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Q. How did immigrants arriving by ship get to their final destinations?
A. How our ancestors went from hither to yon depended on the time period and the cost of available transportation. Some immigrants had little choice but to settle in the port city for a while to find work and save up cash before taking off for their final destinations. An ancestor who landed in New York City and ended up elsewhere could’ve used a combination of ways to get there, taking a carriage to a dock, boarding a boat that took him by river to another dock, then another carriage or even a train to his final destination.
Depending on their means and how far they wanted to go, our ancestors traveled by foot or in carts, wagons, carriages or coaches along early national roads and paths. See Early American Roads and Trails for descriptions and maps.
One of the most practical modes of transportation, especially for immigrants who arrived after 1800, was to hop on a boat and mosey on down (or up) a waterway. This is why most early settlements were along coastal areas and rivers.
The Mississippi River, for example, connected Northern and Southern towns along its path. Tributaries, such as the Illinois, Chippewa, Saint Croix, Des Moines and Rock rivers, allowed travelers to get further inland. Add to that the Missouri River, which joins the Mississippi at St. Louis, and the Ohio River, which joins at Cairo, Ill., and our ancestors could travel just about anywhere. See American Rivers and Waterways for information on historical transportation.
Those who arrived in the mid-1800s or later could travel by rail. By the 1860s, railroads had replaced canals and rivers as the primary means for moving people and cargo, and in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific united the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, Utah. For maps and a history of US railroads, see the Library of Congress website.
From the January 2010 Family Tree Magazine