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From the Green Valley News, Sunday May 24 2009, page C2

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

The Expansion of New England

Following a family’s trail back toward their entrance into this country is often a challenge. We usually know where they wound up but need to find their origins in the east or across the ocean. Remember it all began in New England. Depending on when your ancestors arrived on this continent, even if they weren’t British they were heavily influenced by previous British arrivals.

Knowledge of history is the first prerequisite for tracking migration of a person or a people group. Many factors determined when and how individuals and groups left their homes to start over in a new, often harsh environment. Indians, mountains, and wars were the greatest obstacles to internal migration and advancement of America’s frontier.

The early European settlement of America was confined to the east coast with the first internal migrations occurring into New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Descendants of Massachusetts and Connecticut’s early settlers moved into Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Atlantic seaboard communities spread and grew rapidly as immigrants continued to arrive from the British Isles, Holland and Germany.

Indians controlled the trails through the mountain ranges paralleling the east coast and effectively kept settlers from venturing very far inland. It wasn’t until the defeat of the French and their Indian allies by the British in 1752 that colonists could begin to explore the lands beyond the mountains. Prior to that time a constant succession of Indian raids had terrorized border settlements, particularly in New England, and prevented movement farther west.

After years of intermittent but continuous strife, the increasingly dense eastern population was ready to move. They had weathered The Pequot War, the Anglo-Dutch Wars, King Philip’s War, King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War and finally the French Indian War. Cities were crowded, good farmland was scarce and the promise of a better life beyond the mountains beckoned the less prosperous, the discontented, the ambitious, and the more adventurous.

The Scots Irish, typified by Daniel Boone, were in the vanguard as the frontier advanced further west into Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Southern destinations eager for settlement stretched from Georgia through Louisiana. Trails rapidly became roads and every road represented a new area open to potential residents.

To locate ancestors’ previous stopping points, the keys are timing, technology and target. Know what was happening historically at the time of their migration, the technology available at the time to move a family, and the target areas from which they might have originated.

An excellent source for information about this country’s internal migrations is Lois Kimball Mathews, The Expansion of New England: The Spread of New England Settlement and Institutions to the Mississippi River, 1620-1865, written in 1909. As a Vassar College professor of history, Mathews applied her expertise to a topic on which little has been written.

Starting with the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620 she chronicles the early settlement and subsequent migration of New Englanders and their culture to the west and south over the next two and a half centuries. Nearly 30 maps illustrate the movement. The book is available on CD at for only $12.95.

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