To understand our ancestors’ movements and decisions, sometimes consulting a map can clear up confusion. I have a simple example from my own research.
One of my favorite lines to research are the Dimicks. They moved from Massachussetts to Connecticut to New Hampshire and then later to Ohio. I find that I try to do too much in my head sometimes. My brain likes to try to convince me that I can remember things…corrrectly. Well, this demonstration just goes to show two things. One, I can’t remember much very well, and two, using a map is invaluable.
Here’s how I “thought” their migration went:
It is an unusual migration pattern to cross back over a state you’ve already left. It’s not unheard of or impossible, of course, but usually, people migrated in more of a straight line. This realization got me to look at the exact locations of the Dimicks in each location.
When the Dimicks arrived in America in the 1600s, they lived in Barnstable, Massachussetts, which is located out on the hook of Massachussetts. Now this migration makes more sense:
By looking at a map, instead of depending on my memory, the Dimick migration makes a whole lot more sense. This is now one of the first things I do when working on a project. I look at maps and get a good visual perspective on where all of the people involved were located.
There are several types of maps that can be useful for this. We will look at them in more detail next week.
Wyoming may be largely made up of wide-open spaces, but there are several important migration routes and transportation events. I’m going to cover five migration routes:
Bozeman Trail – connected the gold rush areas of Montana to the Oregon Trail
Oregon Trail – from western Missouri into the Rockies and on to Oregon City
California Trail – from western Missouri across the Rockies into the California Gold Fields
Mormon Trail – from Nauvoo, Illinois to Nebraska and on to Salt Lake City and beyond to California
Chisholm Trail – branch that ended in Cheyenne and joined the Oregon, Mormon, or California Trails
Rivers served as migration and settlement points. The North Platte River and the Sweetwater, a long tributary of the North Platte, are part of the Mississippi river system and the water eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico. These two rivers are along the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails. They offered important water for explorers and settlers. Wyoming is a very dry state (I could never seem to drink enough water!) It was imperative for explorers and settlers to stay near water sources.
The railroad played an important role in the expansion and settlement of the state of Wyoming. The Union Pacific Railroad was vital in that it financed town-building across the state. The railroad fostered economic growth not only for itself but also for the state of Wyoming. It helped move livestock out, and other goods in to the state. When coal was discovered in southwest corner of the state, it powered the railroad while the railroad also moved coal out of the state to sell to other regions and consumers.
Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, 1 July 1862. This act created the Union Pacific (UP), and subsidized the UP and the Central Pacific by granting 10-square mile sections of land for each mile of track laid. In 1864, the second Pacific Railway Act doubled the land grant to 20 square miles and also gave mineral rights to the railroad. The sales of this land then paid for the building of the railroad. The pounding of the Golden Spike on 10 May 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, connected the railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This opened trade and transportation to and from farther locations. This made Wyoming much more accessible for settlement. Transportation by train was more preferable to wagon trains.
Next we will look at land in Wyoming. There’s plenty of it… mostly filled with sheep and sagebrush.
The group has picked some fantastic topics. I will be presenting:
“Census Hurdles: How to Jump Over or Go Around”
“From Deeds to Dirt: Case Studies in Analyzing Research with Maps”
“Cluster Research and the Fan Principle: Finding Your Ancestors through their Friends, Associates, and Neighbors”
“The Heart of it All: Migration Research Methods”
This seminar will begin with some foundational research record sets and methodology (censuses and maps), and then build on those lectures in the afternoon with two methodology lectures. The “Cluster Research” lecture will explain the FAN Club principle (thank you Elizabeth Shown Mills) and demonstrate some of the best methods for identifying your ancestors’ FAN club. The second, “The Heart of it All” will bring together all of the records, techniques and methodologies from the day into a final case study on determining one family’s migration route and their reason for moving.
I’m looking forward to this opportunity and I hope to see some of you there!
Often in my research, I like to think about why my ancestors did what they did. I am especially curious when I find that they moved from one state to another. Sometimes it seems like there are “loners” who go out on their own. Those I generally label as “adventurous” people who wanted to go see the country rather than stay home and tend to the family farm. Sometimes entire groups of extended family moved together, or in a chain, one moved first and then others followed. I usually guess that those folks moved because of opportunity or a better life in a new location.
The truth is, unless we have a diary or letters, maybe a newspaper article, from/about our ancestors we can never really know. By studying the social history of the time and place, we might be able to make a good educated guess. Usually I ponder on my own life choices to try to identify why my ancestor may have done something, like moving to a new state. In our case, my husband got a new job, a better paying and much more interesting job. Also, I consider myself adventurous and I would often wonder what it would be like to live in a different place. Usually it was while we were traveling through beautiful locations that seemed peaceful. Usually we had many reasons to stay put, and not enough reason to move.
But then a REAL opportunity happened. Yikes! It was exciting and scary all at once. Of course, we live in different times than our ancestors. Most of the moving hassles were taken care of by my husband’s new job, things like flying to Texas to shop for a house, then packing, loading and unloading the truck, driving the truck to Texas, and so on. We could have had our cars shipped, our pets and ourselves flown. However we had too many plants and other things the movers wouldn’t move so we opted to take a road trip in our two cars with 2 kids, 3 cats, 1 dog, and miscellaneous items. It was Labor Day weekend so we had a couple of extra days to kill between being out of our old house and closing on our new one. We stayed with family for a few days but then ventured on where we stayed in 2 hotel rooms with 4 humans and 4 pets. Let’s just say that was an ADVENTURE! The next morning at 7:30 am we loaded everyone up, met our realtor, signed papers, waited for the funding to go through and then finally, around noon, got our keys. Let’s not mention how hot it was (90+ degrees) while we had 4 humans and 4 pets in two cars, waiting for our keys.
Once we had our keys and we unloaded our stuff, our pets and our kids we went over to the school to get the kids enrolled. Since we were leaving Colorado two weeks after their school started, and only one week late for Texas, they got a couple of extra weeks of summer vacation. They started school the next day. We also still had to wait for our moving truck to arrive. Luckily they arrived the next day as well so we only spent one night on air mattresses.
While all of that was full of hassles and stress, it really did go pretty smoothly. Let’s think about it… We drove a car, with air conditioning, and made the trip in two days. Gas stations, rest areas, restaurants and other stores along the way provided for any needs we had. We had all of our belongings in a big truck also headed to Texas. Our ancestors? They would have only brought what was completely necessary and the journey took weeks (maybe months depending on where they were going) through the elements, with only what they could carry or fit in their wagon. They likely walked all or part of the way over rough roads or no roads at all. The farther back in time, the harder it likely was. There was no roadside assistance. There may have been Indian attacks, wild animals, disease or injury, hunger/starvation, and in many cases they didn’t all make it.
My point is, if our ancestors moved, it was a much bigger “deal” than it is today even when I consider our move a “big deal.” They didn’t do it without a lot of consideration and preparation. (Unless they were running from the law, perhaps.) In our case, studying the social history of the area is not going to clue anyone in on why we moved. Perhaps there will be archived versions of everyone’s Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn accounts and other social media outlets. Those are serving as today’s diaries. If future generations have access to these types of records they can probably figure out why we moved.
Pondering the possible motives of our ancestors’ movements can add life to the names and dates and can give meaning to what might otherwise not make any sense. Beware of declaring anything as fact unless you have writings from ancestors. Most of what I “decide” about my ancestors’ motives is of course speculation and is usually based on clues, but rarely does anything say something so clear as my husband’s Facebook status declaring that he had changed jobs and we’d likely be moving or the image to the left that states exactly what day we left our home.
While I don’t have archived social media information for my ancestors (i.e. diaries or letters), it is pretty clear that they moved for some reason and the reason had to be a good one for them to have gone through all that they did. And while I may never know their true reasons, I know what motivates me and my family to pick up and move: a better job and adventure.
I’ve noticed in my research that I am intrigued by the motives behind my ancestors’ actions. Mostly I am curious about why they chose to move from one place to another, why they went with who they did, why they chose that location, and so on. I don’t think we can ever really know without having a diary or letter describing the whys in their own words, but with careful research and analysis we can make some educated guesses. For me, I often turn to my own life when I ponder on the actions of my ancestors, at least as a starting point. While this can be affected by “presentism” (thinking about past events with a modern mindset), it is all I really have to go on when trying to determine someone’s possible motives. I ask why do I do whatever it is my ancestors did: Why did I move?
My family and I just made a very large life-upheaving move last September. We didn’t just move from one town to the next. We moved from Colorado to Texas! The motive? My husband got a new, better job. I think we all also needed a change. From my husband’s old job to my son’s dislike of school, it just seemed like we all needed something new; it didn’t feel like we were growing, just staying the same. So, a new state, a new school, a new house, a new grocery store, new weather and new genealogy societies.
I could list all of the differences we’ve had to get used to, from political attitudes to the traffic patterns to the weather, but I won’t. Over the next few posts I will share a few of the things I’m learning about moving as it relates to genealogy, my genealogy business and understanding my ancestors.