Migration (or Where in the World Did
My Ancestor Go?)
by Lisa South, Certified
John B. L. Soule wrote, "Go West, young man and
grow up with the country." Horace Mann used that
quote in an 1865 editorial and thousands heeded
his advice. Actually, the United States was on the
move from the very beginning. Understanding why
and how people migrated is helpful in finding
where your ancestors lived.
There are a variety of forces behind
- Political trauma such as the many Tories
migrating to Canada during the Revolution.
- Religious trauma, such as the Latter-day
Saints expulsion to the West.
- Economic trauma, such as that caused by the
- Sociological trauma, such as that resulting
in The Trail of Tears.
2. New Opportunities
- Cheaper or better land
- Improving personal circumstances
If you suspect your ancestor migrated because
of trauma, get into the history books and learn
about the circumstances surrounding it. Some of
you may need to learn all about The Trail of
Tears, while others should find out where in
Canada the Tories usually settled. The more you
know about the trauma that forced your ancestor to
move, the more likely you are to learn what
records might have been kept and where they would
Many of those that migrated in search of wealth
or new opportunities were single men - which can
sometimes make them a little more difficult to
trace. When whole families or many families from a
community moved together, they would leave a
larger "paper trail" and are therefore usually
easier to find.
Census indexes are good tools for locating
where an ancestor migrated.
Often a family or group of families would move
in search of cheaper or better land. Sometimes it
would be a large group because of land lotteries
(the Oklahoma Land Rush, bounty land etc.)
Homesteading offered free land and many took
advantage of this opportunity.
Land records sometimes give clues as to where a
person migrated from. Homesteading records can be
very valuable (this will be covered in a future
issue of OGF).
Other records that might help establish your
Ancestor's migration route are family histories
(written or oral), journals, county or local
histories, and military records.
Maps are essential for success. There are many
maps available that show probable migration
routes. As you study a map you can see if a
mountain could be circumvented or if there was a
waterway to get travelers where they wanted to go.
As you search the records, plot a line of
migration on your map.
To find your ancestor's records you MUST know
where they lived. Visit
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