Marsha Hoffman Rising, a genealogist and scholar of note, has done extensive research on Missouri. One of her key points centers around the means of transportation migrants settling in Missouri – and those passing through – used. The waterways.
The topography often plays a huge role in the migration and settlement of our ancestors. The land determines the means and method of farming, industry, and density of population. The water, on the other hand, determines how and how easily migrants can access and egress an area. Further, the accessibility determines if this is an area that can support simple subsistence farming or if it can be a center of cash crop commerce.
Above is a map of Missouri waterways taken from the Historical Atals of Missouri by Milton D. Rafferty. What do you notice?
Missouri is a state filled with rivers!
All rivers ultimately drain in the to Mighty Mississippi on its eastern border. This alone would make Missouri Grand Central Station of the Midwest because the Mississippi bisects the entire Union north to south. But look further, the Missouri River and the Arkansas River bisect the State east to West and point to the Mississippi. Think of them as the state highways that connect to the national interstate.
It is this artery (if I can mix metaphors) of the Missouri / Mississippi that was one of the main reasons Little Dixie in Central Missouri prospered as a cash crop farming community. The farmers could send livestock and tobacco down river to be sold.
Look a little further at the map, and you’ll notice there is hardly an area that isn’t crisscrossed with small rivers connecting almost every area to the main river byways.
Hoffman-Rising tells us that migrants followed the Ohio and Missouri/Mississippi River System into Missouri. If your ancestor in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania seems to have “disappeared,” follow the rivers! That was their highway system, and they may have taken the road downstream and ended up in Missouri! If they didn’t permanently settle in Missouri, they may have used the same river system to keep going West. Look for them in the land or census records. Hoffman-Rising further tells us they migrated West very slowly by our modern perspective. Sometimes they would settle in an area for 5-10 years before moving on. You may find them in Missouri for a few years between censuses before they show up again further West.
Understanding waterways makes a huge difference in following our ancestors migratory paths, especially in the time before railways, which happens to be that really tough research period of 1800 – 1850.
Bonus Trivia Tip: Did you know that ALL of Missouri’s lakes are man-made!