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People Gotta Move - US Migration

The paths of immigration to the US and the subsequent migrations across the country have always fascinated me.

Map of 1775 Colonies

The first (and longest period) of immigration started in 1607 with Jamestown, VA and went on until the beginning of the Revolutionary War. These people were primarily British, German, and Dutch. As we all know, they formed the original 13 colonies. 90% of these people were farmers.

As the population of these colonies grew, there were more churches with more rules, more laws, and less land to go around. Those that saw these to be the same problems they had left England over began one of our first periods of migration when they moved up north beginning in 1710 through the Connecticut River Valley into what would become New Hampshire and Vermont.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the development of railroads, and the completion of the Erie Canal saw the population expanding westward into what would now be considered the Midwest. But the population was also growing on the other side of the country with the discovery of gold in California. The population of the US in 1850 was 23,191,876 with 7.9 people per square mile per the US Census.

As incentive to get men to enlist the government rewarded those who served in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Indian Wars between 1775 - 1855. The public lands could be claimed by the veterans or their heirs, but according to FamilySearch, most veterans sold or exchanged their warrants. They have several links to these files which can be researched for free, and I'll put a link at the bottom of the page. This is a great source to see where you ancestor lived and if they served in a war, so it's worth a look if you're stuck at that brick wall.

Map showing territories of US in 1834

The first Native American or "Indian" Reservation was established in 1786 and each tribe was to be treated as an independent nation. But despite claims by various presidents, including Monroe and Jackson, that we as a nation should care about the plight of the Native Americans, in 1830 the Removal Act was passed forcing them to all move to "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi. The above map also gives a hint about how much more land became America after the Mexican-American War in 1848. The American population continued to move westward.

The American Industrial Revolution began in the 1870's and people began leaving their farms and migrating to cities. Per the Library of Congress, "The new jobs for the working class were in the cities. Thus, the Industrial Revolution began the transition of the United States from a rural to an urban society. Young people raised on farms saw greater opportunities in the cities and moved there, as did millions of immigrants from Europe."

In 1889, we took back the land given to the Muskogee and Seminole tribes after the Civil War which led to the Oklahoma Land Rush. As Harper's Weekly reported at the time, "At twelve o'clock on Monday, April 22, the resident population of Guthrie was nothing, before sundown it was at least ten thousand." In 1890 the population of the US was 62,979,766 with 17.8 persons per square mile.

Map of US 1890

The next two World Wars resulted in what is called "The Great Migration" when approximately six million Black people moved from the southern states to the North, Midwest and West beginning in about 1910 and lasting until the 1970's. They were escaping racial violence (according to The Equal Justice Initiative more than 4400 racial terror lynchings were often public rituals that took place between Reconstruction and World War II), hoping to get jobs that were open due to the enlistments of the previous workers, and hoping to get away from the oppressive Jim Crow laws in the South. This took place in two major phases, coinciding with the wars. I've included the link to the Census site under the picture as it is so hard to read in this blog format.

Great Migration population change maps

Have you noted a common thread about immigration and migration? Why do "People Gotta Move" as Gino Vannelli sang in 1974 (YouTube link below)? People move across oceans, deserts, mountains, and enemy ridden territories to escape political and religious oppression. People move for better opportunities like cheaper land, better jobs, or to escape a criminal past (harking back to my Gone To Texas blog!).

Huge crowd of people at an event

The population of the US was 132,164,569 in 1940 with 37.2 people per square mile, and in 1970 there were 203,392,031 people counted with 57.5 in a square mile. Ready for 2020? In 2020 the US population was 331,449,281 with the population density registered at 93.8 people per square mile.

Historically, migration across the US has been almost exclusively westward, The Great Migration from the South is a huge exception. If you think you have found an ancestor that moved back east, it may be because they inherited the family homestead. Look for a probate record! Check your free sources to be found on FamilySearch or at Cyndi'sList for more clues and information about migrations. The US Census Dept. has amazing data tables and charts about the population changes across the country, also for free.

You can check for land records at your own state level by Googling "YourStateName Land Records" and then looking for Survey names or Deed Records in the County level. You can check in the US Bureau of Land Management for other links to search for your ancestors' land ownership.

What are you learning? What discoveries have you made? Can you believe the 8th month of the year is almost over? Eek! It's time to start planning for the winter holidays (not going to say them out loud), if you're planning on an ancestry or family tree based gift! If I can help, give me a shout! There is always a free peek at your tree or problem.

Thank you,

Leslie Ryan

No compensation is received for any links or referrals herein. No Copyright infringement is intended.

Further reading opportunities about this week's topic below.

Immigration patterns

US Population counts

Military land warrants/bounties

The American Industrial Revolution

States and Territories Map 1834 By Original: User:Golbez.This version: Gbbinning at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia(Original text :, GFDL,

The Great Migration


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