Carol Sanderson, Editor
Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor
What does the word migrate mean. The dictionary defines it as a move from one area to another. Birds migrate with the change of seasons. Man migrates too. In the earlier days it was to look for food. Later man migrated for other reasons.
I would like us to consider the migrations of our ancestors; why they migrated and some of the ways they went.
Let us start with the Pilgrims. They left England and went to Holland...mainly so they could worship the way they wanted. After some years, they found that their children were absorbing the Dutch culture and beliefs. This disturbed them and they started to talk of either going back to England or of establishing a colony in the New World.
We all know why the Pilgrims migrated but what about other settlers and our ancestors. We néed to know what was going on in the world at the time these people left and came to this country or journeyed elsewhere . This knowledge will help us to figure out why they migrated and will also give us some idea where to look for them.
In the early days of the colonies in what is now New England whole groups of people would pick up and move to another location. In some cases it was to form a new church and sometimes it was to form a new town with perhaps better trading possibilities or some other reason.
People were always drawn by the allure of free or cheap land. This was usually the main reason for migration but be aware of your history and geography because there were other reasons too. We know that a lot of the Irish came to this country because of famine. But we also know that some of our New England ancestors in 1816 left for more friendly climates. That was the "Year of No Summer" in the northeast. Crops were failing, people were beginning to starve and die because of the lack of food. As a result, there was a migration of people to the midwest and other regions. People in one of my family lines were among these. They had become a "brick wall" until another researcher with ancestors in that direct line was able to put this together and could get back to Vermont.
I have another family that is allied to to the Vermont family but not until they get to Ohio. I can find the family in New York state but I can not find where they were before that. I have a feeling that tells me where to look because of migration routes but so far I haven't found the place. I think that part of it is an error in reporting where the man I have was born. I may be looking in the wrong place for him.
The migrations of the people of the northeast became greater after the Revolutionary War when more people began to move westward. They were usually looking for more or better land David Dearborn, in an article in New England Ancestors says, "The simple fact that your ancestor was migrating creates a disjuncture: he was born in one place but you first find him living in another. Assuming that your ancestor's birth or baptism in New England was recorded, how do you find proof of a connection between the birth/baptism of the person of that name, with your ancestor living elsewhere?" 1
The largest migrations took place between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. After the Civil War record keeping was better. Record keeping in New England was better than in most other places.
People like easy ways of doing things...you and I do also. Because of this we find that the routes of migration were rivers, lake, and trails that had already been established by others before them. After if was finished the Erie Canal was used as a route to the Great Lakes and these were used also.
Mr. Dearborn reminds us that we should always work from the known to the unknown no matter how we would like to jump ahead to that someone we have found who we are so sure is in our line. After all the names are the same. ..that should give us a tie. Not necessarily so.
Mr. Dearborn gives us list of resources that will perhaps help us to place our ancestors in another place so that we may continue to go back in time. He says as a prelude to it that "When searching for your migrating ancestor, the most common problem you'll encounter is determining where he/she came from (keep in mind your ancestor might have moved several times prior to the date if the first record in which you can identify him, and that an earlier place of residence may not be his place of birth.) Consider some of these sources if they apply to your ancestor.
With all of that, I would like to remind you that if one of your ancestors seems to have moved, check the surrounding towns, counties or states with the idea that he may not have moved but that a boundary may have moved.
- Carol Sanderson
Please remember to check out the Resource Pages (link) as they are continually being updated. Counties for several of the states are all represented and others are being added. Explore what is there and follow some of the other links to other areas.
One of the best reasons for using the census is to find where your ancestor migrated to. Since the census was taken every ten years, you can follow your ancestors as they moved. I will say that sometimes the census seems to show that your ancestors moved when they did not move, just the boundaries of the census moved areas moved. My family was in New England early and at least one member was listed in five different locations in five different censuses, Yet he never moved, just the boundaries of the cities or counties changed. Be sure to check boundaries.
On my mom's family the census helped much more, as they started in Virginia, then moved to Kentucky, then Illinois, then Missouri and finally to Washington. The census shows where they were in all these states, so I have a pretty good idea where they were since the Revolutionary War. However, since the census was only taken every ten year there are some pretty big gaps. The 1890 census was destroyed leaving a 20 year gap. If you find a gap and néed more information, check to see if there is a state census for that period. Some of the states took a census in between the Federal one. These may be of some help to you.
My grandfather was born in 1890. He had a brother born in 1892 and who died in 1896. He never appeared in a census. The other mystery in this family was why even though it was known that my great great grandfather was in Illinois when the Civil War started and was the correct age to have been a soldier, why was he not in the Civil War? The census confirmed where he was in 1860 and that he age was 34. Actually this mystery was easily solved when I opened my grandfather's Bible. It had the birth and death date of his brother and on one of the blank pages was a note telling of the whole family crossing the plains to Danville, California in 1862, and then in 1865 going to Sacramento and catching a boat to Panama, crossing the isthmus and catching another boat to New York and back to Quincy, Illinois from which they had left three years earlier. They appeared in the 1870 census there and if one only checked the census it would appear that they had never left.
The best advice I got from reading how to use the census is to start from the newest census and work back. That sometimes makes it harder to search where to find your ancestor . I found my great grandfather on my dad's side in the 1860 census for Minnesota. It said that he was born in New York about 1815. I did the worst thing I could do. I went to the 1820 census to see if I could find his family and found no Hellenbolts in the 1820 census. I should have gone to the 1850 census first. It had a lot more clues to where the Hellenbolts went after they left New York. They did not appear in the 1840, 1830, or 1820 census but the 1850 census showed that they had four children born in Canada and three born in Wisconsin.
Does this mean you should not use the census? No. It means you néed to use the census as a tool to solve where the family was in the census years and then you must search in that area to see what you can find. After that move on to the next earlier census year and find all the information there before moving on again. This way you will follow the migration of your ancestors, and hopefully will not have any brick walls.
- Charles Hansen
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