Saturday, February 24, 2018
From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Ten
When you are involved in learning about your historical family, as opposed to researching more recent relatives, you will inevitably come to a time when each of your family lines traces back to a geographical movement. The United States is a nation of immigrants and there have been vast movements across the world that have brought our ancestors to this country. All of us can trace our ancestors back to some "ancestral home" where that particular family line originated.
One of the ultimate challenges of genealogical research is tracing any particular family line backward in time as we discover these movements. The concept of "migration patterns" helps to flesh out the bare bones of your research efforts so that the families can be recognized and identified. Some of us living in America can trace our ancestry here on the American continent back hundreds of years. A few of us can find records dating back into the 1500s if our ancestors spoke Spanish. Even very few Native Americans can trace their ancestry here in America back further than the 1800s. My earliest American ancestors date back into the 1600s and I have to admit that doing the research into these families is extremely challenging, primarily because of the immense amount of inaccurate information and pedigrees that have proliferated over the years.
As your research takes you back in time, you will inevitably encounter more and more difficulty in finding records of your family. With exception of French or Spanish ancestry, your efforts in pushing back into early history will either end up with an immigrant living somewhere on the east or west coast or appearing, as if by magic, somewhere in the interior. These dead ends or brick walls are difficult to accept. When confronted with these common situations, the remedy is expanding your research to the surrounding community. The end-of-line ancestor, if still in America, had to get here somehow and it is only through extensive historical research, including a focus on migration patterns, that will start to give clues about where the person came from.
When you reach an impasse, it is time to broaden your research. Begin by verifying all of your existing information. Make sure names, dates, and places match and are supported by the historical records. You do not want to start searching in the wrong place. If necessary, come forward in time to the more recent generations before doing your research. Make sure of what you know.
For early American settlers, always check the dates of the establishment of the town or village and the dates of the establishment of the counties. This is usually done quite simply by doing a Google search for the name of the town or county. If your ancestor was an early resident of either the county or the town, then you should always look for local history information. Look for a local museum or historical society and contact them about early settlements.
While researching back in time, do not forget to check newspapers, court records including probate records, land and property records, school, and church records. All these, plus many other kinds of records may be the key to finding where your ancestors were coming from when the settled down.
Once the United States began to grow, the paths that settlers took when moving west continued to proliferate. Finding these pathways involves reading both national histories and local histories. Always look to the major industry in any given area. If your ancestor was a minor, he probably moved to a mining area. If the family were all farmers, then look for farm country. Remember big migrations and events such as the Gold Rush, the American Civil War, and other such events. Your ancestors may have been affected by these events.
After all is said and done, keep looking.
You can see the earlier posts in this series here: