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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

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

By Unknown - (website), Public Domain,
Earlier, I left my Tanner ancestors in New York State. My direct line ancestor, John Tanner, was a prosperous businessman and landowner in Bolton. Following their conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they began to "gather to Zion" and moved successively from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, back to Illinois and finally to the Salt Lake Valley in what would become the State of Utah. Their travels have been extensively documented due to their involvement in the Church and the good records kept in each of these areas. Most genealogists are not so fortunate.

What do you do with an ancestor who suddenly appears in the Midwest or West? In all instances, you focus on what you know before jumping to conclusions about what you do not know. Just as with immigration research, you research the place of arrival and look for information that leads you to the place of departure. In searching records, expand your research to possible motivations for the ancestor's movement. Some of those reasons might involve land availability, religious affiliation, and occupation.

As I wrote previously, the key to starting your research is to place your ancestor in the context of his or her community. Ask a lot of questions:
  • How did the family get to the place where they are found?
  • Do the settlers in the area have any common heritage? Language? Religion? Occupation?
  • Did the ancestor own land? If so, how did he or she acquire an interest in the land?
  • What were the common occupations in the area where your ancestor appears?
  • What was your ancestor's occupation?
  • Did your ancestor belong to the dominant religion or some other?
  • Can you identify any of your ancestors' neighbors?
  • Where did the neighbors come from?
These types of questions are research driven. Every time you find some additional information about your family, you need to start asking more questions. In my experience, many researchers stop asking questions and take the easy way out. They start focusing on names and try to guess where the ancestor came from and match a name to the ancestor. I have an almost constant stream of examples of this practice as I help people with their research. Most of these deal with issues involving immigration, but often, they involve tracing and ancestral line back to the original immigrant and therefore end up dealing with migration. 

Going back a bit, I have mentioned several times that migration to new areas of America was not driven by the settlers but was driven by land speculators and salesmen. People moved to most places away from the coast as a result of some type of land grant and the subsequent sale of farms or lots. The most prominent of these land schemes came from the United States federal land grants in the form of bounty land warrants or homesteads. The simple answer to the question of why your ancestor moved to a certain area could be free or low-cost land. If your ancestor arrived in a particular area during the time that land was opening up for development, then you should concentrate your research on land and property records. 

But what if your ancestors were poor and never owned any land? This is certainly a possibility. If they did not own land, then you focus on occupations or religious affiliation. For example, miners who came to this country from England and Wales often settled in mining communities. As new mines were developed, they moved to the new mining areas. For example, once the mines in California associated with the Gold Rush of 1849 began to give out, new mines opened in Arizona and the miners moved from California to Arizona. This movement is a migration pattern. 

My ancestors' movement across the United States would seem to be random without the religious connection. Why would someone leave a prosperous business in New York? How could his descendants have ended up settling in northern Arizona on the dry and windy Colorado Plateau? These are hard questions to answer without knowing religious motivation and background of these early settlers. By the way, their migration pattern was predetermined by one man: Brigham Young. 

The Mormons were not the only group that followed religious and cultural migration patterns. Many Scandinavian immigrants migrated to the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota because of the similarity of the climate to their homeland. But different motivations led many more Scandinavians to move into other areas of the country and, of course, there were Scandinavian Mormons and some of the small towns in Utah can trace their heritage back to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

At the bigging of the 20th Century, there was a huge movement of formerly enslaved people to the northern states. This movement is called the Great Migration. Here is a description from Wikipedia:
The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African-Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970. Until 1910, more than 90 percent of the African-American population lived in the American South. In 1900, only one-fifth of African-Americans living in the South were living in urban areas. By the end of the Great Migration, 53 percent of the African-American population remained in the South, while 40 percent lived in the North, and 7 percent in the West, and the African-American population had become highly urbanized. By 1960, of those African-Americans still living in the South, half now lived in urban areas, and by 1970, more than 80 percent of African-Americans nationwide lived in cities. In 1991, Nicholas Lemann wrote that the Great Migration:

"...was one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history—perhaps the greatest not caused by the immediate threat of execution or starvation. In sheer numbers it outranks the migration of any other ethnic group—Italians or Irish or Jews or Poles—to [the United States]. For blacks, the migration meant leaving what had always been their economic and social base in America, and finding a new one."
The impact of this vast movement is something that cannot be ignored by genealogists and historians. Now, more than a hundred years after this movement began, the descendants of these people will necessarily have to track the movement of their ancestors from the southern farmland into the urban areas. Fortunately, records such as the U.S. Federal Census can assist this research. 

Migration is an integral part of history and genealogists will only become adequately competent when they acquire sufficient historical knowledge to place their ancestral families in the context of their place and time.
You can see the earlier posts in this series here:

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