Beginning Genealogy Lesson
"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
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
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
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.
of thumb to remember the difference between
emigration & immigration:
begins with the letter "E"
||so does the
as in EXITing a county.
begins with the letter "I"
||so does the
as in coming INto a country.
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.