When a family fits into a migration stream

A knowledge of migration patterns fitting you genealogical subjects can be quite helpful in tracing their generations.

In my Quaker circles, for instance, it was not uncommon to find brothers in one family marrying sisters in another – and then to see households of cousins venturing off to a new state, and Quaker community, together. The flow from the Philadelphia area and Nantucket Island to Piedmont Carolina fed, in time, to southern Ohio and Indiana before turning to a band across southern Iowa. Other Friends simply headed west from Pennsylvania.

My Dunker/Brethren lines take a similar pattern, although many of them did not follow the Great Wagon Road out of central Pennsylvania quite as far – Rockingham County in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was a popular destination – before some continued on to Ohio, Montgomery County, especially. From there, another stream flows northwest into new farmland or straight west into Illinois.

In contrast, New England families tended to stay put in the same town for generations. Those that didn’t seemed to be on the run.

You can find parallel motions for other genealogical groups. Many African-Americans, for instance, were part of what’s become known as the Great Migration, 1915-1960, from the Deep South to industrial northern cities. Earlier, Eastern Europeans flocked to many of the same cities for factory work. German migration came in two distinct waves, and again, knowing the differences can be helpful in your research.

In looking for a generation of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, I have good reason to suspect they’re living in the mountainous southwest quadrant of the state. I can leap on east to Lancaster and York counties for their origins. As for my Hodsons, I can see why my great-grandfather came first to Indiana, which was rife with his kin, and then on to Van Wert, Ohio, via his new Quaker introductions.


How have migration patterns informed your research? Does your family fit the norm? Or run otherwise? Any advice for fellow genealogists? Have you ever traced part of their journey in your travels?


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