Immigration/Migration patterns for the Genealogists: Think like a historian
One of the most important considerations in finding our ancestor is immigration research. Immigration/migration patterns reveal clues to finding the origin of your immigrant ancestors.
- Below in this article: Links to 48 detailed profiles of immigrating peoples to North America found in this blog
Look at immigration from a historian’s point of view and not from the genealogical point of view. Your trying to understand what you ancestors did and why. As a genealogist, you wonder why your ancestors migrated. You look for clues that might direct you to the birthplace in country of origin. As genealogists the first thing we do is start searching through deeds, wills, bible records, and other such documents. Documents can tell you that your ancestor sold his property from one person to another, but it does not tell why he then picked up and moved from Virginia to Tennessee. When you add seek to understand immigration patterns of the time and people your chances for success expand dramatically because you being to understand what your family was thinking, you see what others individuals where doing, where they were going, and where they came from.
By learning about the immigration patterns for a specific ethnic group to which your ancestor belonged in the time period they lived, we begin to see trends that correlate to our family such as the ports they arrived, the counties and cities from which they came and where they settled, the reasons for decisions that were made, the types of records they left behind and where.
You start by answering the question:
- What was their ethnic background or group to which you think they belonged?
- Where they Puritans, Welch, or Germans?
Now you begin to answer the questions:
- Why did they come?
- When did they come?
- Where did the settle?
- What were their social and work conditions?
- What was their religious background?
America: People on the Move
When step back and began looking at my ancestors as part of an ethnic group at a given time and place, you quickly see that America is a land of people on the move. Our ancestors were part of groups that for specific reasons felt a “push’ to move to escape political or religious oppression, wars and violence, major natural disasters. The reasons include:
- War or other armed conflict
- Famine or drought
- Political corruption
- Disagreement with politics
- Religious intolerance
- Natural disasters
- Discontent with the natives, such as frequent harassment, bullying, and abuse
- Lack of employment opportunities
- These factors generally do not affect people in developed countries; even a natural disaster is unlikely to cause out-migration.
When you are pushed, where do you go? One senses the “pull” America had upon our ancestors. Economic and professional opportunities were by far the foundation for our ancestors coming to America. It was the availability of lands for farming, an abundance of jobs, higher salaries. The reasons include:
- Higher incomes
- Lower taxes
- Better weather
- Better availability of employment
- Better medical facilities
- Better education facilities
- Better behavior among people
- Family reasons
- Political stability
- Religious tolerance
- Relative freedom
- National prestige
Overview of United States Immigration Timeline
The following immigration/migration profile is provided as an example of the type of information that is valuable of finding the origin of your ancestors as well as helping to better understand your ethnic heritage. This information is in no way all inclusive, but it will be a good starting point for you to expand upon.
Immigrating Peoples to North America
These resources are found in this blog under the heading of Immigrant Rsh listed under Genealogy Rsh.
North America Migrations
Example of Forced Migration: Dust Bowl
- 1000 Year North American Immigration Timeline—1000 to 2002
- California Gold Rush
- Dust Bowl and the Okie Migration
- Homestead Act
- Mail systems
- Migrations from the Eastern States 1780s to 1840s
- On the move—Life on wagon trains
- Oregon Trail
- Orphan Trains