October 30, 2012

Early American Roads and Trails: Tuesday's Tip

An old mile marker on the National Road near Hebron, Ohio

Have you ever wondered how your ancestors got from one place to another? Most families moved to a new locality within America at least once. Today I’d like to spotlight a resource that can help you figure out the migration path they might have taken. It’s a free website created by Beverly Whitaker, MA, called Early American Roads and Trails. Beverly, a professional genealogist in Kansas City, Missouri, has assembled individual guides to 18 of the most popular frontier migration routes.

Early American Roads and Trails gives a brief overview of each route, to help you determine which one(s) might be of interest to you. Once that’s done, you can download a free two-page PDF document that details the trail’s traffic, features, timeline, route, and map. Each document provides a gold mine of information to help put your ancestor’s move into historical perspective, and to use as a springboard for more in-depth research.

For example, my immigrant German ancestor, Johan Adam Rausch, signed his oath of allegiance in Philadelphia upon his arrival there in 1736. The next solid record I have for him is a land grant he received from Thomas Lord Fairfax for 400 acres in what is now Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1773. How did he get from southeastern Pennsylvania to the Shenandoah Valley? The answer becomes clear in the PDF guide to The Great Valley Road, which brought hundreds of German and Scots-Irish families into the region during that time period.

In addition to the detailed trail guides, Beverly Whitaker offers some suggestions for further migration route research, and provides a link to her personal bibliography. Her companion site, American Migration Patterns, provides helpful links to a number of other websites and resources. Think your ancestors might have traveled by river or canal, rather than over land? Check out all the resources listed on yet another of her sites, American Rivers and Waterways. Trust me, you can lose yourself in this stuff for days at a time.

Together, Beverly’s websites can help you find the information you need to connect the pieces of your ancestor’s puzzle as he moved from place to place. Kudos to her for sharing these resources so freely.

What routes did your ancestors take in their journey through America?


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  1. Thanks for the links! I know they will become useful :D

  2. Glad to know you found them helpful, Leslie. Thanks for reading!

  3. I have put all three of Beverly's websites on my resources list. I always wondered how my ancestors traveled, and am surprised & pleased that someone has documented these early trails. My ancestors first lived in Maryland (still have not found our original emigrant from Europe), then Cumberland County in NC, and finally Darlington County in SC. From a first glance, I'll be they used the King's Highway. I'll find some time to muse over these sites. Thank you for sharing this info!

    1. Sounds like you might have some interesting migration routes there, Mariann. Wouldn't it be cool to recreate their journey? Good luck and have fun!

  4. Thanks so much for these links! It's interesting to think about how and why our ancestors migrated.

    1. It is interesting, isn't it? I often find myself thinking about not only the route they took, but also the conditions along the way. I wonder if I would have the stamina to do what they did? Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Jana!

  5. I had some German ancestors who migrated to the Shenandoah Valley from PA too. Can't wait to check the links.


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