Push Me-Pull Me


How many of you remember the Push Me-Pull Me from Dr. Dolittle? It was an animal that looked like two Llamas that backed into each other at high speed. It brings to mind the factors that pushed our ancestors out of the old country and pulled them to the new world. There have been many factors over the centuries, and some continue today. I thought that we might look over them and, in some cases, specifically tie them to various groups.

One push over the centuries has been religious freedom. Some of the earliest settlers in North America were the Puritans. They were a part of the group called dissenters that broke with the Church of England and were harassed because of this. Eventually they came to America for more freedom. The Huguenots were part of a reform movement in France who were imprisoned and killed for their faith by the Catholic kings. Many came to America in the 1600s to escape this persecution. Paul Revere’s father was a Huguenot. Of course, the Jews were persecuted from ancient times right up to the 20th century. Even prior to WWII many Jews fled to the United States, Western Europe, and Palestine due to persecution in Russia and other eastern European areas. You may have heard of the “Pogroms”. Today in the Middle East we have various religious minorities fleeing persecution. So, as I said earlier, reasons for migration continue today.

Famine and poverty pushed many to look for a more secure future elsewhere. The Irish Potato Famine often comes to mind first. However, there were many other countries that suffered from famines such as Sweden, Belgium, and Scotland. In today’s world, famine still causes people from many areas of the world to look for a better place to live.

Loss of certain industries pushed people to migrate. One example was that in southern Ireland in the early 19 th century, many families had made a living for generations weaving Linen cloth. When the Industrial Revolution began in England, the cloth could be woven cheaper at the factories, so it was no longer profitable to depend on this cottage industry and these families began to emigrate.

What factors pulled these people to the new world and other destinations?

Land was one of the biggest draws to the new world. In most of Europe, the average person had no chance at all to purchase land whereas in the United States and Canada, there were immense tracts of land available. The fact that this land belonged to the Native peoples did not enter the equation at this time. Early on these immigrants settled east of the Appalachian Mountains. The Louisiana Purchase drew them further west and eventually to the west coast.

War and starvation in China brought many Chinese immigrants to the western shores of the United States in the 19th century. They came for work of any type and many were recruited for the building of the railroads. The Chinese also came in large numbers during the Gold Rush as did immigrants from other nations around the world. At approximately the same time there was a Gold Rush in Australia that drew immigrants there. The possibility of not only having enough money to feed your family but possibly getting rich was a powerful call to those looking for the opportunity to improve their lives.
Some areas in the new world recruited settlers. My family moved from Nantucket Island to Cape Sable Nova Scotia for a better life and were then recruited to Prince Edward Island. At the time the rulers of Prince Edward Island needed settlers to replace the French that they had expelled. Some of the mining companies in the United States placed ads in overseas papers advertising for miners. They also hired recruiters who traveled to Europe and Great Britain looking for miners. There are probably dozens of other examples of this out there.

When one member of a family settled in a new location, they often wrote back to family and friends to encourage them to migrate. In some cases, pastors and priests encouraged entire villages and parishes to migrate as a group.

The desire for a better life has long been the primary reason that people move from one area or country to another. So, as you research your family and try to determine what caused them to migrate, you might consider reading a history of the location that they moved from or that they moved to. Were they pushed or were they pulled?

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 jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.