrant Lithuanian community in Presque Isle, Maine. Many Lithuanian refugees settled in Southern California after World War II; they constitute a community in Los Angeles.
To begin to understand how populations move both across international boundaries and inside specific countries, it is necessary to do both general and very specific historical research. But the real question is how is this going to help me find my ancestors? Inexperienced genealogists focus on names and dates. As we gain experience, we expand our searches to include the social, political and economic backgrounds of our ancestor's surroundings.

Since people tend to congregate into areas that have similar social, economic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. As we learn about and analyze these factors, we can explain seemingly random movements.  For example, why did I move from Mesa, Arizona with a high concentration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Provo, Utah, another place with a high concentration of members of the same Church? The more you know about my background and values, the easier it would be to understand the move.

If that question does not seem important to you, then you are missing one of the most basic of genealogical research issues; the forces behind the movements of your ancestors. Those forces can be said to push people to move and also pull them. For example, one branch of my family came from Northern Ireland. The ancestor that immigrated with his family was William Linton (b. 1799 in Northern Ireland, d. 1851 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) From the dates and places where his children were born, I can determine that he moved from Northern Ireland to New Brunswick, Canada in about 1835. Why then? Even a very modest investigation into the history of Ireland in the 1800s will give one very good answer: from 1801, Ireland had been on the verge of disaster. Here is a brief description of the conditions from Wikipedia: Great Famine (Ireland):
Starting in 1801, Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both of whom were appointed by the British government. Ireland sent 105 members of parliament to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, and Irish representative peers elected 28 of their own number to sit for life in the House of Lords. Between 1832 and 1859, 70% of Irish representatives were landowners or the sons of landowners.[10] 
In the 40 years that followed the union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world."[11] One historian calculated that between 1801 and 1845, there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees enquiring into the state of Ireland and that "without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low."[12] (footnotes left in on purpose).
 Could there have been better reasons for moving to America?

On the other hand, migrants may be pulled to a new land. Examples in the United States are numerous; the 1849 gold rush to California, the Oklahoma land rush of 1889 and many other examples. Many of my own ancestors came to America because they joined the LDS Church.

If you are not aware of the factors that affected your ancestors' movements, you will lose them in the shuffle. Many times, when searching for the next ancestor, the researcher ignores the factors that placed the family where it was. We always point out that we begin the search for an immigrant in the country of arrival, but we always need to look to the reasons that made the immigrant move in the first place.

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