There were several migration trails across the United States beginning with the earliest days of settlement. Those trails are important and researchers need to be aware of them. However some people don’t exactly follow the trails. And some people are part of group of migrants connected by ethnicity, religion, or other shared social bonds who move together over decades. These longer, smaller, and more personal migrations are often referred to as migration chains.
There are a variety of records that can provide clues as to such migration chains, including:
- county histories
- academic studies of migration
- pension affidavits
- church histories
- and others
Such records have given me evidence of migration chains, including:
- Dunkards who moved from Maryland to Kentucky to Indiana to Illinois and Iowa starting in the late 1790s and ending in the 1860s
- Several families from Hunterdon County, New Jersey; to Pennsylvania; to Delaware County, Ohio.
My Grandma always told me they went four counties away (staying within the same state) to get married because “your Grandpa just decided to.” They weren’t hiding the marriage from their relatives and were well well over the legal age to marry. And from what I heard about my Grandpa, he never did anything on a whim.
Chances are your ancestor did not pack up and move for no reason either. It might have been because local soils were getting depleted, former neighbors wrote home with news of “prosperous times further west,” a new political allegiance increased the chance of sons being drafted into military service, Pa got a military bounty warrant, or one of several other reasons.
Have you tried to find out what might have motivated your ancestors to move by doing more than a thirty second Google search and only reading the “first hit that came up?” While internet postings can be accurate, peer-reviewed articles and journals may give more insight into the era, potentially be more reliable, and provide additional reading references. Don’t just read the first anonymous blog post that you find.
Keep in mind reasons for immigration that you find may or not have been what actually motivated your ancestor. You won’t know that unless he or she left behind something that provides evidence of their reasons.
But learning about the era will always enhance your research.
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I spent some time looking for information on an ancestor in the mid-1800s whose maiden name I thought was Franciska Haase. Several records, including her marriage record which listed her as “Miss FranciskaHaase,” provided that maiden name. It was not until I altered my approach and considered that Haase was the last name of her step-father that I was able to actually locate her.
Consider that the last name you think is the maiden name could actually be the last name of a step-father. It’s also possible that the marriage you think is your female ancestor’s first could actually be her second.
Indexes that take us to one page are great, but they can be limiting if we only look at the page referenced in the index or linked to from the online search results.
- Some US federal censuses have more than one page. The 1840 census in particular contains names of Revolutionary War veterans on the right hand page–which many researchers fail to look at because it’s the “next image.”
- Deed books can contain multiple deeds from the same grantor recorded sequentially–if they were brought in for recording at the same time. For one reason or another the others may not have been indexed. When you find a deed always go a page or two before and after.
- Neighbors on the next census page may be relatives.
- Occasionally siblings have double weddings. Any chance that the other couple is listed on the next page?
- Children who die at birth along with the mother may have sequential death certificates.
It does not take long to look a few pages before and after the “item of interest.” You may be surprised at what you locate.
Whenever a person dies with minor children, it is advised to search for all the records of the settlement of their estate. Parents or siblings of the deceased (particularly males before the 20th century and often afterwards) could have been appointed administrator of the estate or guardian of the children. Sometimes the relationship will be spelled out and sometimes it will not.
In 1865, Joseph Belles petitioned the Fulton County, Illinois, court to be appointed administrator of the estate of Peter Belles as Peter’s children were all minors. Joseph in his petition of 4 May 1865 stated that he was the father of Peter Belles.
Not every estate of this type will state the relationship between the administrator and the deceased and there may be no relationship. But you will never know if you don’t read every document in the record carefully.
It can be tempting in cyberspace to fire off a message about that ancestor who frustrates us. Providing scant details about our problem ancestor also frustrates those who read our query and either makes them unlikely to help us or causes everyone to waste time in a cycle of probing questions to determine what the poster actually knows. There are some very helpful people on some message boards who simply won’t take the time to reply vague queries such as “I’m looking for an ancestor’s parents.”
In that vein, consider including the following information in your query:
- what you know about the ancestor (approximate dates and places of birth, marriage, and death)
- where the ancestor lived–a summary of locations in chronological order if possible
- really unusual alternate spellings of any names
- a summary of what records you’ve searched
- what you are trying to determine
Providing this information helps people to help you–and that’s what it is about. It may also cause you to discover something you didn’t know you had. People may still respond with questions, but at least the basic information is in the query.
Don’t worry too much about grammar and syntax. Comma splices and split infinitives (whatever they are <smirk>) are not the end of the world. Your query does to be clear, readable, and understandable. Rambling sentences are confusing to the reader. Remember:
you want to make it easy for someone who can help you to help you.
And when someone does reply to your query–either with a probing question or help–try and respond. Even just a thank you at least acknowledges you saw their response.
Do you have family photos that you have not digitized? Consider this a reminder from Mimke and Antje.
Some lines are arbitrary. Some lines are crossed intentionally and others are moved to where we passively cross them. As your research moves in time and place, ask yourself these questions?
- Have I crossed a political line? What was legal or acceptable practice on one side of the line may not be true on the other.
- Have I passed through a significant historical event? How did that impact my ancestral family?
- Have I changed religions? Record keeping practices may have changed. Church organizational structure may have changed.
- Am I at a new stage in a person’s life? Researching a child is different from researching a seventy-year old.
- Have I crossed an economic border? Researching a person who lives hand-to-mouth is different from researching someone for whom money really “isn’t an issue.”
- Have I changed time? Laws change over time. Certain social conventions change over time. Common occupations change over time. If your research jumps 100 years in time and you’ve not thought of how “life” was different, you could be creating research problems for yourself.
Finding the answer may solve your problem.
Indexes in some print publications do not include every name mentioned in the book. Some materials only index names of key individuals. I’ve been reading Fields, Fens and Felonies: Crime and Justice in Eighteenth-Century East Anglia which contains two references my relative’s 1764 conviction in County Suffolk.
His name does not appear in the index.