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Migration Routes for City Dwellers

By Daniel Hubbard | July 11, 2010

Being a “modern person” means many things. One of them seems to be being as independent as possible of the forces of nature. That is nothing new, after all you could say that putting a roof above your head is a separation from nature and people have been doing that for a very long time. What is different from earlier times is both the speed with which we have recently made the separation larger and, of course, the degree of separation. It is hard today for most of us to really understand what it meant to feel the whim of nature for things smaller than earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. Even though we are forced to drive around things like mountain ranges and canyons, we always have the choice of simply flying over them.

All that makes it harder to really get a deep, intuitive feeling for how it was to migrate in the days when flat-bottomed boat, horse and foot were the dominant means of getting from point A to point B. It makes it harder to realize just how far apart those two points were in time.

Imagine you have an out of town guest that wants to get across town to visit an acquaintance that just happens to live in the same city as you. If you can’t identify with a city dweller, imagine you are the out of town guest. The tourist map gets spread upon the table and your conversation goes something like this-

“Where is the nearest bus stop?”

“Oh, that’s a long walk and the bus service isn’t all that reliable. Anyway you’d have to change three or four times before you got close enough to walk at the other end.”

“Ok, it doesn’t look like that bad a drive”

-A finger is run over the map in hopes of a reaction-

“No, no, no! You can’t drive through that neighborhood, or that one either.”

“Well, how ’bout this detour?”

“It would be ok, except Jackson St. is one way for three blocks right there.”

“Hmm… well, could be worse, I’ll just take a left over there.”

“Not at rush hour you won’t and, if you managed, you’ll move at a crawl until the traffic clears downtown.”

You get the point. There are so many factors that dictate how we get from place to place that a flat map just doesn’t convey. The journey often does a great deal to control the traveler. This isn’t just true of modern cities. It was even more true long ago.

Of course, your pioneer ancestor almost certainly had no map. They looked at the journey ahead of them differently. Instead of a map, which they could use to find and follow a path, people often traveled by well known, tried and true migration routes. First, they actually were ”well known,” people knew of them and had some hope of following them. Those routes determined where people might go, even where they could conceive of going. Migration routes avoided obstacles like unfordable rivers, mountain ranges, hostile tribes and foreign forts. Some journeys forced people into groups for the safety of numbers and the assistance that others might give. The most difficult routes also came with prescribed starting dates and benchmarks like the famous Independence Rock on the Oregon Trail, a point which needed to be reached around the 4th of July. People who got the timing wrong on these routes generally won’t be an ancestor of yours, or anyone else’s for that matter. Remember the Donner Party?

Migration routes determined, at least in part, where your ancestors might have settled or if you know the destination, from where they might have come. They even helped to determine when the journey was made.

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Topics: Ancestors, Genealogy, History | No Comments »

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