Casefile Clues

09 May 2007

Your Own Unique Migration Chain

I've never been a huge fan of migration trails. Of course, how our ancestors got from point A to point B is important. However, what is generally more important is why our ancestors went from Point A to Point B. Usually that why was a person.

A friend, relative, or former neighbor found out about an opportunity and thought that our ancestor, still living in Point A, should migrate to Point B. Of course, there were times than our ancestor read a book or newspaper that mentioned the advantages to living in Point B. But still something drew him to that area.

I have had more luck working with migration chains than any other type of "migration technique" for genealogical research. Our ancestors rarely moved in complete isolation. Twenty-two of my mother's ancestors migrated to the United States between 1850 and 1883. Every one of them immigrated to where either:

  • a relative was already there
  • a relative was quick to follow the ancestor to the new location
And it was not only my Germans who followed this trend. My Irish settled where they had kin and former neighbors. My wife's Swedes, Belgians, Swiss, Germans, and Greeks did the exact same thing during approximately the same time period. And it was not only the non-English speakers who migrated in groups over a period of time.

My families who travelled from Virginia into Kentucky and eventually into Indiana had some of the same neighbors in all three states. My wife's Kiles who migrated from Ohio to Illinois in the 1850s were part of a larger contingent following the same migration path. And some of my Virginia families in the 1750s had neighbors with the same last names as the neighbors of their grandparents fifty years earlier and several counties further east.

Pay attention to your ancestor's associates when he settles in a new area. Those associates and neighbors might have been his neighbors and associates from "back home." Finding where they were from may help you discover where your own ancestor was from as well.