When it comes to understanding ancestral migration patterns, it really helps to look at a map. The reason an ancestor ended up in a certain location might be explained by geography, and more specifically, topography. Using a topological map can be quite helpful in understanding some of the potential “whys” for things our ancestors did.
Topography is “the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area.”1 Examining the physical features can explain a possible migration route or why they stayed in a particular location.
One excellent example of topography affecting migration is that of large mountain ranges. Let’s look at Virginia as an example. Let’s say you had ancestors in early Virginia and they wanted to move west to the “frontier.” They set off past Richmond only to discover a large mountain range in front of them. The Blue Ridge Mountains caused a lot of adventurous folks to head north or south to go around them.
This barrier caused more settlements to the north and south. As I imagine it, you make a long journey to get around these mountains…why not just stop here a spell? And then just never leave. I imagine that happened quite a bit.
My ancestor, Samuel Cook Dimick, moved from Lyme, New Hampshire to Toledo, Ohio. One account says that after the business he was working for began shutting down (or he decided to quit working there, it isn’t clear) he was to move on further west (perhaps to Minnesota where his father owned some land). But someone told him of land for sale just one county to the south and he decided to stay in Wood County, Ohio. And that’s the reason I was born in Wood County, Ohio and not Lyme, New Hampshire.
We will continue our look at types of maps that can help us understand our ancestors’ decisions and circumstances next time.