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.
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 behaviour among people
- Family reasons
- Political stability
- Religious tolerance
- Relative freedom
- National prestige
Perhaps the only major group of immigrants who did not respond to push or pull factors was the Africans, who were captured and traded into slavery against their will.
Click on the following image to see detail.
United States Immigration
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.
What are some of the important immigration facts?
- The English government could not afford to sponsor colonization in the Americas, so it fell to the hands of big business. In 1606 two charter companies, the Plymouth Company and the London Company, formed for the purpose of creating colonies in North America.
- The Jamestown immigrants in the colony’s first half century were, for the most part, single, male tradesmen and laborers from the cities of England. Many planned to return to England and thus had little community spirit.
- About 40 percent of the immigrants to the Chesapeake Bay area in the seventeenth century were indentured servants.
- Between 1630 and 1640 about twenty thousand English men, women, and children came to New England in what is known as the Great Migration.
- The Puritans in Massachusetts believed that only certain people were “God’s elect,” or “saints.” They developed an examination to determine which ones among them were saints.
- Seventy thousand English “war brides” immigrated to the United States in the 1940s. They were English women who met American servicemen stationed in England during World War II and married them.
Why did they come?
- The main motivation was certainly economic.
- Rich may have been looking for a good investment.
- Extensive population growth
- Population explosion, increasing from three million people in 1500 to over five million by 1650.
- London’s population grew from about 200,000 in 1600 to 575,000 in 1700.
- 25 to 50 percent of the population lived in poverty.
- Wages for workers in England lagged far behind price increases.
- The roles people played within the social world were already set.
- The nobles, or “gentlemen,” owned all the large spreads of land.
- A person was born to a low position would likely maintain the lowly status.
- Inheritance laws (the passing of one’s wealth from one generation to the next) was ruled by a system called primogeniture
- Family’s wealth passed to the oldest son upon the father’s death.
- System ensured that the estates of the wealthy did not get divided into small pieces and remained in the hands of a few.
- Ensured aristocracy (government by the elite or a small class of the privileged) remained intact.
- Younger members of some families of wealthy families America as opportunity to make fortune.
- Plagues (deadly epidemic diseases) and famine were common.
- Upheavals in the religion of England played a large role in the settlement of the New World, particularly New England.
- England moves from Catholic to Protestant.
- Before the sixteenth century, England had been a Roman Catholic state.
- Starting in 1529, King Henry VIII (1491–1547) broke the English Church from Rome and the pope (the head of the Roman Catholic Church).
- In the reign of Henry’s young son, Edward VI, who ruled from 1547 to 1553, England’s national church was made over into a truly Protestant church, a Christian church that denies the pope’s authority and accepts the Bible as the only source of revealed truth.
- Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon, took the throne and proclaimed all of England to be Roman Catholic once again. When the Protestant leaders rebelled, Mary had many of them executed.
- Mary died in1558andwas succeeded by Elizabeth I, who reigned until 1603. Elizabeth strove to unify England under one religion that would be accepted by all.
- She created a state church—its beliefs and its leaders were chosen by her—with a Protestant basis but retaining many Roman Catholic practices.
- The religion was called the Church of England, or the Anglican religion.
- The compromise worked well for most of the people of England, but there were dissenters.
- The Protestant nature of the church displeased a portion of the many Catholics in the country and there were Protestants who wished to “purify” the Church of England of the remnants of Roman Catholicism.
- This group of Protestants, called the Puritans, arose in England in the 1560s. Elizabeth invited Puritans to participate in England’s political system and to form their own places of worship as long as they recognized her as the head of the Church of England.
- As a whole, the Puritans did not wish to separate from the Church of England, only to wait for its reform. Elizabeth was skillful in bringing the country together, and it was only after her death that the great migrations of religious dissenters (nonconformers) would begin.
When did they come?
- The first Massachusetts Bay Company settlers landed in Massachusetts in 1630 followed by 10 yearsofthelargesthe migration from to the New World. Reasons included:
- The harassment of Puritans in England.
- The economic problems.
- The lure of land that was ripe for the taking (the English did not believe that Indians were proper owners).
- Idea of creating a new moral order and a new society.
- Approximately sixty thousand people left England during those years, two-thirds heading in other directions.
What was their religious background?
- Many of the American immigrants in New England were Puritans and developed their communities according to Puritan principles.
- The Puritan immigrants, like the Plymouth settlers, intended to settle permanently in America.
- They often came as families or, if single, were placed in family groups.
- Average ages in the thirties and forties.
- The New Englanders settled in an orderly fashion, forming themselves into small groups that bought land from the Indians, petitioned the legislature for the right to become a town, and then moved to the town site and set up.
- Husbands, wives, and their children set up housekeeping immediately.
- Those men and women who were as yet unmarried boarded in the houses of those who were married.
- The towns that the first immigrants established filled quickly, and those who came on later ships spread out and created new towns.
- New England towns came in many sizes and shapes.
- Some had individually owned farms and others had community fields where all the townspeople worked together and split up the crops.
- Colonists usually followed a basic pattern.
- The site for the town was chosen by the colony’s government and was generally given to a group of about thirty or forty families.
- The people in the group had generally known one another back in England, but they might take in a “stranger” if he or she had the right skills and good standing in the community.
- The typical New England village had a town green with a meetinghouse (church)
- The homes were arranged near the meetinghouse and close to one another.
- Most of the government work was done at the local level by the town officials.
- New England towns had their own militias, groups of citizens organized for military service.
- The Puritans believed that only certain people were “God’s elect,” or in their terminology, “saints.”
- They developed a form of examination to determine who among them were the saints.
- To keep their commonwealth pure, they ruled that only saints could govern or vote. (A commonwealth is a form of government based on the common good of the citizens rather than the rule of a monarch.)
Are there any clues to family naming patterns?
In 18th & 19th Century Britain families generally tended to name their children in a specific pattern as follows:
- First-born Son – father’s father
- Second-born Son – mother’s father
- Third-born Son – father
- Fourth-born Son – father’s eldest brother
- Fifth-born Son – father’s 2nd oldest brother or mother’s oldest brother
- First-born Daughter – mother’s mother
- Second-born Daughter – father’s mother
- Third-born Daughter – mother
- Fourth-born Daughter – mother’s eldest sister
- Fifth-born Daughter – mother’s 2nd oldest sister or father’s oldest sister
It is also common to use:
- The mother’s maiden name as a second name;
- The surname of close friends as a second name;
- Give another child exactly the same name as a previous child who had died; or
- Give a child the name of a relative or friend who had recently died.
New England & Virginia Naming Patterns
- Early settlers seemed to favor names for their associated moral qualities. Among girls’ names, which were no doubt intended to incite their bearers to lead godly lives, were: Content, Lowly, Mindwell, Obedience, Patience, Silence, Charity, Mercy, Comfort, Delight and Thankful.
- A popular custom in both Virginia and New England was the use of surnames as given names. This occurred mostly with boys, but it was not unknown for girls. Some names were also chosen for their magical properties, and astrologers were consulted in attempt to find a “fortunate” or “lucky” name.
- In Virginia, Biblical references were less common. Early settlers often named sons for Teutonic warriors, Frankish knights, and English kings. Favorites included William, Robert, Richard, Edward, George, and Charles. Daughters received name of Christian saints and traditional English folk names, such as Margaret, Jane, Catherine, Frances, and Alice, along with English favorites Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, and Sarah.
The source material for the this resource is a compilation from the following references:
- Benson, Sonia. U.S. Immigration and Migration Almanac. Ed. Sarah Hermsen. UXL-GALE, 2004. eNotes.com. 2006.
- Daniels, Roger. Coming to America. A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
- Dollarhide, William. British Origins of American Colonists, 1629 – 1775, Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 1997.
- Dollarhide, William. Map Guide of American Migration Routes, 1735 – 1815, Bountiful, UT: Heritage Quest, 2000.
- Wills, Chuck. Destination America. The People and Cultures That Created A Nation, New York, New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 2005.
- Research Outlines by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT.