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.
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.
- In 1755 the British expelled the French-speaking Acadians from Nova Scotia. Between four thousand and seven thousand Acadians were forced onto ships and carried to a variety of ports. Between seven thousand and ten thousand more Acadians fled from their homes. Many historians believe that about half the Acadian population died as a result of the expulsion from their homeland, mostly from disease, starvation, or exposure.
- In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, empowering the president to enter into treaties with Native Americans living east of the Mississippi to exchange their lands for land west of the Mississippi River. Indians were to move to a territory composed of present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska that would become known as Indian Territory. There, according to the removal plan, all the Indian nations could form a commonwealth governed by a confederation of tribes.
- 3. Between thirteen thousand and sixteen thousand Cherokee were marched on foot from Georgia to Oklahoma during the fall and winter of 1838 to 1839. More than one-fourth, or between four thousand and eight thousand people, died during the forced march, from starvation, sickness, exposure to the cold weather, and exhaustion. The Cherokee remember the trek as “The Trail Where They Cried,” and it is referred to in most history books as the Trail of Tears.
- In 1864 the U.S. government decided to settle the “Navajo problem,” bringing in frontiersman Kit Carson (1809–1868) to head American troops. Carson and his army proceeded through the Navajo lands, taking their livestock and burning their homes and crops. Thousands of nearly starving Navajo surrendered. In the course of the following year, eight thousand Navajo were resettled at a place called Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner in New Mexico. In large groups at various times, they were forced to make the three hundred-mile walk on foot, an event that has become known as the Long Walk.
- In 1889 Indian Territory was opened for settlement to non-Indians in the first of the Oklahoma Land Runs. An estimated fifty thousand people lined up at the boundaries of the Indian Territory that day. By sundown, they had claimed two million acres of land.
- On March 31, 1942, all Japanese Americans living along the West Coast were directed to report to control stations and register the names of all family members. They were then told when and where to report with their families for relocation to an assembly area, a temporary camp where they could be held until they could be more permanently placed in an internment camp.
When did they come and where did they settle?
- Africans sold into slavery arrived in theNewWorldby means of a forced immigration.
- Unlike the nation’s other immigrants, they did not arrive on U.S. shores to seek opportunities or to start a new life; rather, they were shipped to the country against their will and deprived of their human rights for the benefit of slave owners.
- An immigrant is someone who travels to a country of which he or she is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident.
- Although Africans brought to the United States as slaves were certainly immigrants, their experiences differed widely from the experiences of people who chose to immigrate.
- Many of the lands the pioneers in the United States took over during the westward expansion already belonged to Native Americans who had lived on the continent for thousands of years.
- During the westward mass migration, thousands of people in eastern parts of the United States moved to the western frontier regions.
- The consequences of the mass migration for American Indians often were gruesome and horribly unfair.
- The experiences of each of the tribes upon the arrival of the white settlers to their lands differed. Most were shut out of their own lands. Many tribes, however, remained on their ancestral lands under the provisions of treaties (contracts signed by two parties showing agreement on the terms described within the contract) with the United States. Almost always, however, it was only on a small portion of their lands on reservations (lands set aside by the government for the use of a particular Native American group or groups) and under terms that drastically changed their way of life.
- Some Native American tribes, witnessing the defeat of other tribes, chose to migrate (to move from one place to another) to avoid conflict with the white settlers. Tribes that tried to stay in their homelands were forced by the United States government to leave, sometimes at gunpoint.
- Some Native American groups that these forced migrations happened to were the Five Civilized Tribes, the Navajo, and the Nez Perce.
- Some groups arrived in the United States through involuntary exile (being forced to leave) from their homeland. Such was the case with the Acadians, French-speaking Catholics forced from their home in Nova Scotia by the British.
- The Acadians eventually found their way to Louisiana. Although the United States prides itself on providing basic rights to its people, forced removals of groups from their home due to religion or ancestry has occurred at times in the nation’s history.
- The Mormons, whose religious beliefs were targeted by local governments, were exiled from their home base in Missouri, triggering the migration of tens of thousands west to Utah.
- Later, more than one hundred thousand Japanese Americans were evacuated (removed during an emergency) from their homes on the West Coast and placed in internment camps (places in which people are confined in wartime) by the American government during World War II (1939–45) for no other reason than their ancestry.
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.