DNA updates and American migratory ancestors

My ancestral home has always felt Midwestern to me because that’s where the descendants of my earliest American ancestors ended up and stayed a while: in Iowa. It is not where they started, however. They arrived there over generations.

Ancestry has been tinkering with and updating its community groups again, and I am happy to appear, at last, in an American subgroup: a migratory group called the Delaware Valley, Chesapeake and Midwest settlers. My late father has been in this group for a long time, but now, after the most recent updates, my sister and I have joined him there.

This DNA reached me mostly through my paternal grandmother, who had ancestors born, over time, in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and likely other states as this family moved west.


Ancestry describes them this way: “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 … 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.

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.”

One of my brick walls, in fact, is in Kentucky … a Russell 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 I was initially surprised to find Kentucky ancestors. Ancestry also points out that Revolutionary War veterans in this group 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 for that reason, but thus far I’ve not found a record to confirm it.

Reading about this community on Ancestry, I realized that not all of the story conformed to my ancestors but a great deal did. It was fun to finally find myself in an American subgroup. I’ll try to write about another one of my new subgroups, the Upper Midwest Settlers, 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 our ancestors were woven into larger movements and historical moments. It makes history personal. And real.

Pioneer's home

Currier and Ives, The Pioneer’s Home, 1867

ps – To say that I am not a fan of the new block editor on WordPress would be a large understatement.

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