Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, January 5, 2018

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Three

Americque Septentrionale. Par le Sr. Sanson d' Abbeville, Geographe Ordinaire du Roy ... 1657. A. Peyrouin, sculp. (to accompany) L'Amerique en plusieurs cartes, & en divers traitte's de geographie et d'histoire. A Paris chez l'Autheur.
Genealogy in North and South America can possibly go back into the 1500s for some families. Of course, there was an indigenous population in both North and South America when the first Europeans "discovered" the "New World" but the earliest genealogically important records date from the time of the first European settlements. The historical record of European colonization involvement in the Americas may not sit well within the present atmosphere of political correctness, but history is history and genealogists have to deal with all sorts actions by ancestors who may be considered "politically incorrect" by today's standards.

I am presently helping to digitize early 1800s probate records as a missionary/volunteer at the Maryland State Archives and I am finding a lot of estate inventories where enslaved people are listed as property along with teaspoons and livestock. For all that we may abhor our legacy of slavery, we still have to deal with the historical records if we want to compile accurate histories and genealogies. Political correctness goes way too far when it tries to rewrite history.

We need to differentiate between immigration and migration. Immigration focuses on the movement of people from one political entity to another, i.e. from Ireland to the United States. Immigration records identify people who move across political boundaries. In the United States, the first immigration laws were passed in the 1880s. Migration, on the other hand, is the movement of populations based on geography. For example, in the mid-1800s it is estimated that by 1840, nearly 7 million American settlers had crossed the Appalachian Mountains. See Westward Expansion. These movements were not random. The paths they took to cross the mountains and the subsequent settlements form a distinct pattern. These patterns exist at all times and in all parts of the world. By studying the movement of populations, we can predict the origin and relationships of individual families with surprising accuracy. Likewise, when we see anomalies, we can suspect that the information about a family is incorrect. Immigration focuses on the entry and emigration on the exit of individuals and families to and from country to country. Migration studies would tell us the paths they took in moving both from country to country and within countries.

When I was a graduate student in the Linguistics Department of the University of Utah, I participated in a study of the movement of the Shoshoni people from southern California to what is now Idaho. See Miller, Wick R., James L. Tanner and Lawrence P. Foley. 1971. ‘A lexicostatistical study of Shoshoni dialects.’ Anthropological Linguistics 13: 142-164. We used language variations to track the movement of the indigenous population over time. More modern movements are based on occupational changes such a mining, farming practices, census data, ethnic origins and other factors applied to the geography of the settled areas. The resultant data shows how and when certain areas were settled and then depopulated.

Genealogists are often so focused on names and dates that they forget or never learn the historical and geographic context of their ancestors' lives. In my writing over the years, I have focused on the need to expand the scope of genealogical research to move beyond individuals and individual families and to view our ancestors and relatives as part of our geographic, social, historical and cultural heritage. One recent example involved a user of the Family Tree that began questioning the entries of a well researched and sourced family in the Family Tree without having read the Memories attached to the family or having looked at the sources. The user's changes to the record were based on a "book" she thought was in the possession of one of her relatives. This example illustrates the tremendous challenge to accurate genealogical research presented by those who remain totally unaware of the context of their ancestor's lives and even fail to read the available information about the family.

Migration patterns are a major part of the historical context of every person on the earth. My own family is the product of a major population movement across the North American continent that involved both the United States and Mexico. It would be impossible to understand anyone in our huge extended family without knowing all about the details of that historic movement of about 70,00 people. Likewise, even when basic genealogical data is easily obtained through available genealogical records, any real understanding of an ancestral family is incomplete without placing that family in its historical context.

During the next installments of this series, I will be discussing the major migration patterns with a focus on the United States. But at the same time, I will be referring to the universal need to understand the entire background of our ancestral families and not stop with a superficial once-over list of names and dates.

You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

1 comment:

  1. Because many of my ancestors (loosely used to include aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) came from Canada to USA in the 1830s I have been able to discover many other relationships and find new cousins due to following migrations, rather than just names. Migrating "communities" often contain many familial matches, sometimes in generations that go further back than one would expect. It really helps to study these migrations for clues.