Many of our ancestors followed established migration routes. Some traveled alone, but many migrated in clusters or groups of neighbors and friends. There are many online resources to learn about the migration routes and the challenges that faced those who traversed them.
American Migration Fact Sheets: Beverly Whitaker provides migration fact sheets for eighteen major trails in a downloadable pdf format.
Westward Migration Maps: This site features digitized images of historical maps from the holdings of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
Trails West: This site provides a succinct overview of westward migration including a map and descriptions for over a dozen trails.
Online Diaries and Journals about the Old West: Read about western journeys written by the people who traveled the routes and settled the western frontier.
The Boston Post Road: A hand-drawn map and description of the route from Boston, Massachusetts, to New York City.
Ohio Migration Trails: A map and description of the major migration trails through Ohio.
The National Road: An online article from History Magazine.
All About the Oregon Trail: A complete primer on the Oregon Trail.
The Sante Fe – National Historic Trail: An informative site presented by the National Park Service.The Sante Fe trail connected western Missouri with Sante Fe, New Mexico.
History of the Mohawk Trail: History, points of interest, and a map provide details about this northeastern trail.
What route did your ancestors follow to their community?
Were they the first of your family in that area?
Did he move often from one place to another? Why?
Why did they settle where they did?
Did he migrate alone, with his family, or with a large group of people?
What mode of transportation did they use?
Was travel difficult? Were there roads to travel on or mere paths?
Did the weather affect the family’s migration?
Did he receive a land patent from the government?
Bibliography of Migration Books
Learning about your ancestors’ migration patterns can help you understand why they settled where they did. Look for books that provide details about the trails and routes early settlers traversed and diaries of people who traveled those routes. This is by no means an exhaustive list but merely offers suggestions to get you thinking about the many books that will help you learn about migration in the early days of our country. Many of these books are available at your local library, favorite bookseller, or online at Amazon.com.
Blethen, H. Tyler and Curtis W. Wood, Jr. From Ulster to Carolina: the Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina. North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 1998. ISBN 0865262799. This book tells the story of the Scotch-Irish from their homeland to the mountains and southwestern North Carolina.
Dollarhide, William. Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815. Heritage Quest, 1997. ISBN 1877677744. This book covers migration trails beginning with the King’s Highway of 1735 from Boston to Charleston and ends with the roads that resulted from the War of 1812. This book is out of print, but a copy may be available at your local public library or through interlibrary loan.
Flanders, Stephen A. Atlas of American Migration. Facts on File, 1998. ISBN 0816031584. This atlas shows the movement of people through U.S. history with more than 150 maps, charts, and graphs.
Gould, Jane. The Oregon and California Trail Diary of Jane Gould in 1862: The Unabridged Diary. Pacific Northwest Books, 1987. ISBN 0936738227. This diary covers a span of six months when Jane Gould, her husband Albert, and their two children embark on a journey from Iowa to Stockton, California.
Imbarrato, Susan Clair. Traveling Women: Narrative Visions of Early America. Ohio University Press, 2006. ISBN 082141674x. This book uses travel narratives to record the journeys of women along the eastern seaboard and west onto the Ohio frontier from 1700-1830.
Kashuba, Melinda. Walking with Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide to Using Maps and Geography. Betterway Books, 2005. ISBN 1558707301. Maps are a crucial tool for genealogy research and can be essential when tracking the migration routes of our ancestors.
Rau, Weldon Willis. Surviving the Oregon Trail, 1852. Washington State University Press, 2001. ISBN 0874222389. This book gives first-hand accounts of the 1852 overland migration that was marked by westward-bound Oregon settlers as well as hordes of gold-seekers heading for California.
Rouse, Parke. The Great Wagon Road: From Philadelphia to the South. Dietz Publishers, 1992. ISBN 087517065x. The Great Wagon Road went from Philadelphia to the South. This book is a great resource if you had ancestors that travelled from the mid-Atlantic states to the southern states.
Schlissel, Lillian, Byrd Gibbens, and Elizabeth Hampsten. Far from Home: Families of the Westward Journey. University of Nebraska Press, 2002. ISBN 0803292953. This book examines the history of three migrant families on the western frontier.
Schlissel, Lillian. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. Schocken, 2004. ISBN 0805211764. The lives of women who crossed the continental United States between 1840 and 1870 are shared using diaries, letters, and reminiscences of the women who participated in this migration.
Stratton, Joanna. Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. Touchstone, 1982. ISBN 0671447483. This book was compiled from autobiographical accounts written by hundreds of pioneer women.
Thorndale, William and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1995. ISBN 0806311886. This book shows U.S. county boundaries from 1790 to 1920. Each map shows the old county lines superimposed over the modern ones to highlight the boundary changes at ten-year intervals.
Unruh, John D. The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60. University of Illinois Press, 1993. ISBN 0252063600. Using journals and diaries kept by early pioneers, this book chronicles the journey to Oregon and California.