Monday, July 6, 2015
What makes people move?
More to the point for our current genealogical pursuit, what convinced the ancestors of my matrilineal line to decide to leave one settlement, in favor of the struggle of carving out a new home in a new wilderness of a New World?
Chasing my matrilineal line backwards through time has been relatively easy, as long as specific names and family constellations showed up predictably in census records and other governmental documents. Coming to roadblocks in that documentation, however—say, a gap in time in which no further records appear in one locale—introduces a signal to look elsewhere for those ancestors' residency. A family, once giving every signs of being established in a community, no longer appears in the local records. Now what?
Census records and other online resources can help us determine where our ancestors were. But in order to discover where those ancestors went, you often need to delve into books to find your answers. You need to uncover the reasons for the change, and the likely rationales and routes for the change of residence.
There are reasons for my conjecture that the best answer to this question will be found via books.
First, while providing proof of residency in a specific place at a specific time, documentation such as census records or the certification of vital records provides merely a snapshot in time. Those are papers that confirm that, yes, this person was at this place at this time.
But when "this place" changes, that paper trail can fail us. That paper gift does not come to us, wrapped as a package deal, revealing the rationale for how the person arrived, how long they had been here, or how long they intended to continue at this specific address. Unlike that documentation, a narrative—as often provided in collections of letters, journals or written histories of families or places—would supply the continuity of the story: what made the family decide to move from one place to another. Unless you are fortunate to stumble upon such a cache in an archive or other private repository, the most likely place to access such narratives would be in books.
Second, though we now see a resurgence in keen interest in family history, prior periods of such interest arose during times in which the common medium for storage and exchange of these stories was publications. Admittedly, more and more material has been digitized and uploaded to websites of interest to genealogists, and the search is certainly made more bearable through computerized capabilities. But to access the repositories of the thoughts and recollections of prior generations, we often have to return to the medium in which they communicated: the written word.
Granted, much of that written word is now finding its way onto the Internet, as well. Witness the Google Books project and other online efforts to convert out-of-print public domain books to searchable online properties. But the bottleneck in that process is the question of choice: the choice of the gatekeeper. And that choice will tend toward those projects that hold the most interest for the broadest percentage of users. If your interest is in the history of one obscure county in the far reaches of the hinterland, your only answer may be to locate such a book via WorldCat at a library as close in proximity to your home as possible.
Thankfully, in the case of this specific pursuit—locating the whys and wherefores of the migratory choices of various branches of my matrilineal line in hopes of locating the nexus with my mtDNA-matching mystery cousin—I am finding possible hypotheses addressed via several books that have been digitized and placed online.
Yes, though indeed they are accessible online, these are books from which I am building my case on the likely answer for why one branch of the family chose to go against the grain and, instead of following the migration pattern of the rest of the family, head west instead of south.
In the next few days, I'll be laying out the various reasons for what urged the family on, first from their colonial homes in Virginia to their settlement in upper Georgia. Then, we'll take a look at what causes might have goaded the families onward, and examine which path became the preferred choice among family members. And finally, in hopes of finding that nexus, we'll look at the branch that took the road less traveled, heading west from Georgia through Kentucky to Missouri—and why they might have chosen that very different direction.