Where exactly did your ancestors come from?
Here, there and everywhere I hear you reply. Or perhaps they were born and bred for generations in the very same location where you live.
Most of our family histories reveal a mixture of both. Let’s look at the last 6 generations of your family, which you might sensibly be able to research without too much difficulty within British historical sources. That potentially numbers over 60 individuals across perhaps 16 family lines whose life-locations you can explore. That is also a lot of keeping track of where people were during their lifetimes. Especially if your family stories are marked by inter-regional movement and inter-national migration.
Sometimes our families make it easy for us to spot them in the historical sources, perhaps due to an usual family name. Sometimes it is their permanence in one place over a number of decades and generations which makes it really possible to get a long-term view of family life. Noting the significance of locational background and historical context to economic and social interactions.
We have a nice example of permanence in one small location in our Wimpenny ancestors of Almondbury, West Yorkshire. Perhaps you can also identify your own family clusters who remained in one village, town or relatively small geographic area over generations? This gives you a great opportunity to unpick the rich tapestry of community life in that location and your family’s part in it.
However if it seems that your family came from just about everywhere, moving around over short or long distances, I propose four questions to ask yourself at the outset: where did they go; why did they go; how did they go; and who went?
Due to hindsight identifying where family members moved to is somewhat easier than working out where they came from retrospectively. Both quests have their difficulties but amount to the same knowledge. We are often reliant on a wide variety of sources to help ascertain where family members moved from and to. From known family information which has been passed down, passenger and migration records, census details in the new location and vital event records which may give birthplaces and residences in the Old Country.
Ancestral migration within Europe from the 17th to 19th century was more often than not prompted by economic factors. In other cases national politics and persecution meant that certain people were compelled or forced to leave one area and seek new places to reside. Where you can identify family clusters who moved from one particular place to a new one, can their motivations be teased out of information about family ethnic or religious identity? Or perhaps from the contextual historical events and times in which they were living? Is there family lore which has been passed to you around the reasons for those migrations?
The practicalities of how families travelled to new locations are really no different then from now. In the 21st century we daily see the forced migration of humanity carrying nothing and on foot. Depending on the circumstances of migration your family may have gone with the clothes they were wearing and little else. In circumstances where they could choose their new location they may have packed up the whole family and possessions onto a horse-drawn cart or boat destined for a more economically prosperous region within their country. If they travelled by sea or air then there may be many opportunities to trace these journeys in passenger manifests to glean information about their ports of departure and arrival. But how did they reach those ports? By train, by carriage, across what territories and via which countries en route?
Looking at family clusters in migration sheds light on internal relationships and family dynamics as well as bonds within wider family networks and the strains of migration. When considering who migrated, it might become obvious that not all family members or offspring did. There may have been a staggered migration where a husband and older children went ahead, whilst female and younger family members followed sometime after when life had been established somewhat in that new place. Sometimes there are jigsaw puzzles where children travelled with other wider family members, in-laws, cousins or familiar townsfolk headed for the same destination.
Each individual’s personal experience of migration will have been different. What they left behind and what they faced in their new abode was different according to gender, age and personal outlook. Some favoured a complete identification with the new country, culture and language. Others held onto former identities and led lives rooted within immigrant communities originating from the same country or regions. Family connections were often strong even in migration. Sometimes there are networks of individuals from a former residence, usually wider family members, already settled into a new location which newcomers joined. This is particularly evident among family clusters migrating across the Atlantic to North America from Nordic and Russian territories, Italy and Central Europe.
We often think of migration as a very permanent affair, and for vast numbers of European families migrating to North America and the southern hemisphere this was indeed the case. However if their motivation was economic choice rather than compulsion due to personal security, initial migration was sometimes just the first stage in a fluid state of to-ing and fro-ing. Even in cases of migration across continents, where financial means allowed, families sometimes returned to former homelands, either permanently after some years or periodically to visit or holiday or even to carry out business back in the Old Country establishing export or import connections.
Thanks to the fact that our ancestors made their homes here, there and everywhere, we are the people who we are today in the places where we live. How will your life choices affect the family generations who follow you?
Hannah Gill, historytrace, 21/04/2016
Links: Almondbury, West Yorkshire, UK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almondbury
Historytrace can help you to uncover the locations where your ancestors lived and the migratory journeys they made. We create ancestral itineraries to put family heritage beneath your feet. Do get in touch using the Contact page of this website if our services could help you explore your family history on a deeper level.
You have been reading the historytracings blogpost “Here, There and Everywhere – Thursday Thoughts”. Copyright text: www.historytrace.co.uk, 2016; copyright image: www.freeimages.com / Adrian van Leen.
If you enjoyed reading this, please share it with your friends and family using the share and like buttons below or get our historytracings blogposts via RSS feed. You may also be interested to read the historytracings blog posts Beneath our Feet – Thursday Thoughts or Location Location Location RYO#4.
Links to external, or third party websites, are provided solely for visitors’ convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and historytrace accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. When you access an external website, keep in mind that historytrace has no control over its content. Any link from us to an external website does not imply or mean that historytrace endorses or accepts any responsibility for the content or the use of such websites.
historytrace has no material connection to the brands, products, services or websites that we mention on our website, unless otherwise stated. We have not received any compensation for writing and publishing information about brands, products, services or websites. We disclose this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.