Geneology: Migration out of New England


I have been working on a six-part Workshop Series that the Fenton History Center is presenting during 2021 and thought that I might share a portion of it with you. The upcoming program for April 17 th highlights the migration of people out of New England. One of the things that most impressed me was just how mobile our ancestors were beginning almost from the moment that they landed from England.

An especially important idea to keep in mind is that many of our ancestors did not travel in a direct line nor did they always make the trip in one time span. I mention this because you may find records that do not make sense based on the location that they are found. You may also have blank time spaces. By keeping an open mind, you will be presented with other areas to look for you family in.

People sometimes traveled a ways then settled in for a few years before continuing. They may have even returned to their original location before moving again. This was common in the 17 th century due to constant skirmishes with the Indians. They may have stopped along the way and perhaps had a child that did not survive. Are there birth records in a place that you did not expect to find for this family? Did their parents travel with them and perhaps not survive the voyage? Are there death records or cemetery records for this family?

As I said, migration began almost as soon as they landed from England. What are some of the reasons that people moved? The causes were many but the primary one was the desire for land. For those coming from Europe, the Americas seemed to offer limitless land. Early on they “purchased” it from the local Indian tribes. This eventually led to problems as the Indians did not really understand the white man’s concept of “owning” land leading to clashes with the local natives. The Revolutionary War and War of 1812 provided land grants to many of the veterans, and this encouraged migration. Did the land that they farmed become barren causing them to move on?

A gradual development of religious intolerance led many to look for new locations. Roger Williams and the settlement of Rhode Island is one of the better known. The Quakers moved to avoid persecution and even death at the hands of the local authorities. In later times, the Mormons moved west ahead of persecution and mobs.

What were some of the factors and choices in the direction or route that they used? People used existing Indian trails and rivers early on. Gradual improvement to these trails and development along the rivers encouraged more migrating and settling. One of the most famous of the travel ways was the Erie Canal that opened in 1825 making way for not only those digging the canal but for support services such as inns, taverns, blacksmiths, stables, and many others.

Look at what I have presented to help you discover why your family may have migrate and what route they may have used. Did they have a land grant? Did they move with their community, or family? What route did they use? The answer to these questions will help you to track them out of New England to western New York and beyond.

While they came from any number of locations in New England, a large group came from Windham County Vermont to Chautauqua County. Wardsboro and Dover are two of the primary towns in the county that they came from. If you Google the Windham County Historical Society, you will find several resources as well as be able to make a research request of them. Another source for finding your family would be to use the New England Genealogical and Historical Society’s Web Site, American Ancestors. Locally, the Hall House at the Fenton Historical Society has several books that contain information on Windham County and the families that lived there. They also have a large collection of books and resources for the entire New England territory.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.