“Where Are My Ancestors From?” 5 Tips for Using Migration Patterns in Family History Research
If you’re having difficulty pinpointing your family’s origins, these tips are for you! We share how to use migration patterns to extend your family history.
You want to extend your family tree as far back as records will allow, but what do you do if you’re having a difficult time pinpointing your family’s origins? Migration patterns and genetic communities offered by DNA testing companies are two of the most overlooked pieces of research we have at our disposal. The following 5 tips will help you extend your family tree or break down genealogical brick walls:
- MyHeritage DNA’s PedigreeMap™ shows you where concentrations of your DNA matches ancestors may have originated from. For people who know very little about their family history, such as adoptees, the PedigreeMap™ can be an invaluable place to begin research. To take advantage of this feature, you can purchase a MyHeritage DNA test here.
2. The AncestryDNA® Communities feature offers genetic communities which can be extremely helpful if you’re searching for ancestors in a specific area. These genetic communities are based on clustered pools of historic DNA, and group other DNA matches who share ancestors with you under the same umbrella. If your DNA matches the reference population for a specific subcommunity, AncestryDNA will further narrow your genetic communities down to a particular area or migration (see below). If you have an abundance of unknown DNA matches in a certain community, that’s a good indication your ancestors may have lived there too.
AncestryDNA also offers a historical timeline for each of their genetic communities, which gives some context to what life might’ve been like in those areas throughout the centuries.
3. There’s more to your ancestors’ stories. Think of your family history as a giant pie (not a pie chart, that’s a post for another day!). Many of us think about our ancestors lives in a cut and dry format—they simply moved from location A to location B. But the truth is, their stories were much more complex than that and we often overlook the rest of pieces in between A and B. When our ancestors migrated to a new area, they often traveled in groups with their extended family, friends or neighbors. Sometimes they traveled hundreds of miles, over extended periods of time, and unlike the images of the Oregon Trail we were often taught in school with caravans of covered wagons and hundreds of families walking alongside their belongings, that wasn’t always the case. Frequently, families stayed in small groups and temporarily settled in a location that was on their travel route or near an acquaintance that lived in the area. In doing so, they left paper trails of their lives in the form of church minutes, court documents and even newspapers articles for that county or state. If you’re having trouble finding records about your specific ancestor, research the people in their communities that may have migrated with them. Genealogists often refer to this as “the FAN Club” (Friends, Associates, Neighbors), and you can read more about using FAN Club research here. Your ancestor might have been a witness on a friend’s court document while they were passing through the area, or they may have visited a neighboring church for Sunday service. The people around them helped shape their community and their lives often intersected with one another.
4. A great source for specific roads and migration routes for American research is William Dollarhide’s Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735–1815. The book provides a visual guide to show what roads or canals your family may have traveled when they migrated from one region to the next. For instance, families who migrated out of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina after the War of 1812 used the Fall Line Road, which stretched from Maryland to Augusta, Georgia. They then took the Federal Road through southern Alabama and into Mississippi. Knowing this when I received my father’s Y-DNA results, I was able to piece together a trail of DNA matches who share my ancestor’s surname in areas surrounding the Federal Road in Georgia and southern Alabama. These matches helped me identify unknown family members and find documents for my ancestors in states no one knew they’d been in!
5. Use census records as a form of migration information for your ancestor’s origins. If your ancestor was born in New York, but his children were born in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Missouri, that’s a great clue that you might find records for them in those states as well. Work your way back, starting in the most recent place they were enumerated and exhaust all the local records for that area before moving on to another state.
Exploring your ancestors’ migration patterns can add an additional piece to the puzzle in discovering the story of your genes. By utilizing the DNA tools available in combination with thorough records research, you can extend your family history as far as possible, as well as learn more about the lives of those ancestors that helped make you, you.
Legacy Tree Genealogists has been at the forefront of genetic genealogy research services for over a decade. Our team of experts have solved hundreds of DNA-related cases, and can help you solve your DNA puzzles! Contact us today for a free quote.