Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wagon Train Research (Part 2)

Westward Bound - Not Just Oregon
We know there were wagon trains. As was illustrated in the tracing of Kelsey Grammer’s Who Do You Think You Are? episode (Season 5), extended families packed their belongings, and carried their personal wealth overland to reach the newly opened west lands. Sometimes, families were left behind, as the pioneer travelled with a wagon train.  This westward migration  wasn't just for those panning for gold.  There were the Mormon's escaping persecution, the future vintner wanting rich soil, and those who made a living in transport. 

4 Research Tips / Hints
Not every family researcher will find Great-Grandpa's passage recorded in diaries, or even his name.  But, by narrowing his year, and month of travel, you may find his experience recorded through the eyes of his neighbors and friends:  
  • Analyze diaries from his hometown.
  • Follow the path and his final settlement to determine his passage.
  • Track Military Forts' activities along the route. The military controlled the trails, and would detain small groups travel for safety.  This may have delayed your pioneers trip.

Remember others traveled by water. The trip from Louisiana up the Mississippi River was still arduous, but may have been your ancestor’s best option if they were not travelling with a large wagon train through hostile territories. Newspaper accounts are a great resource of those who arrived west.

Resources and Database

A key resource to begin your ancestor’s westward migration is the State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection. a3Genealogy researchers proved that a religious "group," Bethel Community, occupied settlements in both Missouri and Oregon by locating the letters that leader, William Kiel, wrote to his congregation back home in Missouri from 1855-1870.  He even threatened to excommunicate ("bar them from the Bethel Community") a few Missourians for raising the Union flag, and endangering the community. Interestingly enough, he was writing from his new Bethel Community in Oregon.  The letters were filled with historical data, names of members and religious practices.[1]

9 Helpful links:
  1. One of our favorite websites: Oregon - California Trails Association holds over 48 thousand pioneers in their database.
  2. The Oregon Genealogical Society and Idaho Genealogical Society have a listing of names in their Pioneer Certificate programs.
  3. For FAQs, visit the Bureau of Land Management Website
  4. For a list of Oregon Trail Historic Sites visit Legends of America
  5. The Oregon Territory and Its Pioneers
  6. Oregon Trail Histories
  7. Oregon State Archives. This can be most helpful when looking for land records.
  8. The California, Pioneer and Immigrant Files, 1790-1950 database holds 10,000 records with biographical information about pioneers who arrived in California before 1860.
  9. Find A Grave, Along The Oregon Trail Cemetery Tombstone project.
African Americans Headed West
The overland journeys were before the Civil War.  Free-coloreds, as  many as 3000 by 1850, found their way to California from the onset of the gold rush, but rarely settled in the unwelcoming Oregon. Review the Black Laws of Oregon 1844-1857

Even though some slaves were carried by their masters, many found the westward journey as an integral step to their escape plan. If you need to refresh your history of the role African Americans played during this westward movement, you may wish to read Blacks in Gold Rush California, by Rudolph M. Lapp.  

Another great resource is the Negro Trail Blazers of California by Delilah L. Beasley; original 1818; reprinted 1969.

 [1] Kiel, Wm., Letters 1855-1870; Bethel Community to Oregon 24 Jun 1855; microfilm, Western Historical Manuscript Collection, UMKC

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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