Discover Your Pioneer Ancestors
Channel your adventurous ancestors: Set off on a genealogical journey to your pioneer heritage with our seven tips.
From the earliest days of its history, the western US boundary was like a back door left open: a tempting invitation to explore the national backyard. Millions of Americans and immigrants passed through that back door on foot and horseback, in riverboats and wagons and stagecoaches, and eventually by train. Many wanted to homestead a little piece of America. Some sought their fortunes in gold from California or Yukon, or silver from Nevada or Colorado. Still others sought religious havens in the Mormon settlements of Utah or the missions of Oregon Territory.

Whatever propelled your ancestors west, finding them and their stories may start you on your own research adventures. The paper trail may be faint, as government offices, churches, newspapers, schools and businesses were fewer on the frontier. People moved casually from one squatter-settlement or mine to the next. They often traveled light, without a lot of extra paper, and they prioritized survival over the writing of histories. You might lose track of your relatives for years at a time. Or you may find their names suddenly popping up in frontier-related records—such as a federal land purchase—with no idea why they’re there.