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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: From East to West -
How They Got There
by Rhonda R. McClure

July 27, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Have you ever stopped to consider how your ancestors got to the place that they finally settled in? Most of us have many family lines that we first discover in the Midwest or even further west. Just how did they get there? And for that matter, why should it matter to you?

Researching and understanding the migration routes, trails and patterns can help you in determining where your ancestor went. This knowledge may be your only clue when he up and disappears in the records.

Knowledge of migration routes and trails may be the only help in tracking elusive ancestors.

They Had to Go West

Most of our ancestors who ended up in the Midwest can eventually be traced back to someplace else, generally in the east. And many of those people will have followed one of the migration routes that became well known for carrying our ancestors further inland from the eastern seaboard.

What is interesting about these routes is how the events of the time affected those routes, bringing many of them into existence. Little did they know how the creation of these roads would affect the country.

History Behind the Trails

Most of the routes that became the roads our ancestors used to move further west from the Eastern seaboards can be traced directly to military and other historically significant roads.

While technically not a Midwest migration route, I found it interesting that the King's Highway (which went from Boston, Massachusetts down to Charleston, South Carolina) played an important part in the linking together of the colonies when they decided to go to war against England in the American Revolution. I doubt that King Charles II, who requested that a road be created about 1750 so that there could be communication among the colonies, fathomed how this road would be used some 25 years later.

Famous Trailblazers

Other historical events would create future roads used by our ancestors. For instance, Braddock's Road went from Alexandria to what was Fort Duquesne (and is now Pittsburgh) in Pennsylvania. The year was 1753 and George Washington was given orders to find the best overland route to the Fort. In 1755 General Braddock oversaw the construction of this road, thus its name. While the mission to oust the French from Fort Duquesne failed, the Braddock Road was the first road to cross through the Appalachian Mountain range.

The Treaty of Camp Charlotte ended the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1744. The outcome of this agreement was that the Indians wouldn't oppose white settlers entering Kentucky. By December 1774, a land speculating company, the Louisa Company, was advertising land in Kentucky at twenty shillings per hundred acres. Renamed the Transylvania Company, in March 1775, they had a group of axmen clear what would become the Wilderness Road, and bring Daniel Boone into fame.

In Conclusion

Many of the routes that our ancestors took are still in use today by our many interconnected highways. Sometimes you can see the older, or if you are lucky the original, road that first helped our ancestors to migrate. Keep migration routes in mind when you are researching those western and Midwestern ancestors. They had to come from someplace and learning how they arrived may help you in determining where they came from.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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