Ancestor Search:
Enter as much information as you know about your ancestor and click search:

  First Name: Last Name: Location:   

From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 9/14/2004

Knowing the Links in the Chain--migration chains

Scans of some of the pension documents discussed in this article can be viewed here.

In last week's column, "Since We Were Girls," we analyzed two witnesses on a widow's pension application who claimed they had known the widow since her marriage to the deceased soldier. The younger witness, Margaret, indicated she had known Nancy since Nancy "was a girl." The initial analysis of census records did not appear to support that conclusion.

Was Margaret lying? Was she confused? Was I confused? Or was there something I had overlooked?

In 1895, Margaret (Symmonds) Reese indicated that she had known Nancy (Newman) Rampley since Nancy was a girl and that she had lived near Nancy since Nancy was married. Last week's column discussed Margaret's father and the fact that both women are Indiana natives.

In 1860, Margaret's family was living in Illinois, and Nancy's family is still in Indiana. That's too far apart to be near neighbors. In 1850, Margaret's family was living in Marion County, Indiana, and Nancy's family were living in Rush County. While the counties are not that far apart, they are not close enough that the families would have seen each other on even an irregular basis. While it is possible that Nancy's family lived in Marion County for a short time, a review of the land records I have for William do not appear to indicate any lengthy residence in Marion County. So if girls did know each other, it was likely not because they were neighbors. If they knew each other as children, there must have been some connection other than geography.

Look at Their Neighbors Anyway
A second look at the Symmonds 1850 census entry revealed an interesting couple five pages before the parents of Margaret Symmonds. The names August and Belinda Newman jumped out at me.

They were Nancy's grandparents, and I had seen the entry before. After some review of materials buried in my filing cabinet and some additional online sleuthing, I had a connection between Nancy and Margaret. Margaret's uncle James Symmonds had married Nancy's aunt Cassandra Newman in Marion County, Indiana, in 1844.

This is likely why Margaret said she had "known" Nancy since childhood; they did share a connection. Margaret and Nancy likely knew of each other through the marriage of their aunt and uncle, even though they likely did not live near each other as children. Margaret's parents moved to Hancock County, Illinois, before 1850, as did her uncle James Symmonds and aunt Cassandra Newman Symmonds. A few years later, several of Cassandra's siblings moved to Hancock County as well.

This realization makes a nice link to out real topic this week: chain migration.

Chain migration, where residents of one area (relatives or not) move to the same area over a period of years, is always an important phenomenon to consider in family history research. I was acutely aware of chain migration while researching my children's numerous immigrant ancestors. For immigrants, settling was easier where other families spoke the same language and shared the same culture. A Swede will have much in common with another immigrant from the same village, even if they are not related. I had not really thought as much about chain migration for Nancy's family. After all, they spoke English, knew the ways of mid-nineteenth-century America, and had lived in the United States for generations. It is a mistake to assume that only immigrants moved in “chains,” encouraging new arrivals over time. It really did happen.

As I went back and looked at the family of Nancy and the family of her husband Riley Rampley, I noticed that every time there was an interstate move, another couple migrated either at the same time or within a few years. When Riley's father James Rampley came to Illinois from Ohio, he already had cousins living in the same township. In fact he bought his first farm from a man who was his first cousin. Riley's mother came from Pennsylvania to Ohio with her own brother. In fact, so many people from the same county in Pennsylvania settled in that Ohio township that they named the Ohio township for the Pennsylvania county. When James's father came to Ohio from Maryland, two other families from the same county in Maryland came with him.

Where Can I Pick Up Chain Migration Clues?
Researchers should always be on the lookout for potential clues to chain migration, but here are some places to pick up the trail.

Census. While the places of origin are usually no more specific than a state, censuses can provide migration chain clues. If your Wisconsin-born ancestor is living in Kansas with several neighbors who were also Wisconsin natives, consider the possibility that they knew each other before they came to Kansas. Or it could just be a coincidence.

County Biographies . Scanning a book of county biographies for other individuals from the county where your ancestor lived might seem like a waste of time, but it is not. If the biography has been scanned and the text is searchable, consider searching the text of the book for the name of the county where your ancestor was originally from. I was easily able to find references to Fleming County, Kentucky, in "Chadwick's history of Shelby County, Indiana" by Edward H. Chadwick (Indianapolis, Ind.: B.F. Bowen, 1909). This publication is also available in the Family and Local History Collection.

Of course I did not find a biography of my ancestor, but perhaps there are hidden clues in the references to other natives of Fleming County, Kentucky, where my Shelby County, Indiana, relative was from.

Read the County History. Actually reading the text of the county history where your ancestors settled may provide you with many insights into the area, including clues to migration chains. In the context of our discussion there may be clues similar to the one in the 1881 History of Coshocton County Ohio, by N. N. Hill. Page 113 has the following comment regarding the origins of some settlers of Sharon Township:

"By the succeeding December, one hundred settlers, [settled in Sharon Township] mainly from Hartford County, Conn. and Hampshire County, Mass...."

WorldConnect WorldConnect may seem like an odd place to pick up migration clues, but there are potentially leads on migration chains in this database. While these user submissions can be incorrect, there may be leads worth following.

My ancestor died in the 1890s in Hancock County, Illinois. He was born in Coshocton County, Ohio. I will search WorldConnect without looking for any specific individuals by doing the following:

Place of death: Hancock County, Illinois
Place of birth: Coshocton County, Ohio

Are other names obtained besides the ancestor? This would be an excellent way to potentially locate other individuals who made a similar move. One could also search for individuals who married in Coshocton County, Ohio, and died in Hancock County, Illinois, indicating a similar migration path. Consider experimenting with WorldConnect without using any names. You may be surprised at the results. Of course there are families not included in WorldConnect and the information needs to be validated with other sources, but some migration clues may still be found. This technique is not effective if your ancestor was born and died in St. Louis or moved from New York City to Chicago. But in other cases potential acquaintances from their old home and their new home may be discovered.

Genealogists often think of themselves as the last in a chain of relatives. It may be that your lost relative was part of a chain of non-related people who migrated from one area to another. A shared migration path may be the one link in the chain you need to find your ancestor's origins.

Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2000,
  Used by the author  on his website with permission.

Michael's Other Genealogy Articles