You've lost your family. You know they were in that small town in Georgia or Virginia or maybe New York, but where did they come from and where did they go?
This is where you go from your traditional genealogy research, to all those other subjects I've been telling you to pursue; history, geography, politics and financial conditions of the times.
Read the local history and study what was going on when your ancestor first appeared in his or her present location. Was it at a time when the area was being settled by land grants or bounty land given for military service? Were they moving during the time of the gold rush in the west or the western expansion of the railroad? Where did the other residents come from? Chances are, your family moved with acquaintances.
Some families moved to America, settled down and never moved from their original location. These are the easy ones to trace back, but many moved every generation or two. The migration can go in almost any pattern. Sometimes everyone in the family moved at once, taking the elderly parents with them. Often, they stayed until the parents died, then all the children took their families and moved south or west, looking for newer and greener fields, either all going together, or scattering across the country.
Then again, they may have moved one at a time, with either the oldest or youngest staying behind with Ma or Pa and keeping the farm or settling the estate and moving on themselves.
Regardless, when tracing back, you must determine which direction to start looking.
Starting in 1850, census records will give the birth state of each individual. This will tell you if they have traveled from away from the state where they were born.
The 1870 census tells if the parents were foreign born. By 1880, the census gives the birthplace of the parents of each person. This is valuable information in tracing the migration of families. It will help decide if it was your direct ancestor who started migrating or was it his parents or grandparents.
Looking in the land records, many deeds will give the home of the grantee, or buyer. It also may give the location of the grantor, who may have moved on before he sold the land. This will help if your ancestor was either the grantor or grantee.
While traveling down the migration route, look at these records for your ancestor's names. If you find their names, investigate thoroughly to build a case to determine if this, indeed, is your family. Check all the records in the county and compare the facts with those you know about your family. When you determine that you are dealing with the same people, you will have completed another link in the chain.
I can't stress enough the importance of researching everyone in the family, when trying to trace a dead- end family. Never stop with just researching the husband and wife who are your direct ancestors. Look at each child and who they married. Research the wife's parents. Each person in the family has a story, and each person and place they came in contact with makes up a piece of the large puzzle of this family group.
Chances are, they lived with, lived next door to or married, a relative or friend who migrated from the same community. Once you have found the origin of these lateral connections, look for your family in this same location. Once you make this connection, you will discover numerous family members moving back and forth between these locations over a period of years.
They travel over established migration routes. Initially, they traveled from settlement to settlement, by waterways and trails, following those who went before them.
The first of these routes was a crude trail created in the 1600s, between Boston and New York that became the Boston Post Road. Over the years, the network grew, connecting the colonies from Maine to Georgia.
Then the roads began to inch westward and the settlers traveled by the combination of waterways and trails, roads and railways across the country.
There are many sources on these migration routes. For about $10 you can order the "United States History Atlas," which shows early roads, railroads and troop routes for early military battles. Men often took their families back to areas they had seen during their military tours.
Your journey back down these trails will not be a fast one unless you have family stories to guide you. You will have to search the records all along the routes you think your family may have taken.
Sometimes the trip was a steady move from point A to point B. Many times, families would find a locale they liked and stop for a generation or two, then move on. As I indicated earlier, some family members will move and some will stay, and you will find them moving back and forth, intermarrying with friends and cousins from each location. That is why it is important to research each person to pick up these relationships. It will connect the pieces and help you find the missing family member you need.
It's a lot of research, but all you need to do is head down the road, stopping along the way to inspect the cemeteries, and court houses and remember, if you listen carefully, you just might hear someone say, "Here I am."
Brenda K. Smith can be reached at BrendaKSmith@prodigy.net.
The Treasure Coast Genealogical Society meets every third Tuesday at the Fort Pierce Main Library, 101 Melody Lane, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Volunteers are at the library every Tuesday from 9 a.m. -3 p.m. to help with research.