At least one line of our colonial American ancestors migrated westward, like so many, and settled in Iowa, which has always made my ancestral home feel more Midwestern than Eastern to me.
Ancestry has been tinkering with and updating its community groups again, and this American migratory group that my late father has belonged to from the start has been tweaked a bit. Now I also appear in that group for the first time. So does my sister.
So I’m taking a quick moment in a busy season at work to comment on several of the latest Ancestry DNA updates. In the last two iterations, like many people apparently, I suddenly became more Scottish than I realized (9 percent) – but I rather expect that to go down a little in the next big update. The most recent refinements also place me in several new communities and subgroups originating from both sides of my family.
On my maternal side, I am now in the Overijssel/Gelderland subgroup for the Netherlands, which is precisely correct and traces back to three of my four great grandparents on that side. I am also now in three subgroups of the Upper Midwest Settlers, which relates to both my maternal and paternal sides.
On my paternal side, I’ve long been in five Norwegian subgroups but now join my late father in the Delaware Valley, Chesapeake and Midwest settlers. This DNA reached me mostly through my paternal grandmother, who had ancestors born in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and likely other states as this family moved west. This iconic American migratory group is the one I will focus on in this post.
Ancestry describes the group this way: “The Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River valleys were popular destinations for colonial migrants … Searching for a good place to farm, many descendants of these people followed the Great Wagon Road south into Virginia’s backcountry. The drive for economic opportunity also fueled westward migration to the Midwest and ended in California in the 20th century. These Americans usually migrated in family and community groups and established new settlements across the country.”
This seems accurate. I have found places in my family where it is clear they were moving not only as families but as communities, with the same family names turning up at various points along the migratory path. The Case and Russell families are an example, also shown in marriage patterns, with my Case great-great grandfather and Russell great-great grandmother being siblings to at least one other Case-Russell married couple.
Ancestry continues: “A post-Revolutionary War depression hit farmers hard in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake and inspired many to move to Kentucky to find better land. These migrants typically moved in community and family groups … Settlers’ journals record a high number of intestinal illnesses and malaria, but they also wrote about their appreciation for their snug cabin homes and the beauty of Kentucky’s hills.”
Learning that I had ancestors born in Kentucky initially came as a surprise to me, but I have since enjoyed exploring these families’ histories. One of my brick walls, in fact, is in Kentucky … an ancestor who was born there but later migrated to eastern Iowa, where he is buried. The only records I can find for him are in Iowa, which could explain why his history surprised me, but I’ll address that brick wall in a later post.
More from Ancestry: “Travel west from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland was made easier in 1818 when the U.S. government completed the first national road … Eastern migrants, mostly farmers, were drawn to the flat, rich soils of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In addition, Revolutionary War veterans were eligible for land grants in Ohio and northern Kentucky in lieu of a pension.” I have often wondered whether my Darnell ancestor, a native Virginian and Revolutionary War veteran, ended up in Kentucky because he received free land, but thus far I’ve not been able to find any such record to confirm that.
Finally, from Ancestry: “The Homestead Act drew immigrants to the area with free land. Families often migrated together, helping each other raise crops, construct buildings, and carry goods to market.” Right again. I am reasonably certain the Homestead Act affected my ancestors, but I’ve not yet done the land record research necessary to establish it. It seems I should have by now, but there is just so much else to do!
Reading about this community on Ancestry, I realized that not all of the story conformed to my own ancestors but a great deal of it clearly did. It was fun to finally find myself in some American subgroups and get another glimpse of how they fit into American history. I’ll be trying to write more about the Upper Midwest Settlers, from both sides of my family, in later posts.
I know there are many DNA skeptics out there, and I share a healthy amount of that skepticism, but one of the interesting and enjoyable aspects of Ancestry has been exploring these DNA community groups and seeing how my ancestors were woven into larger movements and historical moments. It makes history personal. Not kidding.