Moving Targets
Just when you thought you had 'em, your ancestors pop up three states away. Our guide to Americans' major migration routes will help you trace those troublesome travelers.
You might say my third-great-grandfather Joel Stow epitomized the “American way.” After all, the story of this country's settlement is largely the saga of the way west, as families in search of land and opportunity left the increasingly crowded Eastern Seaboard. These pioneers followed a tangled network of roads, canals and rivers into rough-and-tumble territories that became settled, civilized new states. Tragically, of course, America's Manifest Destiny — as columnist John O'Sullivan termed the doctrine of predestined expansion across the continent — also led to the displacement of Indian tribes from sea to shining sea.

Joel's and my other Stow ancestors' part in this moving story took place mainly between Virginia and Alabama, with stops along the way. By studying common migration patterns, I was able to narrow their possible locations and focus my record searches. Tracing your own family's paths back into American history can prove crucial to identifying previous generations and, eventually, figuring out where and how they arrived on US shores. Knowing the network of trails American pioneers traveled can help you guess where to start looking. These research tips and trail overviews will help you understand routes that brought Americans westward, so you can begin to trace your family back eastward — and back in time.

Americans in motion