When working with American, Canadian, and Australian genealogists, I am always struck by how their family stories are about migration. The most common question is where their ancestors came from.
My ancestors did not move much. Most of them married a partner from the same area, and lived their wholes lives in the same towns. I never wondered were they came from. They were just there—probably for many generations before the start of surviving records.
To visualize how far my ancestors migrated during their lifetimes, I created a six-generation pedigree chart of my ancestors showing the distance between the place where they were born and where they died.
Isn’t it remarkable how many zeros there are? Here are some of the people who moved away:
- My paternal grandparents (35 km / 21 miles) moved from Winterswijk to Almelo because grandpa worked in the textile industry. The factories in Winterswijk were struggling while the ones in Twente were still going strong. They died in Enschede, near Almelo. Grandfather’s mother moved with them to Almelo, and died there. She was originally from Dinxperlo, just south of Winterswijk, 50 km/31 miles from Almelo.
- My maternal grandparents (181/192 km, about 120 miles) moved the furthest distance of any of my recent ancestors. During World War II, my grandfather became part of the Domestic Armed Forces, the Dutch liberation army. Originally from Breda, he moved north with the troops to liberate the rest of the country. After World War II, he stayed in the army and his family followed him north. He was relocated a couple of times before finally living in Oldenzaal. Grandma died there, grandfather died in a nursing home in Hengelo.
- My 3xgreat-grandfather Arend Kastein became a police constable. He was originally from Suderwick and his wife from nearby Dinxperlo. He was transferred to Amsterdam, and then to Winterswijk, where they both died (21 km/13 miles away).
- Three of my ancestors died in hospitals, 41 km, 61 km, and 44 km (about 30-40 miles) from their homes.
- One ancestor was an illegitimate child from Sint Anna ter Muiden, a small village in Zeeland. When she herself got pregnant out of wedlock, she moved away from that small town and settled in the large town of Breda, 125 km/80 miles away.
The migration of the past six generations was mainly work-related or health-related. In earlier years, it was uncommon for people from lower class families to move for their careers. They would have lived their whole lives in the same area. Similarly, the local doctor or a traveling gall-stone-cutter was all the healthcare that earlier generations would have had access to. None of my earlier ancestors died in hospitals that were miles away.
If I had expanded the chart back further in time, there would have been a lot more zeros. The most extreme example is my paternal grandmother. I have found over 1,000 of her ancestors, all from the same village except for one from the next town over, a maximum of 6 km/4 miles away. The more than 1,000 ancestors I’ve identified on my paternal grandfather’s side are all from the same area too, a maximum of 21 km/13 miles from where my father was born. Winterswijk was a rural area, that saw many people leave and few arrive.
On my mother’s side, the migration patterns are a bit more diverse. Breda, where her parents were born, was a big city that attracted people from a large area. Further back, she has some Huguenots from France who moved to Zeeland, and a mercenary soldier from Scotland who moved to Brabant.
Have you ever done a similar analysis of your ancestors migration patterns? How far did your ancestors move? Can you explain why they moved or stayed?