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Beginning Genealogy Lesson #25
Migration Patterns

"Just where did my people come from before this?" Since no one was drop-shipped by hot air balloon, there is a paper trail, however meager. When all seems lost, a study of settlement patterns of a state or region will actually merge into a series of recognizable migration patterns, hence the subject of today's lesson.

1. COLLECT ALL DOCUMENTS ON A GIVEN ANCESTOR. Mention of birthplace is made in all types of records including passenger arrival lists; census records; birth, marriage and death records; land records; naturalization papers; military files; applications for insurance, religious and fraternal organizations. 

2. STUDY LOCAL HISTORIES OF THE AREA WHERE YOUR ANCESTORS LIVED. These were especially popular in the late 1800s. Often a few words in town histories provide great clues to the former place of residence as follows:

"The Germans who settled this part of Pennsylvania came from the Palatinate, in the Rotterdam to London group, then to upstate New York down the Susquehanna River to the Tupelhocken Valley. Reading hadn't been developed yet, nor was there a road to Philadelphia." The researcher is happily provided with suggestions of at least three other localities to check for the church or vital records to press these lines a few generations back.

See: P. William Filby's  Bibliography of American County Histories. From the publisher "This comprehensive work provides a state-by-state listing of all county histories of any significance. For each is given information concerning the title, author, place and date of publication, as well as details of editions, reprints, and indexes. In all, it covers 5,000 county histories published to date. The standard work on the subject." 

3. STUDY MAPS OF TYPICAL MIGRATION ROUTES. Historians agree that travel in the colonial period of the US followed ancient animal paths. These were developed further by Native Americans, early trappers and eventually wagon trains of new arrivals. Topography played an important role, since routes tended to follow rivers or mountain barriers.

On a photocopy of a map, trace the route in reverse from your ancestor's known locality to the one or two likely places detailed in the usual migration pattern maps for the time period. Maps are found in the LDS Research Outline: United States, basic genealogy reference works, county histories and the like. See Norman Wright's Building an American Pedigree, listed below, for some standard migration pattern maps for most areas east of the Mississippi.

Using maps, genealogists who specialize in a particular state or region, can actually outline the pockets of each ethnic group that settled the region. They can draw lines of typical migration patterns into the region based on their years of research. Try to attend a class or read books by those recognized as experts in the locality your ancestors settled.

See this neat set of online animated maps showing migration & settlement patterns in the US:

See also Cyndi's List - Maps, Gazetteers & Geographical Information for similar maps, including those in foreign countries. http://www.cyndislist.com/maps.htm 

5. REFER TO EVERTON'S HANDYBOOK FOR GENEALOGISTS or ANCESTRY'S RED BOOK for information about the county, county, parent county, boundary changes and records available. One fellow on my family tree stated that he was born in Virginia. His son stated in family records that his father had been born in Kentucky. It happened that the family lived on the same spot for several generations. What looked like a migration pattern, was only a change in governmental boundaries.

At the time of the father's birth, the area was part of Virginia. There were several boundary changes over the years, with the final change making the area part of Kentucky. This also means that with each change of county, a different county courthouse kept records for the period of time it had jurisdiction over the family homestead.

Looking for evidence of birth, marriage, death using tax, land and probate records would have provided little had only one of the several courthouses been researched.

This isn't always an easy task -- this climbing family trees! I promise you, though, that your efforts in studying typical migration patterns will help you make progress. As you continue to read and study, you'll also pick up information on the "push-pull" factors that influenced your ancestors' emigration/immigration. Adding these source materials and maps to your family history notebooks will greatly enhance the final product.

Rule of thumb to remember the difference between
emigration & immigration:
Emigration begins with the letter "E" so does the word "EXIT"
as in EXITing a county.
Immigration begins with the letter "I" so does the word "IN"
as in coming INto a country.

For Further Reading
Leary, Helen. From Pennsylvania to North Carolina Piedmont: How to Find Your Great Wagon Road Ancestors. NGS 1997 Conference Program Syllabus, p300-303.

Lewis, Marcus. The Development of Early Emigrant Trails East of the
Mississippi River.
1933 Washington, DC: NGS Genealogical Publication, No 3.

Miller, Olga. Migration, Emigration, Immigration, Principally to the United States and in the United States. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers. Vol 1:1974, Vol 2:1981.

Wright, Norman. Building an American Pedigree: A Study in Genealogy. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 3rd printing 1974, pp 421-518.

Wright, Norman. Pioneers on the Move, The Migrations Within North America. Provo: Brigham Young University Press. 1969.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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