As family historians, one of our objectives is to try to determine where our ancestors originally came from. Another is to try and make sense of and follow their movements.
We all have ‘lost’ ancestors, who seem to disappear or pop up in unexpected places!
Understanding the social history helps us to make sense of the factors that might have resulted in our ancestors migrating from the parish of their birth.
Here are just a few things that might be helpful when trying to track down those elusive characters…
- How far could a person walk in a day? With limited means of transport, people might only have moved as far as they could walk in a day. Google maps gives walking times between locations if you are unsure.
- A glance through neighbouring parish registers at your local archive office will give you an idea about how far families have crept from their ‘mother’ parish. Surnames repeat in neighbouring parishes but are completely absent from others, use a highlighter pen and a parish boundary map to give a very quick, visual snapshot, of how far your family name has crept.
- Look at occupational data for an area. Were any of the occupations in decline? An example might be exhausted mineral resources, bringing to an end a mining community, or loss of agricultural work due to mechanization.
- Were your ancestors able to hire out their skills at fairs and so move to where there was work?
- The attraction of the larger towns and emerging industrial cities would have drawn many away, so setting London aside look at the nearest town. Maybe use trade directories, think about the occupations your ancestors followed and the opportunities that might have been available to them
- Were your ancestors involved in occupations that had an innate migrational nature to them such as hawkers and pedlars, railway labourers or drovers
- Certain areas became known for their skills, so a skilled hat maker for example may have made their way to one of the countries hat making centres such as Stockport
- Once one member of a family left for another area, others often followed, search the neighbours for other family members who might be boarders (often names misspelt and place of birth generalised)
To unlock possible connections to your family tree take a look at the suggested posts.