Migration, which is the process of people moving from one place to another in order to establish a new residence, has been a reoccurring theme in US history. The nature of this migration experience has a variety of temporal and geographical components which can be studied with maps. Some of the more important questions to address geographically include identifying homelands migrants have left, locating the places where they settled, and determining where and how they moved after they arrived in the North America. The reasons for people relocating into and within the United States have been numerous, but in most cases cannot be easily determined from the cartographic evidence.
This essay and the accompanying captioned maps identify and illustrate a variety of maps that can be used effectively to document the spatial components of the US migration story. Very few maps show actual migration patterns; however, maps often show roads, railroads, or other transportation routes that migrants could have used. Maps also capture a moment in time, providing a cross section of a geographical space that depicts the migrants’ homeland or place of origin, as well as their new home or place of eventual settlement. Some migrations are not well documented on contemporary maps, such as the African slave trade and the Underground Railroad; the Native Americans’ “trail of tears;” or the journeys of young women who moved to New England industrial towns from the nearby rural countryside. The selection of maps for this essay is not intended to be comprehensive; each immigrant group’s story is different. Rather the selection is based on my research which has focused on German-American and African-American experiences. For a general description of the geographical components of a wider variety of immigrant groups, please refer to the thematic maps and accompanying discussions found in We the People (Allen and Turner 1988).
Migration Processes and Trends
The United States is known as a nation of immigrants. One of the distinctive characteristics of its culture is the variety and vitality of its immigrant and ethnic composition. The nation was founded and grew as a result of migration, primarily from Europe, Africa, and East Asia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but also from other parts of the world in the twentieth century. Almost all Americans can claim to have some foreign ancestry, whether they are a first- or second-generation immigrant, or they can trace their ancestry to an earlier generation of immigrants.
Many immigrants came voluntarily or freely, making a conscious decision to migrate based on a variety of economic, political, or religious push-pull factors. The great majority of these sought better jobs and higher standards of living; others fled political oppression or situations of ethnic cleansing; while some desired to practice their religious beliefs more freely. The need to escape physical disasters, such as droughts or famines, motivated others to leave their homelands.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most of the newly arriving colonists came from England, settling along the Atlantic seaboard and in the major port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. While the British dominated the political and economic structure of the thirteen colonies, large numbers of Germans and Scotch Irish settled in southeastern Pennsylvania and the backcountry from Maryland south to the Carolinas (Lemon 1990).
However, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly from about 1840 to 1920, was the period of mass migration from Europe to the United States. During this time period, the nation’s population grew from 17 to 105 million, a sixfold increase. Although there was a high rate of natural increase with birth rates exceeding death rates, 33 million immigrants came into the country during this time span. After 1924, when entry restrictions were instituted with the enactment of the National Origins Act, the number of new immigrants declined noticeably (Ward 1990).
From 1840 to 1880, the largest number of immigrants came from Northwest Europe, particularly Germany and Ireland, with smaller numbers from England, France, and Scandinavia. The Germans settled in both rural and urban settings primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states, while the Irish settled in urban and industrial communities primarily in the Northeastern states. Both avoided the South primarily because of their antipathy toward slavery and the lack of industrial jobs in the southern economy.
After 1880, the source regions changed drastically. Although the number of German, Irish, English and Scandinavian immigrants remained high, their numbers were surpassed by immigrants from Italy, Greece, and lands ruled by the Austrian-Hungarian and Russian empires. These immigrants tended to settle in the larger cities in the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern states.
Throughout the last two thirds of the nineteenth century, there was also a sizeable flow of immigrants from Asia, particularly from China, to the West Coast of the United States. Numbering about one million, the Asian immigrants worked primarily on railroad construction and in the mining communities of the West.
For others, however, their migration was involuntary or forced. The two primary examples of forced migration within the American experience are the Native and African Americans. As Europeans colonized eastern North America and their settlement frontier expanded across the Appalachians, Native Americans were pushed further west and confined to reservations, first in the Midwest, then the Great Plains and the West, through a succession of negative pressures including disease, battles, treaty negotiations, and land cessions. African Americans, on the other hand, were the victims of the seventeenth and eighteenth century slave trade. Many of the Africans who were sold into slavery came from the West Coast of Africa, where they were imported to West Indian sugar plantations, before re-export to the southeastern United States. Within the United States, the Africans’ movements were tied to the migrations of their owners until their eventual emancipation following the Civil War.
In addition to the migrations into the United States from Europe, Africa, and Asia, there was considerable migration within the United States. One major trend was the general movement of the settlement frontier westward across the United States. With the signing of the Paris Peace treaty in 1783, the new nation gained control of the lands east of the Mississippi River. Settlement moved rapidly from the eastern states across the Appalachian Mountains into the Old Northwest and the Southeast, as these public domain lands were systematically surveyed and subsequently sold as part of the General Land Office’s iconic township and range system (Grim 1990). This east to west migration tended to occur in broad latitudinal bands, with migrants from New England and the Mid-Atlantic states moving into the Upper Midwest, those from the Chesapeake region moving into the Lower Midwest and the Upper South, and those from the Carolinas and Georgia moving into the Lower Southeast.
With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the spirit of Manifest Destiny spurred the further acquisition and settlement of the lands west of the Mississippi. By adding Texas, the Mexican Southwest and the Pacific Northwest, the national territory extended as far as the Pacific Ocean by the middle of the nineteenth century. The discovery of gold in California and the construction of transcontinental railroads hastened migration to the West Coast, whether it was long-time residents of the older eastern states or newly arrived immigrants from Europe, China, or Mexico.
Industrialization in the early nineteenth century encouraged a rural to urban migration trend within the United States. With employment opportunities developing in the new industrial towns of New England, young women from rural communities along with French Canadians moved into such towns as Lowell and Lawrence. As industrialization spread through the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern cities, rural to urban migration increased rapidly. Following the Civil War, many emancipated slaves remained in the South, but others started to move to northward to urban and industrial centers in the Northeast and Midwest, a trend that greatly accelerated during the first half of the twentieth century. From 1840 to 1920 the urban population of the United States increased from eleven to fifty-one percent of the total US population. This dramatic increase can be attributed to both foreign immigration and rural to urban migration.
Personal Accounts of Migration
Unfortunately, there are very few maps that were compiled or published during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries that document individual migration stories or the general geographical patterns of migration into and within the United States. What we know about the geographical components of this migration process, we have learned from millions of personal stories, which can be plotted on and documented with a wide variety of maps published during this period. Diaries, letters, and family genealogies provide the basis for reconstructing numerous personal migration routes, from which historians have been able to determine general patterns.
One example of a personal narrative that is particularly useful for identifying geographic locations and travel routes is an account prepared by John Parkinson, a young man from the lead mining region of southwestern Wisconsin. In this biographical account, which was published in a 1921 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History (Parkinson 1921), he focused on his relocation from Wisconsin to the California Gold Fields during the 1850s, but also described the geographic origins of his family before they settled in Wisconsin.
This young twenty-year-old did not prepare any maps of his journeys, but he did make specific mention in his account regarding the modes of transportation and general routes that he followed between destinations representing various legs of his three-year journey. He and three other men were outfitted with two wagons and eight oxen by Parkinson's father. This team left southwestern Wisconsin, May 3, 1852. They crossed the Mississippi River at Dubuque, and traversed Iowa via Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. After crossing the Missouri River, they travelled through Nebraska paralleling the north side of the Platte River to South Pass, where they selected the emigrant road to California. On this leg of the trek, they crossed the Green and Bear Rivers, passed north of Great Salt Lake, traversed the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada Range, and arrived at the Sacramento River, October 11, five months after they left home.
After three years of prospecting for gold at various mining camps in Northern California, Parkinson decided to return to Wisconsin to continue his college education. Rather than retrace the arduous overland journey, he decided to return by sea, crossing the continent at the Isthmus of Nicaragua. This return journey employed a number of different modes of transportation. It consisted of traveling by wagon to Shasta City, stagecoach and boat down the Sacramento River to San Francisco, steamer south along the Pacific Coast to Nicaragua, wagon and steam boat across the Isthmus and Lake Nicaragua, steamer from Greytown to New York City, train from New York to Chicago and then Freeport, and finally by stagecoach to home. Parkinson noted that the return trip took three weeks, but he also remarked that when he took a similar trip to California with his family fifty years later by train, it took only four days.
We also learn from Parkinson's account the basic components of his family's geographic origins and movements. His father's family was English, settling first in Virginia and then moving to Tennessee and eventually Illinois. His mother's family was Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, coming from Northern Ireland and settling initially in North Carolina. They subsequently moved to southern Illinois, where his parents met in 1817. His parents were encouraged by a relative to move to southwestern Wisconsin to take advantage of the mining opportunities and wheat farming. This short synopsis reinforces general migration trends that historians have noted during the eighteenth century when the primary immigrants were English, Scotch Irish, and German, and during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when migration from the original thirteen colonies trended westward in broad latitudinal bands.
Using some of the maps described in this essay, as well as those described in other sections of the Mapping Movement portal, it would be possible to plot a fairly accurate geographical outline of Parkinson's three-year adventure in the Gold Fields, and to trace the movements related to his family’s genealogy. Some of these maps would include those showing the initial wagon roads from the Midwest to California (Caption 4); maps of the early road and railroad networks in the eastern part of the United States (Caption 3); statistical maps and atlases that depict general population and immigration trends (Caption 6); and landownership maps and atlases that record mid-nineteenth century settlement patterns in the Midwest (Caption 9).
While personal narratives have rarely been mapped collectively, one exception is the initial attempt during the 1890s, as well as subsequent twentieth century revisions, to reconstruct maps of the various routes associated with the African American slaves’ escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. These maps were based on the accounts of abolitionists and escaping slaves (Caption 1).
Maps of Migration
If personal narratives of individual family migration histories, such as Parkinson's memoir, are not accompanied by illustrative maps, how can we map the migration process? Fortunately, the three fundamental geographical components of migration into and within the United States can be studied cartographically. These cartographic sources include maps of the migrant's homeland or place of origin, the general paths or specific routes that the migrants travelled, and maps of the places the migrants settled, whether these are thematic maps or large-scale maps of rural or urban settings showing the name of individual landowners. While these maps are not dynamic in allowing us to observe the entire process, they provide static snapshots of specific stages or steps within the process.
For many Americans with European ancestry, locating the specific town or village from which their ancestors migrated is an important part of their genealogical research. Small- and moderate-scale maps showing major cities and towns, as well as the primary transportation networks, were published for most European countries during the eighteenth century. Maps of this nature are readily available in numerous American map libraries that have good historic collections of single sheets maps and world atlases. During the nineteenth century, larger scale topographic map series were published for many European countries, first for France, England, the Low Countries, and later for Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Poland, and Russia (Larsgaard 1993). With the aid of contemporary gazetteers, geographic names databases (see Further Reading) and more specialized gazetteers, such as Where Once We Walked (Mokotoff and Sack 2002), which provides a listing of Jewish Shtetls in eastern and central Europe, researchers can locate most cities, towns, and small villages throughout Europe (USGS 1991).
Transportation and Promotional Maps
In determining how immigrants arrived at their new locations, researchers would like to know about their trans-Atlantic voyages, the port cities where they entered the country, and the routes they travelled throughout the country to reach their final destination. While only scattered maps showing specific voyages or the general course of trans-Atlantic routes are available for the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there are numerous maps of the nation or individual states that show ports of entry and assist in tracing routes described in personal narratives. National or state maps published during the last half of the eighteenth century generally show only the major roads, but similar maps published after the introduction of internal improvements during the first half of the nineteenth century distinguish between turnpikes, post roads, canals and railroads. And in many cases there are also maps of individual canal or rail routes as they were planned, constructed, and promoted, as discussed in other sections of this portal (Grim 2000).
One specific type of map, particularly those published to accompany or illustrate promotional travel literature, selected or reinterpreted more detailed reference and transportation maps to address specific immigrant populations. For example, the guidebooks intended to promote German immigration were written in German, and the maps were translated into German. In some cases, the selection of towns and communities displayed on the map reflect a German bias. The geographical coverage of these guidebooks and maps varied. Some, such as Traugott Bromme's advice book for German emigrants, provided a general discussion of emigration from Germany to various locations around the world, although there is a decided emphasis on various regions within North America (Caption 2). Besides including small general maps pairing most of the states, he included maps of the major port cities on the northeast coast, showing immigrants where they would most likely disembark. Francis Grund's handbook (Caption 3) is more focused geographically, promoting migration to the Midwestern states, while Joseph Ware's emigrant guide to California (Caption 4), highlights and maps a single route of migration, most likely the one followed by John Parkinson, whose personal memoir is illustrated above.
Thematic and Statistical Maps
Thematic maps, based on census data and immigration statistics, are the best graphics for visualizing where immigrants were born and where they settled. Unfortunately, such maps began to be published in the United States only during the middle of the nineteenth century, following the US censuses of 1860 and 1870. Although federal population censuses were taken every ten years beginning in 1790, place of birth was not recorded until 1850. Demographic data, such as this, was not mapped until 1860, when the slave population in the southern states was the first demographic variable to be mapped (Schulten 2011; Caption 5). Starting with the 1870, 1880, and 1890 censuses, the US Census Bureau, along with a commercial publisher, issued three statistical atlases that employed a number of creative graphic devices to display information about the nation’s growing immigrant population (Dahmann; Caption 6).
The Census Bureau continued to publish statistical atlases for the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses. However, the maps were less attractive and less creative, and the Bureau failed to produce similar publications for succeeding censuses. However, this void in providing cartographic and visual interpretation of census data was taken up by academic and professional cartographers, particularly as they prepared national and state atlases during the late twentieth century. For example, two geography professors at California State University, Northridge, published We the People: An Atlas of Ethnic Diversity (Allen and Turner 1988) which was based on data collected during the 1980 census from a controlled sample asking respondents what they considered their primary national ancestry. The atlas contains numerous thematic maps, showing ancestry for sixty-seven national or ethnic groups. Another example is the Historical Atlas of Massachusetts (Halpern and Wilkie 1991). The chapter on immigration includes innovative cartograms showing the size of ethnic population in counties and towns throughout Massachusetts.
While most cartographic representations of immigration statistics have been prepared as national or state maps, there are a few examples of studies that focused on individual cities, or portions of cities. One example is a survey of one of the poorest section of Chicago, based on a study conducted by residents of Jane Addams Hull House in the early 1890s (Caption 7). These colorful maps depict the percentage of each immigrant group living in individual structures within the study area.
Large-Scale Settlement Maps
Thematic maps are very useful for identifying the heaviest densities or largest concentrations of individual immigrant groups within the nation or in an individual state. However, there are other moderate- to large-scale maps that help enhance our understanding of general migration trends or immigrant settlement patterns.
For example, state sectional maps, such as the one used to illustrate migration into Kansas during the 1850s (Caption 8), illustrate several trends. State sectional maps, which were prepared for most Midwestern and Great Plains states, show the progress of General Land Office surveys for the year in which they were published. Thus, by viewing a chronological succession of these maps for an individual state such as Kansas, it is possible to demonstrate how rapidly the settlement frontier was moving through the state, generally in a westerly direction. In addition the sample map of Kansas also identifies the emigrant roads to California and Oregon providing further evidence of this westward migration trend. On the other hand, the distinct delineation on this map of the lands reserved for Native Americans illustrates their removal from eastern tribal lands to the Great Plains and eventually to the Indian Territory. More subtle clues, such as marginal illustrations and the location of specific events, provide evidence of the conflicts between the pro- and antislavery groups settling in Kansas after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1850.
Large-scale landownership maps are useful for examining immigrant settlement patterns in rural areas. Such maps, showing the names of individual landowners, were first published during the 1790s for a number of New England towns. Similar maps were published at the county level during the first decades of the nineteenth century, and became very prevalent for most counties in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states by the 1850s. Published as large wall maps, they displayed the names of individual property owners, and located churches, schools, public buildings, and factories. They were often illustrated with vignettes of the homes or businesses of the map's patrons (Stephenson 1967; Conzen 1990). Following the Civil War, land ownership maps were published in an atlas format for many counties in the Midwestern and Great Plain states (LeGear 1950). These atlas maps also showed the names of individual landowners, and located churches, schools, and factories. The atlases often included a picture section and business directory, helping to identify the wealthier and more prominent citizens of the county. By locating the churches, which were often named according to their immigrant affiliation and by comparing family surnames with manuscript census schedules, it is possible to identify clusters of immigrant settlers, as demonstrated for the German settlement in and near Guttenberg, Iowa (Caption 9).
The visual identification of such population clusters on cartographic sources can be confirmed by an analysis of the associated manuscript census schedules from the United States decennial population censuses. Beginning in 1850, these schedules listed the place of birth for each individual and for both parents beginning in 1880. The manuscript census schedules are maintained by the US National Archives and Records Administration as part of the records of the Bureau of the Census (Record Group 29: http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/029.html). Microfilm copies of these census schedules are available at NARA regional facilities and at many libraries throughout the country. These schedules can also be accessed online through subscription data bases such as Heritage Quest Online (http://www.heritagequestonline.com/hqoweb/library/do/login) or free data bases such as Family Search (https://familysearch.org/). For example, the manuscript census schedules for Guttenberg, Iowa, are reproduced in NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 0333 (1880, Iowa, Clayton County, Guttenberg, ED 137, sheets 407-418). For this research, the Guttenberg schedules were accessed through Family Search.
Fire insurance and real estate atlases provide a similar resource for identifying immigrant neighborhoods in urban settings. First published for major cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Boston in the 1860s, these urban atlases became standard publications for most major cities and towns during the second half of the nineteenth century, and continued to be updated and revised until the middle of the twentieth century. Fire insurance atlases, which were prepared to assist insurance underwriters in determining risk assessment, showed the footprint of individual buildings which were color coded to reflect their construction material (yellow for wood or frame structures, pink for brick, and blue for stone). Churches, schools, major public buildings, and factories were labeled (LOC 1981; Karrow and Grim 1990). Real estate atlases served a similar function for real estate agents and included similar information, although most included the names of residential property owners. Again, by locating churches and other social organizations that are associated with specific immigrant groups and by comparing the family surnames on the map sheets with those listed in contemporary city directories or manuscript census schedules, it is possible to identify immigrant neighborhoods, as demonstrated for a major German neighborhood in Chicago using an 1886 real estate atlas (Caption 10). It is also interesting to note that maps from a fire insurance atlas were used as base maps to plot the data collected for the Hull House maps (Caption 7).
While little has been written specifically about the mapping of migration and immigrant settlement, there are many historical and geographical studies that discuss general migration trends, as well as the migration histories of individual immirant groups. Good summaries of the geographical components of the migration process to and within the United States are found in two essays by historical geographers James T. Lemon, “Colonial America in the Eighteenth Century,” and David Ward, “Population Growth, Migration and Urbanization, 1860-1920,” both published in North America: The Historical Geography of a Changing Continent, edited by Robert D. Mitchell and Paul A. Groves (Savage, MD, 1990; revised 2001). Another overview of the migration process within the context of 500 years of the settlement history of the United States is provided by historical geographer Donald Meinig in his four-volume work, The Shaping of America (New Haven, 1986-1998). Throughout this geographically-focused interpretation, Meinig devotes separate discussions, illustrated with innovative graphics, to such topics as migration and the slave trade during the colonial period (“Migration and Change: Europeans Overseas” and “Enslavement and Change: Africans in America,” vol. 1, 213-231); westward migration and the removal of the Indians during the first half of the nineteenth century (“Shoving the Indians Out of the Way,” and “Filling in the Framework: Migration Westward,” vol. 2, 78-103, 222-236); or the massive European immigration during the second half of the nineteenth century (“Population and People,” vol. 3, 265-293, 432-434). Each discussion is accompanied by bibliographic citations referencing key studies by historians and geographers.
In addition to bibliographic resources listed by Meinig, another excellent starting point for researching the geographical distribution and migration history of individual national or ethnic groups is James Paul Allen and Eugene James Turner’s We the People: An Atlas of American Ethnicity (New York, 1988), which provides 115 maps and graphs depicting and analyzing ancestry data collected during the 1980 Federal census. Similar statistical maps and graphs which were published in atlases based on the 1870, 1880, and 1890 censuses are discussed by Donald C. Dahmann in “Presenting the Nation’s Cultural Geography,” Library of Congress, American Memory, Map Collections, Cultural Landscapes, online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/census2.html. Digital copies of the 1870, 1880, and 1890 statistical atlases are also available at this site.
As outlined in the essay above, it is important to locate maps depicting the various stages in an individual family’s migration story in order to appreciate the broader trends of a particular immigrant group. In many ways, this type of research relies on methods and resources used by genealogists in researching their family histories. An introduction to the use of maps in genealogical research is found in the US Geological Survey’s small pamphlet, Maps Can Help You Trace Your Family Tree: How to Use Maps in Genealogy (Washington, DC, 1990, 1994), now available online at https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/mapsgenealogy.pdf.
Place name research is a fundamental step in attempting to locate a migrant’s homeland or subsequent settlement locations. Two online databases maintained by the US Board on Geographic Names provide comprehensive listings of places names in the United States (US Board on Geographic Names Domestic Names data base, (http://geonames.usgs.gov/domestic/index.html) and foreign countries (US Board on Geographic Names Foreign Names data base, http://geonames.usgs.gov/foreign/). Because of changing European boundaries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, researchers also need to consult contemporary atlases and gazetteers, or more specialized data bases, such as JewishGen Gazetteer (http://www.jewishgen.org/Communities/LocTown.asp), which provides references to Jewish settlements in eastern and central Europe, or GeoTWAIN 2.0 (http://geotwain.rigeo.net), a valuable place name resource that integrates several historic gazetteers and databases including a comprehensive data set of German toponyms in the American Midwest. Examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century general reference maps of selected countries that could be used in conjunction with these place names searches are illustrated on the Leventhal Map Center's virtual exhibition, Faces and Places Boston (http://maps.bpl.org/faces_and_places#tour). This exhibition, which focused on the homeland or source regions for immigrants living in Boston, illustrates eight European, Asian, and Latin American countries that contributed the largest number of immigrants to Boston, based on the 2000 census.
Another crucial step in tracing the movement of migrants is locating large-scale maps that depict the localities where they settled. Good, succinct descriptions of such maps can be found in essays by Michael P. Conzen, “North American County Maps and Atlases;” Gerald Danzer, “City Maps and Plans;” Ronald E. Grim, “Maps of the Township and Range System;” and Robert Karrow and Ronald E. Grim, “Two Examples of Thematic Maps: Civil War and Fire Insurance Maps,” all published in From Sea Charts to Satellite Images: Interpreting North American History through Maps, edited by David Buisseret (Chicago, 1990). Listings of county landownership maps and atlases, which are useful for researching rural areas, can be found in Richard W. Stephenson, Land Ownership Maps: A Checklist of Nineteenth Century United States County Maps in the Library of Congress. (Washington, DC, 1967) and Clara Egli LeGear, United States Atlases: A List of National, State, County, City, and Regional Atlases in the Library of Congress and Co-operating Libraries (Washington, 1950-1953). While the later bibliography also lists atlases for many of the country’s largest cities, another key resource for researching urban settlements are fire insurance maps. These are described and listed in Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress: Plans of North American Cities and Towns Produced by the Sanborn Map Company, Compiled by the Reference and Bibliography Section in the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress, with an Introduction by Walter W. Ristow (Washington, DC, 1981). This comprehensive collection of Sanborn fire insurance maps is in the process of being digitized and can be viewed online at http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/sanborn/.
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