Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Choosing the Path to a New Place


Do you ever wonder what made your immigrant ancestors decide to settle where they did?

For as many immigrant ancestors as there are, I'm sure there are almost as many reasons for settling in a particular place. Most, however, likely fall within a few broad categories: a safe, easy, or cheap passage; the same place where friends, associates, or neighbors were headed; or the source of a promising job.

In the case of Irish immigrants during the Great Famine years, all three reasons could easily have played out in an ancestor's life story. After all, the Irish had strong motivations for leaving home to better themselves—and possibly send help home to the rest of the family.

Other than remittances to help parents or siblings pay for food, supplies, or even rent, money crossing the Atlantic to those left at home in Ireland sometimes provided another answer: the funds enabling brothers, sisters, parents, or cousins to come join their loved ones in a New World.

That situation, seen often with Irish immigrants, has been dubbed chain migration. In the case of our Murdock family—widow Sabina and her four sons who arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, before 1860—it occurred to me that perhaps their decision to come to the midwest was bolstered by the desire to move closer to other family members.

Here's the reason that thought hit me: Sabina Murdock, recently widowed, might have needed to find some support in such a situation. Did she know about any other relatives who had settled in Lafayette? Why did her sons decide to strike out from their home in the midwest—wherever it turned out to be in Ohio or Indiana—to move to Lafayette?

It was not lost upon me that Lafayette also had other residents by the surname Murdock. Besides that, having learned recently of Sabina's own maiden name—Kelly—it hit me that I already knew another Kelly family in Lafayette. The future husband of Sabina's daughter Eliza was once married to someone named Kelly, whose many siblings also lived in that city. Could either of these possibilities have been enough to draw Sabina's sons to settle in Lafayette?

Granted, it's a long shot to surmise that just because someone else claims the same surname, that makes them kin. But I can't just ignore those possibilities, either. While, in the background, I am still seeking documentation to confirm that wandering immigrant pathway across Canada and the United States for the Murdock family, I need to keep my eyes open to the possibility that Sabina's sons, perhaps in desperation after losing their father, moved to Lafayette for the chance to connect with family. In a land of total strangers, even a distant cousin could possibly bring some solace to immigrants who have lost their way. 

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